Younger star Nico Tortorella stunned the crowd as they walked down the red carpet wearing a shiny gold and green Christian Sirano dress at GLAAD's Rising Stars Grants Luncheon on Friday, May 4 (the first time that Sirano had ever dressed someone who was assigned male at birth). The look wasn't too out of character for Tortorella, who wore a similarly gender-fluid look at their wedding to partner Bethany Meyers, but as someone who looks like a quintessentially cisgender (meaning, not transgender) man, it was bold. And Tortorella knows that, just as they know that there's a privilege that comes with their appearance.
"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," Tortorella wrote on Instagram after the event. In the same post, they wrote that they've started experimenting with they/them pronouns (although Tortorella might still use "he" sometimes, we'll use "they" when referring to them).
The dress became a statement as Tortorella, who hosted the Rising Stars Grants Luncheon, shared their reasons for wearing it, as well as a gender-fluid look at their wedding. They shared photos from their wedding and explained to the audience that although they and Meyers look like a straight, cisgender couple to anyone who doesn't know them, both of their identities are much more complicated. Both Tortorella and Meyers have been outspoken about their sexual fluidity and polyamory. Now, Tortorella is also exploring gender expression. "As much as I understand the spectrum, the less I believe in the binary of gender, the more liberated I myself am becoming," Tortorella wrote.
Although they are exploring gender and wore three different dresses throughout the Rising Stars Grants Luncheon and the GLAAD Media Awards the next day, Tortorella recognises their privilege in having a body that society-at-large reads as white, cisgender, and masculine. They wrote in a post after the media awards that: "The colour of [my] skin, my ability to pass as straight and cisgendered [sic], my socioeconomic status, my celebrity, my location, my body, my face, my partner. [It's] a privilege to be able to show up to an event like this and then to throw on shorts, Vans, tube socks, a t-shirt, and a beanie to walk my dogs safely in New York City."
Their experience serves as a reminder that identity, both sexual orientation and gender, is more complicated than what often meets the eye. Tortorella has privilege in looking like a cisgender man, sure. But when walking around New York in Vans and a t-shirt, their gender identity is also erased in many people's minds. That erasure is why Tortorella finds it so important to represent the LGBTQ+ community when they can, like at the GLAAD awards.
"No one can tell you that you're on the binary ends of a spectrum. Identity and expression can be fluid. It doesn't have to be fixed," they told Refinery29. "We are multi-dimensional, dynamic human beings."