New York City. “Spirits born equal but divided into unequal bodies.” To watch Nico Tortorella chant this over and over
in person is something of a spiritual experience. Hypnotic. Intoxicating. Almost trance-like in its effect. The 30-year-old actor, writer and podcast host — who prefers ‘they/them’ pronouns and who is best known for their role as Josh on television smash-hit Younger — is performing their poetry at The Bell House on the outskirts of Brooklyn.
In an immersive performance tackling issues of gender, sexuality, identity, gratitude and even the orgasm, Tortorella causes you to question societal, political and historical structures and colonialism; where exactly did all these rules by which we live originate? In doing so, Tortorella strips bare the boundaries surrounding the term “love”, forcing you to instead look at it for what it is and not what a governing body ordered it to be many moons ago.
Identifying as gender non-conforming or pansexual, Tortorella is in a polyamorous relationship with wife Bethany Meyers and has been working hard to educate people on sectors of society who are rarely acknowledged in mainstream media. There are a lot of people in this world who don’t fit into “straight”, “queer” or “trans” boxes. “How did we arrive at this point?” Tortorella muses. “That has to been the driving question. How did we get here where one world is okay and everything else is not?” Here, we discuss the work and the fierce fight now needed for the in-betweeners.
ICON: Your poetry collection All Of It Is You is so thought- provoking. What expands your mind when you’re writing?
NICO TORTORELLA (NT): “That’s a great question. I kind of just wander. I do a lot of psychic-medium work and healing work. To ‘channel write’ is to quite literally channel people and different voices and that’s something that I do on a regular basis. There’s a speed at which my brain and my imagination operates — my intellect — and a speed at which my mouth forms sentences. Poetry lives somewhere in-between those two. I just love that.”
ICON: You say in your podcast, The Love Bomb, “I don’t fit into a box, I was never in a closet, I was never even in the house.” But how did you arrive at this point where you were cool with being fluid?
NT: “Through conversation and education. I’m doing the work. It’s not like all of sudden I woke up one day and I
had this wealth of knowledge. It was something that had been really important to me since I was a little kid trying to understand how we communicate with people, what our love language is and what is socially acceptable and what is not — and who the fuck are they to tell me that it’s not? Whether it be the church, my parents, the media, Hollywood; how did we arrive at this point? How did we get here where one world is okay and everything else is not?”
ICON: It’s so true. Our world is made up of authorities telling us how we should live…
NT: “Right. And in the work that I’m doing, it’s pretty obvious that it came from colonialism. It came from coercive religious indoctrination across the planet. There was a group of people who made this decision and have been in power for a couple of thousand years.”
ICON: You grew up in a big Italian family. Paint me a little picture of some of your favourite pastimes when you were young. Do they support your choices?
NT: “Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, my uncle would come over and give 10-15 of us each $100 in singles. We would play poker until one person went away with all of the money. The conversation, the dynamics, the yelling, the food — those are some of my best childhood memories. Do they accept my lifestyle choices? Yeah, for the most part. It’s been a struggle with some people and a lot easier with others. The work that I’m doing and the fact that I have my shit together … It was one thing when I was drinking too much and trying to explain to someone ‘This is who I am.’ They were like, ‘Well okay, you’re also fucking drunk.’ Now that I have my shit together, and I’m taken seriously globally, it’s an easier conversation with my family.”
ICON: What is your biggest gripe with the current conversation around sexuality and gender?
NT: “Probably that the non-binary identity and intersex communities are left out of the conversations on huge levels. In mainstream media, everybody has been talking about gay things for the past 20 years; lesbians, bisexuals, trans is making a huge fucking pop right now, obviously. But it’s always one or the other and the trans people that really have a voice are super-binary trans people. In our own personal lives, we very much understand the grey areas of things, but it’s a little difficult to portray the grey in the media. It’s much easier to tell a story if is definitive. But we’re not always definitive. We can say one thing today and learn something tonight and then our voice changes tomorrow. There’s huge pieces of in-betweens that are left out of conversation. If you look at the news today, 27 trans people have been killed [in the US] this year, the deadliest year thus far. Typically, transgender people of colour are the majority of that list. When those people are murdered, they are mis-gendered upon finding the body. The headlines will be, ‘Man in dress found dead under bridge’.
The numbers are actually a lot higher than what we have recorded. And nobody’s talking about it. But when Matthew Shepard, a white cis gay man was murdered [beaten, tortured and left to die in 1998], the entire country banded together. For me, one of the biggest problems of our community is once gay marriage became legal, in this country, we lost a lot of our army. White gay men didn’t feel like they had anything left to fight for. They left the trans fight out. And it just sucks.”
ICON: Do you watch Pose?
NT: “Yeah I like it a lot. At the end of the season, I think it really found its flow. I wish Kate Mara and Evan Peters didn’t have first billing of the show, because it’s obviously not their show. It’s kind of upsetting, I don’t understand as actors how they are OK with that at this point. On a show like that, if it was me in Evan’s position, I would never have been able to morally take that first name on the cast list. There’s just no way.”
ICON: Tell me about your relationship dynamic with your wife Bethany, whom you married in March.
NT: “It changes all the time. We have been best friends for more than 12 years now. We’re both coming to terms with our non-binary identities and trying to figure out what they mean, the pro-nouns. We’ve hit some roadblocks with each other because of what we’re trying to figure out on our own. But it’s been really progressive and educational for both of us and there’s nobody else I would rather be doing any of this with. And we both are starting to date other people. Since we’ve been married, we haven’t really dated anybody else. There’s a lot of trust and love and it runs really deep. Some days we’re on the phone all day every day and some days we don’t talk at all.”
ICON: Educate me: how do you have the capacity to not be bothered by the love of your life being with somebody else?
NT: “If you love somebody that much and you know you can’t give them everything, for whatever reason, and you know that something else can make them so happy, why wouldn’t you want them to have that? If that’s not love, I don’t know what is. I’m not trying to own my wife, my partner, my spouse. The only thing I’m trying to own is myself, and that’s not always easy!”
ICON: Australia only passed the same-sex marriage bill in 2017. What would you like to tell the LGBTQ+ community in Australia?
NT: “You have it a lot better than a lot of other people on the planet do. It may have taken you this long but thank god you got there. And it doesn’t mean that the work is done. Now you have to fight for the marginalised communities that don’t fit into the standard laws; the in-betweeners: the trans community, the non-binary community, the intersex community, the grey areas.”
ICON: What’s your take on monogamy and having a committed relationship?
NT: “I think it’s beautiful. I’ve seen situations where it’s the greatest thing in the world and I’ve seen situations where there couldn’t be anything worse.”
ICON: What does your future look like. Would you stay polyamorous forever?
NT: “I don’t know. That’s a good question. I was actually just thinking about this last night. Right now in my life, at 30, my ultimate relationship is with myself first and the work that I do. And then comes Bethany and my dog and my family.
I think that probably later on in my life once I settle down — or whatever the fuck that means — I’ll have more room to fall in love deeper with other people because I’ll have more time. I’m in the fucking thick of it right now [laughs]. I have so much work to do. And I don’t know if there’ll ever be a point in my life where I’m like, ‘OK Girl, I’m done with the work’.”
“If you love somebody and you know that you can’t give them everything, and you know that something else can make them so happy, why wouldn’t you want them to have that? If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.”
ICON: I could tell which fans at your show were fans of Nico and which were fans of Josh from Younger …
NT: “Oh for sure! I know exactly how somebody knows me the second they walk up to me. I think that the most beautiful thing at this second is that because of Josh people come to the show, not knowing what is going to happen. There’s a lot of miraculous healing going on. People who haven’t cried in years all of a sudden are weeping. That is one of my favourite parts about the work that I’m doing.”
ICON: Do you feel ready to have a baby? Would you like to?
NT: “Not yet. We are close. Bethany and I are working on a travel show and I can’t say a whole lot about it but basically
it is going to be us travelling the world talking about love, gender, sexuality, relationships, marriage, pregnancy, babies. The way that I see it working is that we do two seasons before we think about really trying to have a baby and the third season would be while Bethany is pregnant. You heard it here first.”
ICON: At what point in your career did you feel the strongest?
NT: “Right now. Today.”
Nico Tortorella’s All Of It Is You collection of poetry is available to purchase on Amazon.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED ORIGINALLY IN THE OCTOBER EDITION OF ICON MAGAZINE.
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