Written by Staff Writer
Nick Thornley is a published novelist and stand-up comedian who identifies as gender queer, nonbinary, agender, multiracial and even has some in between.
Thornley believes that his answer isn’t going to be perfect and that in the 21st century, identity is fluid and constantly being rewritten and redefined. His work incorporates fiction and nonfiction to tell stories of everyone he comes into contact with, providing a new perspective on how life truly should be lived, if at all.
Nick Thornley performs in October in London. Credit: Euan Cherry
“There’s no such thing as a true identity or perhaps I’ve just thrown it all away and don’t recognize myself,” Thornley said when asked what defines him.
His experience ranges from cab drivers that openly identified as trans women to perfect strangers — both men and women — who abruptly noticed and loved his completely unique appearance as a man on the subway. Thornley describes it as everything you ever wanted to know about life on the other side of the tracks.
Thornley prides himself on just being himself and he spends most of his time traveling the world to find and interact with people who have just as much to offer. In addition to performing stand-up comedy, his personal life includes writing a column for the UK publication, Vice magazine, and last year, he became the first trans man to be accepted as a regular contributing journalist at The New York Times . Thornley has also been an adviser to several trans youth organizations and serves as the spokesperson for GLAAD — a nonprofit that works to promote fairness and equality for all.
CNN Style caught up with the multifaceted entertainer to learn more about his unique personal journey, including a recent Twitter thread on changing what it means to love and the misconception that anyone who doesn’t identify as male or female is a liar.
CNN Style: How did you get started writing about identity?
Nick Thornley: It started because of my first book, “The Ugly Boy,” which I published at the age of 27. After I had written this, someone emailed me with the title. It began from the idea of the book being an answer to the phrase, “Why don’t people love me?”
Trans v Trans debate — can a single conversation really change the world?
It led me to a passion to write about gender and gender expression and how people wanted to wear it and whether it was important. This was the beginning of the first travel piece for Vice.
Tell us a little about the book.
“The Ugly Boy” is a first person story about transitioning from female to male. It is a coming of age story for me.
I had discovered a lot about gender and masculinity as a little boy and realized, “Hmm, I feel a bit like this.” It was a revelation in the sense that I didn’t recognize myself at my most masculine.
Sitting at a rest stop in Switzerland, my small book sat in the middle of the map on the train, buried down the back of the page. With each twist and turn of the seat, that book grew in size with every new language I learned. And on each page, I took control of my own life by claiming the identity of a little boy.
What’s your favorite port of call for travel?
Paris. I love seeing the cities I already know — I’ve been to Paris a million times but you never lose that sense of discovery.
How have your cultural interests been shaped by your dual worldview?
To take advantage of my two facets, the London-based queer stand up comedian, the international cartoonist, the husband to a trans woman and the publisher at Vice.com, I tend to intersperse my stand up routines with travel pieces in the current issue of Vice — particularly travel pieces written by other queer genderqueer travel writers.
In terms of the travel pieces, I consider myself a traveling character trying to connect with other travel characters. I keep imagining I’m Poe leaving Kansas and somehow mixing into the Central Park crowd in New York.
Thornley, left, with Vice editor in chief Ryan Duffy. Credit: Andy Bell Photography
How do you think your gender different perspective might affect the nature of your stand-up show?
I do think a lot of stand-up comedy is extremely political and very often, specific to the age of politics at that moment. I don’t look at myself that way. I’m trying to reflect on life from the perspective of how it is and what it is, and that’s good for your self-reliance and for all those pretending to be who they aren’t.