By Nickky Faustine P. De Guzman, Reporter
AUTHOR, activist, and actor Nico Tortorella lay down nonchalantly on one of the long sofas at the Raffles hotel in Makati, arms spread wide. As I chose a seat, he told me he liked my makeup. He didn’t sit upright as we talked; our meeting was light and casual. It was not a “regular” conversation — a man wouldn’t normally tell a woman that he liked her lipstick if it was. But then again, Tortorella is a postmodern creature: a gender fluid person who prefers the use of the pronouns them/they over he/she, and wouldn’t feel odd if they complimented someone’s lipstick or eyebrows as being on fleek. They not only wore glitter nail polish, but confidence and freedom.
Gender fluidity, Tortorella said, is looking past what makes a man and a woman, because we have “the capacity to hold both energies.”
I told Tortorella that it is hard to keep in mind the pronoun they prefer because English is a gendered language. They said, laughing, “And if you write he or she I’m not gonna be mad, just disappointed.”
Tortorella was in the Philippines to promote their book of poetry, All of it is you, and to join the Manila Book Fair at the SMX, Mall of Asia over the weekend.
The book is basically about “love, everything is about love,” they said.
They added: “It’s about the collapsing of binaries and division, and the acknowledgment of simultaneity of everyone and everything.”
Tortorella said the idea of fluidity is neither new nor strictly an American idea.
“This isn’t an American idea. This has been around since the beginning of time, in one way or another. It’s actually more of an Eastern idea than it is of Western. When you look at gender and sexuality, in every pocket of the entire world, in indigenous tribes, this idea of third gender or sexuality exists. Through colonialism and coercive indoctrination — like this country, the Philippines, knows too well — those ideologies were ripped for every people, in every country in the world. Now, all of a sudden, the Western idea is the white man idea. No. The Western idea fucked the entire world and demanded that we think like them. I think this is really about awakening.”
While Tortorella fits the description of “privileged white guy,” they said that they are using this privilege in positive ways.
“It takes a certain level of emotional intelligence, past this white privileged conversation. This book lives in a different dimension, for anyone, for everyone. And because of my privilege, in one way or another, I get the opportunity to talk and be invited to different places. I’m not using it for myself — anyway I don’t need it. I don’t have to be writing books. I am happily married, I have a great job. It’s not about me, never been about me,” they said.
Tortorella was born to Italian parents, grew up in Illinois in US, and there, has a career as an actor, having come out in films like Twelve, Trespass, Odd Thomas, and Hunter and Game. They also had a podcast called The Love Bomb. Currently, Tortorella is in the hit TV dramedy Younger.
All of it is you is their poetry debut.
Tortorella said that the white privilege that they were born with is a responsibility. In the author’s note they wrote: “What comes with this responsibility is a chance to work even harder to attempt to be a universal voice of understanding for a generation, a positive outlet for a movement, and a source of light in even the darkest of times.”
The book, which Tortorella conceptualized and did on their own, is divided into three topics: body, earth, and universe.
The poems’ subjects are wide-ranging: the penis and sperm, the womb, gender, lies, evil, science, and politics.
The goal of the book is “To take a moment for themselves, that’s what we do as readers. But in a lot of ways, it’s a showing up for yourself and recognizing that maybe the entire universe exists for you.”
With over 200 pages, the hardbound book was written over just 45 days.
“It was intense, fast. I was in New York for most of the time, I was in Chicago for some time, in Peru for a little bit, and in a jungle in the Amazon. It was work. Poetry is an interesting channel, an inspired work. Some days were easier than the others. I was writing five to seven poems in a day — if not, more than that. I wrote it in chronological order and I didn’t have a plan on what each title is called. I wrote the titles, the entire spectrum, as in the beginning to end, in 12 hours. I took all of the pictures in 24 hours, and edited them all in my phone,” they said.
The book cover was also their concept. It’s a combination of the poet’s left hand, Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, the author’s own natal astrology chart, the Earth, the cosmos, and the Merkaba symbol (also called Ezekiel’s Wheel).
The image of the Merkaba is ancient, from the Merkabah/Merkavah school of early Jewish mysticism (100 BC to 1000 AD). Mer means light, ka means spirit, and ba means body.
“It’s the perfect balance between two: masculine-feminine, black-white… everything else,” Tortorella said about the Merkaba.
The Merkaba insignia is tattoed on the left side of their chest, while “All of it is you” is tattooed in the middle. “Love Y’all” is tattoed on each knee, which apparently is the working title of the next book. Tortorella was wearing jeans ripped enough to see the two tattoos on their knees.
Love Y’all is “almost done. It’s not poetry,” said the actor-author-advocate who will also start teaching a relationship class in Yale University some time in October.
“I think it’s wildly problematic if we group people according to their age, color, or sexuality. We have our own journey, and wherever you are in your journey, it needs to be celebrated,” they said.
All of it is you is available at National Bookstore for P799.