For the past three or four years, Nico Tortorella has been on a journey, learning all there is to know and understand about gender identity and sexuality. “It’s funny how, the second I started, I brought everyone on with me,” recalls the actor, who prefers to be referred to using they/them pronouns. “It wasn’t something that I did in private.”
Although not quite a big believer in labels, Nico identifies as bisexual, queer, gender-fluid, and polyamorous. Over time, Nico’s become an outspoken LGBTQ+ advocate, even starting a podcast called The Love Bomb, which Nico says was instrumental to their enlightenment. This year, the debut author also released all of it is you., a book of poetry that touches on themes both very personal and human as well as universal.
“I mapped out the book kind of like a large-scale mural,” they explain. “I split it into three large sections, ‘body,’ ‘earth,’ and ‘universe,’ and then I went in and split that into smaller sections and labeled each title for each piece. And then from there I just moved. I started with the first line and moved my way all the way through, in chronological order, in 45 days.”
They hope to use these kinds of thoughtful discussions on The Love Bomb, along with their poetry, to bridge the gap between gender and sexuality and spirituality and religion, and to address topics such as intersexual rights, circumcision, non-binary issues, and gender non-conforming issues. There’s an earnest, almost raw, sense of honesty and empathy in Nico’s voice, whether they’re opening up about their story or telling someone else’s, and it’s a voice worth hearing — especially if you’re a kid who’s lost, confused, and in need of a little support and compassion.
Young STAR sat down with Nico to talk about the fight for inclusivity and the importance of language in their advocacy.
YOUNG STAR: What did you learn about yourself through writing all of it is you.?
NICO TORTORELLA: I’m still learning a lot about it. Probably my singular and my infinite, you know? My ability to be nothing and everything all at the same time. The ability to shapeshift, really, and to leave a message behind in a way that doesn’t get done with any other medium in the same gravitas.
So much of what we know and process about gender relies on words. Have you found that language plays an important part in your advocacy?
Well, it’s everything. It’s how we communicate with each other. Without language, there’s nothing, and I think that love, for me, is the most important universal language that we have. I don’t care if I can’t understand a single word that you’re saying if I can feel what you’re saying and its intention. That’s what’s most important, but I’m a poet, you know, so I’m obsessed with language. And the more work I do outside my own country, the more it grows.
Did learning about the complexities of gender identity and sexuality go hand in hand with your personal journey regarding your own identity?
Of course. I’ve always been interested in queer counterculture since I was younger. I grew up onstage in Chicago, so it was always a big part of my life. Once I started really going through the sexuality spectrum, you land on gender, and when you start to deconstruct the binary, and look at the world around you, and what we’ve been taught, it kind of just gets thrown out the window. And if gender doesn’t exist, then neither does sexuality. And it’s not to say that I won’t grow from that, but it’s where I am in my journey right now.
How did you go about educating yourself?
I hit the streets! I went to my friends and people that were really living the life. I (started) a podcast and I was just bringing them all in, and a lot of these conversations were big conversations that I was really having for the first time. It was the first time I ever really said I was (trans). Just talking, just communicating, asking questions.
You mentioned how helpful conversations have been for you when it comes to self-discovery and understanding. What conversations do you want to spark through your book?
Anything and everything, there’s no limitation. I hope people that read it just take a moment for themselves. That’s what the book’s all about. It’s all about you, to whatever capacity you need it to be.
Can you tell me about your biggest moment so far in your fight for inclusivity and breaking gender roles?
So far? Probably doing The View with Whoopi (Goldberg) and Joy (Behar). They called me and they were like, “Hey, we want to do a story about gender and sexual fluidity (and) we want to tell your story,” and I was like, “No, no, no, no, no. Wait, I’m not interested in telling my story. My story’s been told a hundred times.” I told them, “Let’s tell other people’s stories. Let’s go to the LGBT Community Center in New York City and interview a bunch of marginalized kids that don’t get the platform to share their story.”
And that’s exactly what we did. And it’s one of those moments where I was like, “It’s not about me. Never has been really about me.”
all of it is you. is available at National Book Store branches nationwide.