Elliot Page has had the unique – and unenviable – experience of coming out twice. First as strange. Then as transgender.
It was the second coming that attracted doubters, dogmatists and troublemakers: “When I came out in 2014, the vast majority of people believed me, they didn’t ask for proof.” Coming out as trans six years later meant people wanted proof of lifelong dysphoria to legitimize his new gender identity, often simply refusing to accept his adult announcement as true.
Now Page, 36, is arguably the most famous trans man in the world and his new memoir Page boy (June 6) explores this fraught but privileged position. careless and unwritten, Page boy shows a kind of deep breathing and thoughtful self-reflection on a life defined by public roles – on screen or locked in closets – with the silent narrator now merely resetting the story of his life. Truly disarming memories are shared, including mentions of aggravated self-harm and assault. (There are also the details of romances with public figures, such as Kate Mara and Olivia Thirlby, that have made headlines.) But behind each is a clarity and self-assurance that is restorative and empowering to read, like Page’s opening statement of “Finally “I can be with myself, in this body,” it sounds confidently despite these hardships.
Page boy endorses the statement that since queerness is intrinsically non-linear, capturing a queer life should not be a linear narrative. The book begins in 2007, the time of a first kiss with a woman in a gay bar, and of Juno, the film that earned Page an Academy Award nomination for his turn as a pregnant teen, as well as speculation about Page’s sexuality, with some journalists claiming that Page owed it to the community to come out. Chapter 2 begins with memories of a Michael Musto in The village voice provocatively headlined “The Ellen Page Sexuality Sweepstakes” and then mentioned more memories of a dyke growing up in Canada.
But Juno pushed Page into the hard Hollywood celebrity system and made him prime meat for tabloid fodder and media attention. A Canadian magazine called Frank put Page on the cover and asked, “Is Ellen Page gay?” The period turned out to be a particularly low point, as the glory of an Oscar nomination was undone by the frenzied obsession with his sexuality. This was only exacerbated by publicists and film studios attempting to feminize his image and confront gay rumours.
Page boy is pitched as the “story of [an] untangle.” It’s the life of someone battling everything from misogyny, abuse and male obsession to the unwanted cruelties of homophobia and transphobia combined. Page describes how he experienced gender dysphoria from an early age, preferring the usual features of boyish rough behavior to fairies and femininity. Scenes like playing Charlie in his elementary school production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are remembered as transformative moments. The artifice of such gender play is embraced by the young Page, as is the pleasure of finally being recognized for who they feel they are: “Maybe people would see me,” he recalls.
As a child, Page is sometimes mistaken for an effeminate boy, facing the wrath of bullying classmates who utter homophobic remarks and chase him off the playground. Hiding in his imagination, alone in his bedroom, brings escapist fun and quiet relief. The seclusion allows him to fantasize about being a grown man writing letters to girlfriends and conjuring up a figurative identity, away from the gender alienation of everyday life. When he enters puberty, these childhood fantasies no longer work and the depression drops its anchor.
In his mid-teens, he began corresponding with an older man who found Page’s student blog on the Internet. The man had become obsessed with Page’s role in a small Canadian TV series and pursued him online. The correspondence continues in secret for nearly two years – despite Page’s attempts to end it. “He added pictures of me with my eyes closed and photoshopped himself with huge angel wings above me, staring down,” Page writes. The man tries to find out his whereabouts from friends with fake emails. After trying to finally cut ties, Page is confronted by the stalker in real life and forced to flee and hide. The man is later arrested and diagnosed with schizophrenia. There’s a grim irony in his obsession with the feminized adolescent Page who appeared on TV at a time when, Page explains, he felt his dysphoria most acutely.
Life proves to be no less easy as adulthood beckons and Page enters the world stage thanks to Junoas well as the role of Kitty Pryde in the blockbuster X-Men franchise and a role in Start. With the price of these spotlights comes the tightening up of the Hollywood machine to play it right and stay squarely in the closet. Red carpet performances mean dresses and high heels to fake his feminine mystique. Film directors with grooming tendencies are also circling. One incessantly showers Page with gifts and messages, while another makes unwanted advances by fondling him under the dining room table. But romance later blossoms for Page. There’s an intense sexual affair with Kate Mara, who he admits has an “unabashed attraction,” and later a secret relationship with an anonymous co-star named “Ryan,” which eventually ends after she hides it from the public and turned out to be ‘much too painful’. .”
When Page publicly confirmed he was trans in 2020, the act cemented ties with his mother while permanently severing them with his father, who only doubled down on his transphobia. Page explains how his father likes to hang out with “those with massive platforms who have attacked and ridiculed me worldwide,” such as liking Jordan Petersen’s tweets mocking Page’s transition. His mother’s love, however, helped to counteract this caustic family hatred: “She loves her son endlessly. I am lucky to have that, to feel such a deep and sincere love.
Page acknowledges their privilege and the cynicism some readers may feel when a white Hollywood actor takes the spotlight to tell their story of gender transition. Still, what Page boy does is underline how stories of trans travel, often memorialized in books, are powerful and transformative, as they not only show how trans travel cannot be made universal, but also provide representation and truth that the same experiences are valid and can ultimately be realized in others . Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg and Amateur by Thomas Page McBee are just some of the works that Page encourages others to seek out as they explore the writing and impetus behind Page boy. “I know that books have helped me, even saved me,” he writes.
Page has dealt with the intolerance of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia all his life, so speaks from a thoughtful and intersectional perspective from his various positions on the wheel of privilege. Shame and self-loathing appear in many of the earliest stories, but these eventually give way to redemptive claims and testimonies of self-love that the realization of his true gender identity has now earned him. In everything, Page boy is an affirming statement of self-acceptance that is more than likely to inspire and comfort others seeking solace — just as Page did when he sought out other trans writers who came before him.