Actor Nico Tortorella’s marriage to fitness guru Bethany C. Meyers is far from your typical boy-meets-girl love story.
Their story is laid out in Tortorella’s new book “Space Between.” It’s a place, Tortorella suggests, where people who don’t consider themselves “he” or “she” can call their own.
“When Bethany and I met in 2006, I was a boy and she was a girl, whatever that means,” Tortorella said, reading from “Space Between.” “Today Bethany and I both identify as non-binary and prefer ‘they/them’ pronouns.”
“It's still a work in progress for everyone. I still mess up sometimes, too,” Tortorella said of using “they/them” pronouns. “For me, ‘they/them’ fully encompasses all of it that exists in my own multi-dimensional dynamic being. Right? It just feels more inclusive. It feels wider.”
Tortorella also spoke openly about their struggle with fame, the painful process of coming out and facing a dark battle with alcohol.
“When I started having access to the party, to the celebrity, to the free everything, it got out of control, like it does for so many people in this industry,” they said.
The 31-year-old has found fame portraying the hyper-masculine tattoo artist Josh on TV Land’s hit show “Younger,” Lyle Menendez in Lifetime’s “Blood Brothers” and will portray a queer character battling the zombie apocalypse in the upcoming spinoff of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
“Nightline” joined Tortorella and Meyers at their upstate New York home, where Meyers discussed why they made the traditional and somewhat unexpected choice to get married.
“I knew that when it came to having a foundation and a family foundation, that this was the person for me to do it with,” Meyers said.
“When it comes to visiting each other in a hospital, god forbid that ever happens, when it comes to bringing children into the world, when it comes to health insurance, the system was built for a reason,” Tortorella added.
It’s what works for them. While Meyers and Tortorella are deeply committed to each other, they also each have multiple sexual partners.
Tortorella explained that being polyamorous didn’t mean having group sex. “It’s the ability to create space for more than one person at any given point,” they said.
“It’s love,” Meyers added. “Sometimes I get a little bit jealous but jealousy is something that I often have to practice, it’s a very normal human emotion.”
Their untraditional love story began as teenagers in a Chicago art school when Tortorella developed a crush.
“Nico very much liked me and I did not like Nico at first,” Meyers said. “But I remember talking to one of my friends and being like, ‘I don't know who this person is, and they kind of annoyed me, but they're going to be in my life forever.’”
Meyers also spoke about dealing with backlash from the Baptist community they were raised in.
“I'm from Missouri, [a] small town, pretty conservative, raised very traditional,” Meyers said. “I was raised knowing that if you're gay, you go to hell. I mean that was kind of the only thing that I knew.”
Being bisexual, Meyers was met with hostility from their own family. They finally found peace with Tortorella.
“I fell in love with Nico. I mean, I love you so much,” Meyers said speaking to Tortorella. “Nico was so respectful of everything that I wanted to do and I just feel like they saw me as an individual.”
Growing up in the Midwest, Tortorella also faced resistance from their working-class Italian family.
“I always knew that I was different,” Tortorella said. “When I first realized that even homosexuality was an option, I saw it on TV, I would go down in the basement and watch ‘Queer as Folk,’ and delete it from the queue because I didn’t want my parents knowing that I was watching it.”
With Tortorella’s newfound fame came a bigger stage, and a greater sense of purpose.
In 2018, they walked the runway at New York Fashion Week in a sheer black gown accompanied by a full beard and chest hair.
“It’s political… It's not just throwing on a dress because I'm having fun. It's to prove a point,” Tortorella said. “And I look good in a dress, so what's the problem?”
They explained the act was “both” about being provocative and making a political statement.
“I have a certain privilege that other people do not have and a responsibility [and a] right to raise awareness,” they said. “That's part of my activism. Wearing a dress is activism for me.”
While Tortorella’s fame has given them a platform for their activism, it’s also been a double-edged sword, opening the door to addiction and substance abuse.
“Once you're just like alone drinking alone, doing drugs alone and you're completely numb to it all, it gets really scary. You know, it gets really lonely,” they added.
Tortorella said fellow actor Ashton Kutcher stepped in.
“I was working on the show that was based off his life. He was my boss at that time. I was 21 years old living in New York City. Everyone was partying,” Tortorella said.
“I had gone to ask him for some advice and he was just like, ‘Don't put anything up your nose.’ We were all drinking,” they said. “I got into his face. He was like, ‘You're high right now.’ I was high. So you feel like you're invincible right? And we just started going at it. It didn't get physical. It could have.”
Before quitting alcohol, alarm bells were also going off at home with Meyers.
“There was a day when I was like, ‘Hey let's just have a day together. Let's just be sober today, let’s go out, let's not party, let’s like, be in the sunshine,’” Meyers said. “Then Nico turned around and grabbed a bottle of vodka out of the freezer and started drinking it, and I was like, ‘Oh, you can’t.’ And that was a really scary moment for me.”
Today, Tortorella says their sobriety is going “great.”
“Still, I speak of my sobriety as fluid like the rest of who I am. I'm sober from alcohol. That was the one thing that really was the devil for me,” they said. “So I gave up alcohol. I still smoke weed.”
It’s those hard times that have made them resilient.
For their traditional mom, Annie Walsh, being so different was unacceptable at first.
For Walsh, 60, seeing the child she had raised as her son in a tight black dress during Fashion Week triggered an explosive fight.
“I was OK with everything to the best of my ability, and then I saw the dress,” she said. “And I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I mean like, at one point does it stop? Where's the line? And I realize there is no line. If you start drawing lines then you're put in a box.”
“But it was more important for me to have the love of my son,” Walsh continued. “Who am I to judge who [they love], who [they don’t] love. [They love] everybody.”
Over the years, the lessons learned from Tortorella became part of their mother’s everyday life. She now lives in Florida and developed a group of friends that includes a trans masseuse, gay hair stylist and a lesbian doctor -- an evolution for her that happened alongside Tortorella’s journey.
Tortorella, their mother and their partner are each on their separate journeys, but they are bound by respect and an abiding love.
“I want to say, I wish I could do it all over again,” Walsh said. “I can't change the past, [but] I can change today. Just as [they are] changing today for so many people. [They] have done that for me.”
Today, Tortorella is using their voice to advocate for young people who identify as gender-queer, creating a sense of belonging for others in the LGBTQ+ community, many of whom need a sanctuary to call their own.
“Share more. Share more than you thought was okay,” Tortorella said of advice they’d give their younger self. “Just talk about how you are feeling more than you are, because then you can begin to feel differently.”