June 24, 2022
Vico Ortiz (They/Them) Manifests Inclusion as an act of Unconditional Love
Este Articulo es Bilingue- This article is bilingual
This article was edited for efficiency and accuracy purposes.
12 minute read
Vico Ortiz, (They/Theirs/Them) HBO Max Actor in “Our Flag Means Death,” is our Puerto Rican non-binary role model who talks to us about courage, unconditional love, and being non-binary.
LATEST INPUT: In the wake of Roe v. Wade, we find that gender rights are being threatened and that institutions, like the Catholic Church, have historically rejected and influenced the abolishment of these rights for women and LGBTQ+ people. Our photo shoot with Vico Ortiz promotes quite the opposite. In times of rejection of choice and unconditional acceptance for the self, we resist with this beautiful photoshoot filled with embrace, true acceptance, and unconditional love in none other than in a Catholic Church.Quote by Mitzi Salgado, Editor-in-Chief of The Cultura Media
Vico Ortiz- HBO Max non-binary actor did something really special with us for our LGBTQ+ Latinx Pride photoshoot for The Cultura Media, which we did at a Catholic church. I interviewed them afterward so they could tell us how they felt about embodying the inclusion of gender identities as an act of unconditional love, especially as a Latine person.
For those who don’t know Vico and their queer magic, Vico Ortiz plays “Jim,” a non-binary pirate character in the “Our Flag Means Death” series on HBO Max and Tova in “Sex life of College girls.” Vico is also an advocate for Spanish and English language inclusion, non-binary and Trans people, and sometimes wears a “massive beard while being a flamboyant, sparkly fairy.”
For LGBTQ+ Pride Month, The Cultura Media is doing a Latinx campaign featuring Vico Ortiz in our campaign debut photoshoot titled, “¡Elle! Por el Amor de Dios.” This photoshoot aims to show unconditional love and that no matter who you are, you should be loved unconditionally, as is preached so profoundly in the Catholic Church. However, the controversy behind truly accepting people regardless of race and gender is one that many faith-based institutions have rejected for centuries.
So, as a creative director, who is also Latina and raised Catholic, I thought it was incredibly important to show an influential activist and leader in the LGBTQ+ community take up space in their most authentic self in a Catholic Church. There’s no better way to show true love and acceptance other than with action and by embracing the complexity of someone’s identity without question.
I couldn’t have picked a better person for this campaign debut. Here we are, take a peek at Vico’s interview article with The Cultura Media and watch the full interview on The Cultura’s Instagram and Youtube Chanel, which we will drop at 11:59pm on June 27, pacific time.
Without further ado, check out the interview highlights with Vico Ortiz below:
Mitzi: We talked a little bit about this on the set, and things came up for you. Like your relationship with religion.
Yes, a lot came up for me, starting with the email. I get the location, and I’m like, ‘oh cool.’ And then I look it up, and I’m like, ‘that’s a trick, maybe it’s next to the church, and it’s not the actual church.’ Then I go to the place, and I’m like, ‘Oh, we’re actually going to be in a church,’ a Catholic church to be specific.
So, that was the religion that I [was] always brought up with, and I do have a nun in my life, my tia abuela, which definitely brought many of those memories. And I was thankfully able to see her recently and tell her about the [HBO Max] show and tell her that my character was also raised by assassin nuns, which scandalized her. But it’s good to have that relationship with her; she also acknowledges me and uses my name. And seeing me at the same time, as also being a nun all her life: she’s in her eighties.
But I also noticed the times when I have internalized moments where I’m like, ‘Can I twerk in this space? Will that be okay? Is it right to move baby Jesus and the homies? What am I allowed and not allowed to do?’ And have fun with that too.
And realize that, yes, queer people, we’ve always been here. We occupy all the spaces, and part of healing, everybody really, is knowing that we can love each other, sympathize with each other, even if we have differences, and acknowledge the chaos of our contradictions with love and acceptance.
Mitzi: What do you think you’re going to represent? Or what do you want to project on this photoshoot?
I think I want to project that we can accept each other and coexist in our differences. There are 7 billion people in this world, which means 7 billion experiences in humanity. That means 7 billion opinions and ways of being alive and internal contradiction because we’ve had those too. And I feel like having this[photoshoot] is a way of showing, ‘hey, there are a lot of things that contradict each other. How can we still hold each other with love and acceptance? I’m not saying the Catholic church is like here for this photo shoot. There are still a lot of responsibilities that need to be assumed.
But I think this might be a way to open up like, ‘Hey, yeah, we can invite people into our house. We can invite people into our sacred space to share space and share time together and connect as human beings and sympathize with their experiences without having to turn each other away.’
Mitzi: You started doing drag, right? And you talk about what it means to be masculine and feminine. What have you learned about those two constructs?”
So through drag, I was able to discover, unpack, [and] channel the power of my femininity through my masculinity. I was able to reclaim what that means to me and my own terms outside of societal expectations. Before drag, in the very beginning, was very much performing feminine before societal expectations. And once I first came out as gay, I began performing masculinity [within those] societal expectations. So I was trying to fit both femininity and masculinity in a very toxic and performative way. Then once I was actually performing and looking back at me like, ‘wait, this is all performed: this is [an] illusion.’
So reclaiming terms like my masculinity is the vulnerable side. My femininity is the strength, the courage, the powerful side.
In binary terms or more accustomed terms, I would say, for people who don’t know what non-binary is, is that I’m a feminine guy and a masculine woman.
Why can’t I lap dance like a guy, or like heels as a guy, have a beard on and have lipstick on. So, I was able to bleed that energy into my life and really just do whatever I want and however I want it. Just be. And that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be non-binary to do that. As a woman, as a man, you can express your gender however you want. I feel it’s also really cool to see people like Bad Bunny, who is a Cis- question-mark heterosexual man? Who expresses his gender in a very societally feminine way. I think it’s really cool to see. It’s not just for trans and non-binary people to do these things. It’s really for everybody’s right to really reclaim and take ownership of that and explore what it means to you outside of what society tells you to do and cannot do.
Mitzi: Why do you think it’s so important to society’s health to challenge these constructs in that way?
Something that we were talking about earlier is that the moment we are born, the first thing we’re introduced to is fear. We’re also introduced to love, but they’re parallel to each other.
The second you’re born, say, you’re born with a penis, you can’t cry. You can’t like that, that’s pink. And suddenly, you’re like, ‘oh, maybe I shouldn’t be doing that.’
And the same thing goes if you’re born with a vagina. You gotta be softer. You’re also scared of getting to know yourself or taking ownership of who you are. And I’m not even talking about intersex people who are born with different types of genitalia, and then they’re forced to fit into the binary with non-consented surgical operations.
So we are constantly fed fear. And all of a sudden, from the very get-go, you are taught to perform so you are accepted, and you’re not taught to just be and know that you are worthy of being accepted for who you are.
I wouldn’t be able to be if it wasn’t for all of my ancestors who were there before me and who put their lives on the line for me to be in existence and have a conversation like this. But I mean, 50 years ago, this would have been a very tough path even ten years ago.
Mitzi: What can you tell people who can’t present themselves as authentic as possible, especially for closeted people? What kind of word of advice do you have for them?
I would say that regardless of whether you are or are not able to present yourself when you feel who you are in the everyday world or your existence, you’re living your breathing. Therefore, you are valid, and your existence is valid. And the fact that you are in this specific dimension, your heart is beating, your blood is pumping, and your brain is doing its thing. You’re real. And your existence is valid. And even if you are not able to express exactly how you want it just yet, you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, and that’s you, that’s real, that’s there. The fact that you are here doing just that is just enough. You don’t have to do more.
Mitzi: How do you draw your courage?
I have my moments. I journal a lot. If I am doubtful and insecure, I’m feeling XYZ. I write it down and just let it all out there. Then I look at it, and I’m like, ‘okay, that was a lot of fear. How do I now observe this feeling, allow it to happen, and treat myself with so much love in the process, whether making myself a tea or whatever.’
Resting is revolutionary. That is something that I was not good at in the past. The way I behaved, one thing after the next, not processing the good or the bad. And also then I realized, ‘Oh, wow, I need to just rest.’ I turn off the computer, turn off the film and be with myself and be conscientious of my heartbeat, my breath, how my blood feels in my veins, get really detailed [of] what is happening. Nurture my body in keeping this vessel alive and protecting my soul.
I also draw my courage from celebrating my friends and who they are. It was really rough during the pandemic. I didn’t realize how much I recharged being in queer spaces. That was taken away, and I was like, ‘oh, where do I go to see my people?’ You got to be [in] the community and be celebrated with [my friends]. Now that we’re back being able to hug my friends, I draw a lot from that. So courage comes from self-care, and being in community is a form of self-care.
Mitzi: How do you approach your activism in relation to intersectionality. Even your act of rebellion against gendered terms in Spanish, how do you define that for your activism?
There are so many. I would define my intersectionality as owning those intersections, especially in the Latin American world, specifically because of how binary Spanish is—so owning that I am non-binary and exist in English and Spanish. So my intersection is someone who is non-binary, who is a Spanish speaker, who is Caribbean. I own the fact that I am Puerto Rican and have privilege as an American citizen; however, I know that I come from a colonized country. I also come from “la diaspora”, so when I’m in Puerto Rico, I experience a different privilege because I’ve spent 13 years in Los Angeles, in a very safe space where I have water and power all the time.
Acknowledging their (people’s) intersections and acknowledging how it intersects with mine or not, and seeing them for that. As I get into more work in producing, I want to see my intersections inter wrap with mine. See how that feels and creates these nuanced stories [and] characters. Even if we may get a movie, it’s been done a thousand times with the same cis-heterosexual, white people. What if we change the casting, production, writing, and crew that reflects these different types of intersections.
Mitzi: I want to shout out “Our Flag Means Death” because you did incredible in that show. You played, Jim. I know that you related a lot to the character. How much fun did you have with that? And tell me a little bit about the show and your journey with it. By the way, you were perfectly cast for it.
It was. It is a dream come true. Honestly, it was so rad to be able to tell the story with my body, with my soul, and reclaim a lot of queer stories that history writers often change.
And something that I, for me, was really important as I was portraying Jim, was that they are not acting like a man, and they’re not acting like a woman. They are just the same person, regardless. The only thing that changes is how people perceive them based on their expression. The beard does not make them more masculine. Not having a beard does not make them more feminine. They are the same human being. They act the same. I was very conscientious about my body behavior, whatever I was doing with Jim was like, ‘this is going to be Jim’s thing, regardless of how people perceive them,’ and [I] had a lot of fun with that too.
Also, being on set, with a beard. I’m a very much a fruit loop. I love being like that. Having the beard, especially when I was walking outside, I was not with the cast, and getting a coffee. The first-month several people were assuming and expecting something based on how I looked. And then I would get to the coffee shop and be like, ‘hmm, what do I want today? Something salty or something sweet.’ And they’ll be like, ‘what is happening? You are a bearded man with a high-pitched voice, and what is going on.’ And I was like, ‘I’m also breaking the [stereotype], this is a thing, right?’ It was a massive beard while also a flamboyant, sparkly fairy. So that was fun outside of filming. Yeah, a dream role.
“Thank you so much for allowing me to sit down like this and chill and process together. Honestly, I saw a little bit of the BTS photos. I think they’re gonna look fantastic. I can’t wait to show the world what we did. I’m so excited for what people are going to say, how they’re going to react, how they’re going to feel and see what we emote with this art.”