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Elliot Page is an unlikely trans hero. His new memoir shows why that’s important.

In his book Pageboy, between all the juicy Hollywood stories, Page invites crucial empathy toward the trans experience.

Elliot Page at the LACMA Art + Film Gala on November 5, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

At first glance, you’d think Elliot Page would be the last person to have written an explosive tell-all Hollywood memoir. The 36-year-old Page, who has starred in iconic films like The X-Men series, Juno, and Inception as well as Netflix’s much-loved urban fantasy series The Umbrella Academy, has arguably built his career on a persona of mild-mannered chill.

Yet Elliot Page is also queer and trans, coming out as trans in 2020, and his choice to publish a memoir during Pride month amid aggressive anti-trans actions playing out in red states across the US makes Pageboy a surprisingly bold political statement. Page may be an unlikely poster boy for trans rights, but that may be precisely what gives his story such power.

Who is Elliot Page again?

Originally from Canada, Page had a typical upbringing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, except for his double role as a child star. Page’s first acting job, in Pit Pony (1997), a film-turned-family-drama in which he also starred, netted him critical acclaim before he’d even turned 11, and set him on a swiftly rising career path. A decade later, after critically lauded turns in films like the 2004 dramedy Wilby Wonderful and the 2005 dark thriller Hard Candy, in which his character weaponizes her deceptive innocence to catch a child predator, Page bagged the role of Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), a part that’s since become iconic queer rep.

The following year, he landed the title role in one of the most unexpectedly polarizing films of the decade: Diablo Cody’s comedy about teen pregnancy, Juno (2007). Featuring Page as the titular unwed high schooler who finds herself pregnant by her sometime boyfriend (Michael Cera), the film’s refreshingly casual take on teen pregnancy divided critics and activists across the political spectrum and ushered in a wave of odd takes. Time magazine blamed a nonexistent “Juno effect” for “glamorizing” teen pregnancy and causing a rash of pregnancies at a random high school. The film’s apparent quick rejection of abortion as an option for its protagonist led many viewers to conclude it was anti-abortion, a charge Cody is still quick to refute.

In Juno, Page and Cera deftly fling classic Cody zingers at each other (“I still have your underwear.” “I still have your virginity!”) all while embodying the mortifying awkwardness of teenagerdom. Both actors built their personas around such performative normalcy; Page became known for this particular brand of low-key, world-weary innocence. In 2010, he starred as Ariadne, the architect of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, whose mix of wide-eyed wonder and deadpan eye-rolling over her own dreamscapes turns out to be the perfect grounding element the entire story needs. If Page had an identifiable public persona by the 2010s, it was arguably that of weaponized ambivalence.

All of that changed in 2014, however, when Page, trembling through an instantly viral speech for the Human Rights Campaign on Valentine’s Day, came out as gay. Page spoke of the “crushing standards” Hollywood pressed upon people, and of his fight to live authentically despite social stigmas and homophobia. “Trying to create that mental picture of your life, of what on earth is going to happen to you, can crush you a little every day,” he said. His coming-out speech made international headlines and turned Page into one of the most-Googled celebrities of 2014; he subsequently filmed a series for Vice, Gaycation, in which he leveraged his new status as a queer icon to explore the queer identities and experiences of average citizens around the world.

Though Page had yet to come out as trans, his 2014 coming-out speech is also full of references to Page’s trans identity. A 2015 profile of Page in the New York Times reported that Page, from an early age, had presented as transmasculine and had written a high school paper questioning the existence of a gender binary. That profile, while attempting to be definitive, also seemed to struggle to comprehend Page’s persona; writer Sam Anderson observes Page’s aura of “profound moral seriousness” but then meanders away to fixate on Page’s forehead wrinkles for an entire paragraph, concluding, “That is the essence of Ellen Page: the face like a doll; the gnarled sophistication of the forehead.”

It’s a quizzical approach toward an actor who, as Anderson’s profile acknowledges and the memoir later confirms, has spent his entire career steadfastly rejecting the pressure to be more feminine, to perform the role of a feminine sex symbol. Throughout Pageboy — the title a clever reference to Page’s lifetime of androgynous presentation prior to coming out — it seems as if by merely passively rejecting such pressure, Page becomes a confrontational powder keg that provokes responses. “We get it, you’re gay!” a higher-up at his (former) agency allegedly responded when Page got the news about Gaycation. When Jordan Peterson was finally banned from Twitter, it was over, of all things, a tweet deadnaming and mocking Page.

But Page, of course, is aware of all this. The memoir makes it clear that despite a career built around an appearance of anodyne waifishness, Page is savvy and streetwise about the mental and emotional toll the celluloid closet — and the process of leaving it — can take.

What do we learn about Page in his memoir?

Pageboy makes for raw reading, bouncing from emotion-filled personal encounters to the grim realities of Hollywood to the perils of navigating the societally enforced gender binary. Page skims over his rise to Hollywood stardom, picking up the majority of his narrative after his post-Juno success, when the pressure to conform really kicked in. He drops titillating details in the classic tradition of the scandalous Hollywood tell-all: everything from delightful asides (Hugh Jackman is a really nice guy! Page has Catherine Keener’s name tattooed on his shoulder!) to deeper ruminations on his relationships, including with his Juno co-star Olivia Thirlby and an indecisive, arguably manipulative Kate Mara, who refused to choose between Page and her then long-term boyfriend Max Minghella.

Simultaneously, Page moves back and forth across time, detailing a lifetime of exploring his sexual and gender identity, and seemingly also a lifetime of encountering gender-based and queerphobic harassment and violence. Page recounts horrifying incidents, including being gay-bashed repeatedly, intensely stalked online and in person, alleged emotional abuse at the hands of his father and stepmother, and the time an unnamed A-lister, still allegedly one of the most famous men in Hollywood, harassed him repeatedly at a party and threatened to rape him to prove that being gay wasn’t real. Along the way, he battles an eating disorder, gender dysphoria, and a string of awful sexual encounters throughout his life. In these encounters he is never giving nor being asked for consent; which is to say he was raped repeatedly. He dissociates completely in such moments, but makes it clear that his passivity is a fear response. That’s not to say that the book is joyless; indeed, it’s because of scenes like this that, later on, once Page has come out and transitioned and developed more affirming relationships, his contrasting descriptions of sex are suffused with joy and delight. Pageboy is ultimately arguably a work not only of trans survival, but of trans euphoria.

Though the memoir is rarely explicitly political — despite Page’s openly progressive politics, the book is focused on his personal experiences — it is an act of political activism simply by presenting the reality of queer trans identity. Lurking at the edges is the sense that Page, even at 36, has been just as disenfranchised by the escalating war on transgender rights, and the use of trans people as a target in the culture war, as every other vulnerable trans kid. Witness his heartbreaking description of his estrangement from his father. “To be frank, it is hard to imagine a relationship again,” he writes, noting that his father and stepmother “support those with massive platforms who have attacked and ridiculed me on a global scale.” He goes on to report that after Elon Musk allowed Peterson to rejoin Twitter, his father “liked” Peterson’s first return tweet, which referenced his being “canceled” over Page.

“I have no clue what my father thinks of his son at this point,” Page writes. “Regardless of everything before, it’s painful to think that someone who parented you could support those who deny your very existence.”

This all makes for heady reading, but it’s already made an impact: On June 6, the day of the memoir’s release, trolls on Twitter trended his name alongside disgraced actor Jussie Smollett, who famously staged a gay-bashing incident, as a way of attempting to discredit one of Page’s more powerful (and by no means isolated) descriptions of being verbally assaulted and threatened with violence while walking down Sunset Boulevard in early 2022.

Yet the frothing anger displayed online at Page’s story just served to uphold the veracity of his account — which was, again, one of many that Page experiences throughout the memoir — underscoring just how normalized this violence is for so many queer and trans people just living their lives.

That may be the key to understanding Page himself. Beyond the wave of aggressive anti-trans legislation trans people are facing around the country, there’s a broader push to question the validity of trans identity — to challenge the idea that trans people are even real. And while pop culture has a number of prominent trans women who visibly represent transfemininity to the public — Laverne Cox, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, Caitlyn Jenner, and Janet Mock, for example — there are far fewer examples of celebrity trans men to look to.

So it matters that our most famous transmasc celebrity, Elliot Page, is also an actor who’s arguably always been known for his authenticity. Long before he came out as trans, he performed his trans identity in ways that couldn’t be hidden, in ways that sent cisgender writers scrambling to impose traditionalist gender readings on him. At one point, E! Online published a series of awful, since-deleted pieces questioning why Page dressed like a “hobo” instead of showing off his “petite beauty.” No matter where you are on the gender spectrum, the fact Page has continued to be simply himself in the face of such ridiculous standards makes him universally relatable. And a universally relatable trans celebrity may be exactly what we need right now.

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