In March, Younger star Nico Tortorella wed his partner of 12 years, Bethany Meyers, in a ceremony at City Hall in Manhattan. Like most couples do, they posed for pictures on the monolithic building’s historic steps, promptly posting the blissful shots to their Instagram accounts.
Meyers is stunning in them, an ethereal white gown wrapped elegantly over her body and a jeweled crown adorning her close-cropped haircut. And Tortorella’s gown was very much the same: a flowing skirt over white trousers, a constructional feat of draping with a spiked crown that pops against the scruffy facial hair that accents his TV-hunk jawline.
It was his and her wedding gowns—or theirs and theirs “genderblending ensembles,” as the pair referred to them—perhaps the first time such a thing could be said about the wedding photos of an actor posited as one of TV’s sexiest leading men. As Josh on Younger, TV Land’s hit rom-com that just launched its fifth season, Tortorella plays one of TV’s most objectified and desirable—and cisgender and heterosexual—men. Off-screen, he is one of the LGBTQ community’s most confessional, and therefore polarizing, members and advocates.
“If you had to label it, Nico and I are in a queer polyamorous relationship,” Meyers wrote in a essay in the LGBT publication them. that she co-authored with Tortorella shortly after their wedding. “Labels that help people understand, but not labels that define us.”
As we learned talking with Tortorella ahead of last week’s Younger season premiere, the actor is not defined by labels, labels that he has had his own evolution in understanding as he’s come to terms with his identity. He’s shared that evolution freely and publicly, and therefore it’s one that’s been perhaps difficult to understand or, yes, definitively label. And that, truthfully, is the point.
But being able to use those labels in a conversation about the star of a mainstream show like Younger isn’t just helpful. It’s important, historic, and, as you learn the more you read about Tortorella and his unconventional career choices, controversial, too.
“Let’s go full therapy session with this,” Tortorella laughs as he reclines on the chaise lounge in the Madison Square co-working space where we meet. It’s a cheeky, though accurate, prediction of the tenor of our conversation as we discuss how his time on Younger, specifically this last Year of Living Authentically, has impacted not just him, but our greater culture.
Tortorella and Meyers are, as mentioned before, a polyamorous couple. Both identify on the queer spectrum. Tortorella has called himself both bisexual and sexually fluid, which means that a person’s sexual orientation is open and not necessarily gender-based; he says he has dated other bisexuals, straight women, and gay men.
Last month, during a discussion with RuPaul’s Drag Race star Trinity Taylor, he said, he recently came to terms “with the fact that maybe I’m not fully cisgender,” which means identifying as the gender corresponding to a person’s sex at birth.
Tortorella’s gender expression is nonconforming: Few smolder quite so intensely on the red carpet in a tailored suit, but he can also be seen wearing a designer dress to a major media event. In fact, the Christian Siriano metallic skirt suit and one-shoulder black dress he wore to the GLAAD Rising Stars Luncheon marked the first time the celebrity designer dressed a DMAB (designated male at birth).
“This is a moment in history y’all,” Tortorella captioned photos of the looks on his Instagram. “Now I know these looks aren’t for everyone or considered traditional garb for someone who looks like me, but fuck it. This is more than dress, this is political. It’s no secret that my sexuality has been ever evolving, and quite recently my own gender identity and expression has been taking new flight.”
He said in the same Instagram post that he has “started playing” with using they/them pronouns for himself but, while he is often labeled in the media as gender fluid, his publicist clarifies for me that “gender fluidity is simply something that he is exploring and a topic he wants to use his platform to highlight.” He is comfortable with any pronoun ascribed to him, and not offended by one used instead of another.
This is, of course, a lot to unpack, which is pretty remarkable for the star of a series that runs on TV Land, on which Tortorella stars as the romantic lead, at a time when conventional wisdom still posits that actors who identify on the queer spectrum won’t or can’t be cast as heterosexual leading men. Yet Younger’s ratings, in a bit of a unicorn situation for today’s TV landscape, continue to grow year after year. So, too, does Tortorella’s popularity with the show’s fans, who battle on his character’s behalf in a hashtag war related to the series’ central love triangle.
“There’s something extremely spiritual about coming to terms about who I am and how I identify and what gender means to me, but to have the conversation on a mass scale is really spiritual in nature,” he tells me. “The light, this divine frequency of love, that’s the driving force. Once the switch turns on, the room’s bright and you just have to keep spreading it.”
Tortorella had appeared in a handful of TV roles before being introduced in the pilot of Younger as Josh, a character whose narrative purpose could be, frankly, reduced to the hot piece of ass.
The tattoos, the washboard abs on prominent display, the haircut: It was all meant to be drooled over, which Sutton Foster’s Liza does. The series centers on Liza, a 40-year-old woman who pretends to be 26 in order to get a job in an ageist publishing industry. Josh is her 26-year-old boyfriend, who evolves into her lover and secret-keeper, and, lately, her ex who still holds a candle for her.
When we first started visiting the Younger set to cover the series, Tortorella was not nearly as outspoken about his identity. In fact, ahead of season two we cheekily asked him about any female attention he’d been getting as the show’s objectified hunk, a question greeted by nervous giggles.
He says that it’s when he started his podcast, The Love Bomb, in which he chats with friends and former loves about relationships, sex, and love, that he started to realize that there was not just value, but a responsibility to sharing his story. “I’ve always talked like this,” he says. “It’s just who was listening and who was asking me to shut up has changed.”
When we asked Foster what it’s been like for her to watch Tortorella’s evolution over the last four years, she gets visibly emotional.
“For me, being a 43-year-old woman of a certain generation, I grew up very conservatively,” she says. “Luckily I was in the theater so thank god I had a little more of an open view of the world and possibilities about what romance looked like. Then to be on the show and work with someone like Nico, I’m just in awe. I just think it’s unbelievable and I’m so proud of him. Just to see him evolve and take ownership of who he is. I wish I had had that when I was young.”
She wipes a tear as she brings up her own 13-month-old daughter, Emily.
“I’m so excited that I get to raise her in this way,” she says. “I can’t wait to be like ‘Nico! Talk to my daughter!’ I love that she’s allowed to grow up in a world where everything is possible. She can have all sorts of feelings and they don’t have to be bad or wrong. She can ask all the questions. I was raised where, ‘Oh I felt shame for feeling or being attracted to a certain person.’ I look at Nico and think, ‘Oh man, how I wish I could follow in those footsteps.’ Hopefully it’s not too late for me!”
It’s not long ago that Foster wouldn’t even have had a reason to share those words, because a person who identifies as Tortorella does likely wouldn’t have been cast in a role like Josh on Younger. Or, if he had, he might have been muzzled by a pack of publicists, network executives, agents, and managers nervous that talking about his identity or being photographed in a dress would alienate viewers and jeopardize the show.
Tortorella even admits that, not long ago, he would have obediently obliged to their requests.
“There was a time in my career when I wasn’t auditioning for gay roles, because it was thought you would be typecast immediately if you started off your career playing a gay role,” he says. “At this point, it’s changing some. But there’s still much more work to be done.”
To not just belabor the point, but also underline it, dust it in glitter, and turn on a disco ball above it, there is something transgressive about Tortorella’s role in Younger and his appearance in its marketing campaigns—a sex symbol exhibiting all the muscular appeal ascribed to traditional masculinity—and the LGBTQ vocabulary that floods this article talking about him.
Tortorella is the first person to acknowledge the unique circumstances that have allowed him to be the person who is at that intersection of heteronormative celebrity and fame and queer identity and politics.
“I get to share my story,” he says. “That’s a privilege that I have because of what I look like, the color of my skin, what I have between my legs, my straight passing-ness, everything. That’s a privilege that I have. But because of what I’m doing, the hope is that other people will be inspired to share their stories.”
Tortorella has a knack for getting around the controversies, the second guessings, the “buts” and “what abouts” and hand-wringing of a person who talks about queer and gender issues but is not cognizant of the fact that his experience is not universal and not everyone shares that privilege.
His Instagram posts on the subject tend to be extremely long, with caveats layered on caveats about how his identity is a constant exploration, not a declarative exclamation, and that it’s all a journey. That’s why a Google search about how he identifies or a survey of past interviews yields a confusing array of answers over the years.
He hopes to be a conduit for celebrating marginalized communities, relationships, and identities that don’t often have the microphone, starting conversations that he believes in, while constantly recognizing, sometimes to the point of apology, that it’s the way he looks that affords him the ability to do so.
Still, what Tortorella is doing in the entertainment industry is new.
In addition to starring on Younger and hosting his podcast, he released a book of poetry expanding on his exploration of love and sex, with entries on his penis, his wife’s vagina, and menstruation. It’s tempting, and maybe even understandable, given this entire package—rom-com star who wears dresses and writes poems about his penis—to find the whole thing so progressive as to be absolutely exhausting. Or even to be cynical of its authenticity, when so much of it is primed for reaction.
When anyone is a First or Only example in the entertainment industry, they can be met with skepticism, scrutiny, and, sometimes dismissal. When an incredibly sexy man is married to a woman, but makes headlines for his statements on identifying as queer and having slept with men in the past, there can often, too, be a suspicion that it’s all for attention, to capitalize on interest from a gay male community that already leers at his nude Instagram photos.
“The most flack I get—and not necessarily flack but just confusion of acceptance—is from, specifically, cis gay men that can’t fathom that I can play in the spectrum of both gender and sexuality,” Tortorella said in an interview with Gay Star News.
But the truth is that, after spending a morning chatting with him about all of these things, he does seem genuine. We obviously can’t speak to what has gone on the actor’s bedroom in the past, but we can speak to the palpable passion with which he seems to be crusading, if not exactly for a movement, but for a conversation.
While every professional interaction we’ve had with Tortorella has seen him dressed in network-approved Straight Guy Clothes, you can’t listen to him talk about the day he got married while wearing a dress at City Hall and not be convinced by his message: that we’d all feel a little more free and little more ourselves if we’d let go of the constraints of labels and norms.
Yes, he and Meyers wrote an entire essay about their nontraditional wedding for a magazine while on their honeymoon. But it wasn’t publicity-seeking, he says. For them, whether or not you believe him, it felt like the natural thing to do.
“That is who we are,” he says. “We weren’t doing it for the world. That is the day we had, whether or not it was going to be shared.”
But it was shared, so I ask him what he thinks it meant, reiterating it again: to be the kind of TV star he is, to have a wedding that looked like that, and to have what that means out in the world.
He gets visibly emotional and takes a moment to collect himself.
“There are things coming up that are going to be huge moments for who I am and how the world sees gender,” he says, perhaps illustrating how inextricable his personal journey has become from how the public processes it. “I can’t think about it too much, because then I’ll get caught up in the response rather than the moment. I’m so in the moment right now just living my authentic self. I hope the world just keeps up.”