Elliot Page has had the unique—and unenviable—experience of coming out twice. First as queer. Then as transgender.
It was the second coming that attracted doubters, dogmatists, and difficulties: “When I came out in 2014, the vast majority of people believed me, they did not ask for proof.” Coming out as trans six years later meant people wanted evidence of lifelong dysphoria to legitimize his new gender identity, often refusing to simply accept his adult announcement as true.
Now Page, 36, is perhaps the most famous transman in the world and his new memoir Pageboy (June 6) examines this fraught but privileged position. Incautious and unscripted, Pageboy displays a kind of deep breathing and thoughtful self-reflection about a life defined by public roles—whether on screen or imprisoned by closets—that now sees the quiet narrator solely reset the story of his life. There are truly disarming recollections shared, including mentions of heavy self-harm and sexual assault. (There are also the details of romances with public figures, like Kate Mara and Olivia Thirlby, that have made headlines.) But behind each is a clarity and assuredness that is restorative and empowering to read, as Page’s opening statement of “At last, I can be with myself, in this body” echoes with confidence in spite of these hardships.
Pageboy subscribes to the dictum that since queerness is intrinsically nonlinear, recording 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 queer bar, and of Juno, the movie that brought Page an Academy Award nomination for his turn as a pregnant teen, but also speculation on Page’s sexuality, with some journalists arguing 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 more memories of being called a dyke while growing up in Canada.
But Juno thrust Page into the harsh Hollywood celebrity system and made him prime meat for tabloid fodder and media scrutiny. A Canadian magazine called Frank put Page on the cover and asked, “Is Ellen Page gay?” The period proved a particularly low ebb, as the glory of an Oscar nomination was undone by the frenzied obsession with his sexuality. This was only compounded by publicists and film studios trying to feminize his image and head off gay rumors.
Pageboy is pitched as the “story of [an] untangling.” It’s the life of someone battling everything from misogyny, abuse and male obsession, to the unwelcome cruelties of homophobia and transphobia combined. Page details how he experienced gender dysphoria from an early age, preferring the usual traits of boyish roughhousing over fairies and femininity. Scenes like playing Charlie in his elementary school production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are recalled 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: “Perhaps people would see me,” he recalls.
As a kid, Page is sometimes confused for an effeminate boy, facing the wrath of bullying classmates who throw homophobic slurs and chase him from the playground. Hiding out in his imagination, alone in his bedroom, provides escapist pleasure and quiet relief. The seclusion lets him fantasize of being a grown man who writes letters to girlfriends and conjures a figurative identity away from the gender estrangement of daily life. As he enters adolescence these childhood fantasies prove to no longer work and 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 stint on a minor Canadian TV series and hunted him down online. The correspondence continues in secret for almost two years—much in spite of Page’s efforts to end it. “He would attach pictures of me with my eyes closed, and photoshop himself with massive angel wings above me, glaring down,” Page writes. The man attempts to extract his whereabouts from friends with fake emails. After trying to finally sever 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 for the feminized adolescent Page seen on TV at a time when, Page explains, he felt his dysphoria most acutely.
Life proves to be no less easy when adulthood beckons and Page enters the world stage thanks to Juno, as well the role of Kitty Pryde in the blockbuster X-Men franchise and a part in Inception. With the prize of this limelight comes the tightening of the Hollywood machine to play it straight and stay squarely in the closet. Red carpet showings mean dresses and high-heels to fake his feminine mystique. Film directors with grooming tendencies also circle. One incessantly showers Page with gifts and messages, while another makes unwanted advances by stroking him under a dinner table. But romance does bloom later for Page. There’s an intense sexual affair with Kate Mara, who he admits having an “unabashed attraction” for, and later a secret relationship with an anonymous co-star called “Ryan,” which ultimately ends after hiding it from public view proves “far too painful.”
When Page publicly affirmed that he was trans in 2020, the act strengthened ties with his mother while permanently cutting them with his father, who only doubled down on his transphobia. Page explains how his father enjoys engaging with “those with massive platforms who have attacked and ridiculed me on a global scale,” such as liking tweets by Jordan Petersen that mock Page’s transition. The love from his mother, however, has helped counterbalance this caustic familial hate: “She loves her son endlessly. I’m lucky to have that, to feel such profound and genuine love.”
Page acknowledges their privilege and the cynicism some readers may feel about a white Hollywood actor taking the spotlight to tell their story on gender transition. Still, what Pageboy does is underscore how narratives about trans journeys, often memorialized in books, are powerful and transformative because they not only show how trans journeys can’t be universalized but provide representation and truth that these same experiences are valid and can be ultimately realized in others. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg and Amateur by Thomas Page McBee are just some of the works Page encourages others to seek out, as they informed the writing and impetus behind Pageboy. “I know books have helped me, saved me even,” he writes.
Page has faced the bigotries of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia all across his life, so speaks with a thoughtful and intersectional perspective from his various positions on the wheel of privilege. Shame and self-hatred figure in many of the earliest stories but these finally give way to redemptive reclamations and testimonies of self-love that realizing his true gender identity has now afforded him. In all, Pageboy is an affirming declaration of self-acceptance that is more than likely to inspire and comfort others seeking solace—much like Page did himself seeking out other trans writers that came before him.