When Elliot Page, the Oscar-nominated Canadian star known for Juno, Whip It, and Umbrella Academy came out as trans, my whole Twitter timeline rejoiced at once. It was beautiful and affirming for so many trans and non-binary people to celebrate a beloved icon sharing their identity with us — and with the whole world. Moreover, it was incredible to see a trans person coming out on their own terms. So far, save for Caitlyn Jenner or Sam Smith, there have been few — if any — established celebrities coming out as trans or non-binary. To witness someone so many of us have known and loved for years come out and share their transition in real time feels like a gift.
Page shared his pronouns and that he is trans, and even though he did not reveal any other labels or identities, it is hugely important for trans non-binary people like me. Our lack of mainstream representation means that Page’s coming out is monumental. It’s not that representation is everything. — trans people understand that representation alone can’t fix systemic societal issues or the intense discrimination that Page described in their coming out post on Instagram. It can’t magically wipe away the medical transphobia we face, the severe rates of incarcerated transgender people, or the disproportionately high rates of violence, abuse, and murder that trans people experience — particularly Black trans women and trans women of colour.
But while it isn’t a solution to these injustices, representation is one important step towards trans people knowing we’re not alone. This is no small thing in a society filled with those who would deny us our own reality, who insist that we’re inventing our identity. The fact is, there is nothing “wrong” with us — and Page’s post makes us feel seen.
I read the words from Page’s coming out letter and saw so much of myself and my own experience in the way they phrased things. “I can’t begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self. I’ve been endlessly inspired by so many in the trans community. Thank you for your courage, your generosity and ceaselessly working to make this world a more inclusive and compassionate place,” he said. For many trans people, Page’s coming out was also a much-needed and welcome moment of joy after a gutting morning of processing the barriers to trans-affirming care that young people in the UK and around the world are currently facing.
Earlier that same day came news of the High Court’s decision, in what is known as the Keira Bell case, in which the court decided that “children under the age of 16 considering gender reassignment are unlikely to be mature enough to give informed consent to be prescribed puberty-blocking drugs.” In practice, this means that anyone under 16 could be denied access to puberty blockers, thus depriving them of trans-affirming care — something that’s often a matter of life or death — under the guise of “informed consent.” This decision was a victory for transphobia, which is why, after many of us spent yesterday poring over transphobic posts, seeing Page’s joyous news was an unexpected cushion — a wonderful surprise.
“Seeing the news about Elliot Page really made my heart soar,” Franky, a first generation trans masc Filipino-American, told Refinery29. “It really made me feel seen as a trans person. While I'm not white, I still felt the pure joy of seeing someone come out publicly and immediately got the support from so many other people including celebrities,” Many people shared how important it was to see media outlets immediately use Elliot’s name rather than deadnaming him, and also that Netflix instantly began the process of changing his name in the credits for all his appearances on the platform. It was empowering to witness that better treatment of trans people could be normalised and exemplified right before our eyes. Other people I spoke with also expressed that it’s given them more strength to come out to people in their own lives and proudly be themselves.
What this could mean for Hollywood is huge, too. Theo Germaine, a trans actor known for The Politician and Work In Progress, told Refinery29 that Page’s work was very influential for them in high school, and that his being out will help trans actors. “Elliot’s arrival will be really important for other actors who are navigating acting and gender. This is one of many examples in regards to there is no right time to come out,” Germaine says. “You might come out when you are 17, you might come out when you are 30, or when you are 70. You’re also no less you for coming out in different ways, when you are on your path to finding yourself. I think it’s really important that we have this example of someone who has otherworldly talent and has navigated different parts of the queer community while coming out, has never let go of his activism and grace, and has never apologised for who they are. Ever.”
Germaine says Page’s work helped them figure out who they are, and can now continue to do that for others. “I was obsessed with Juno, as an example, because there was something so specific about the way Elliot was making choices in regards to how his teen character was dealing with pregnancy,” Germaine says. “Something was really queer about it, and it helped me start to process little pieces of my dysphoria early on. He was one of the first people, too, whose acting I started to really take seriously when I was deciding I was going to try to pursue acting. He inspired a lot of hope in me, and a lot of perseverance.”
Hope and perseverance are still needed, of course, because, unfortunately, wherever trans joy appears, transphobia is sure to follow. In addition to all the queer and trans joy I saw on my Twitter timeline were a bombardment of hateful sentiments from people who were mourning Page’s coming out as a “loss” and “betrayal” of some kind. “I find it depressing how many young lesbians now feel that, because they do not perform or feel invested in conventional femininity, they can no longer be women. And so they shift from identifying as lesbian women to straight men. Compulsory heterosexuality all over again,” wrote one person. Another tweet referenced the Keira Bell case, which trans-exclusionary radical “feminists” (TERFs) cheered as a win, and called Bell a hero and Page a traitor. This type of argument, beyond being infuriating and harmful, perpetuates the transphobic idea that trans people are faking their gender to be trendy and that being trans isn’t real — which, in turn, informs policies that harm trans people and increases violence and discrimination.
This “logic” is something I’ve also experienced myself, even from people within the queer community who have told me I’ve internalised so much misogyny and shame that I’ve chosen to separate myself from women entirely. I get hate mail from strangers telling me I’m delusional and that there are only two genders, and I am whatever I was born as. Here’s the thing, though: I simply never was a woman, and finding the language and identifiers to live my life as who I am has been a blessing, not a loss. Plenty of trans people feel that way about finding more accurate language to describe our experiences. Coming out or transitioning is not an abandonment of our former selves, but the chance to find and exist as who we’ve always been. Not only do all trans people deserve bodily autonomy and control over our own identities, but Page, specifically, doesn’t owe anyone loyalty to a “team” simply because, due to his fame, people felt like his identity belonged to them as well. One thing (among many) that transphobic people don’t understand is that someone else’s identity is not a threat to anyone else’s.
When it comes to actual threats, in 2020, trans people have faced a year with record-high violence against us, punctuated by all-too-rare moments of relief, like the U.S. Supreme Court decision that trans people can’t be fired for being trans. That’s one reason the trans joy surrounding Page’s coming out is incredibly refreshing. “I don't tend to care much about celebrities' personal lives, but so much of their job is to be visible. And here, then, is the power of Elliot Page, gracing us with honesty about who he is. The visibility he's just created for himself will open paths, ways to be seen, for so many others of us. We all make space for one another,” says Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body and the forthcoming exploration of non-binary identity, Both and Neither. Along these same lines, people who spoke with Refinery29, like Germaine, emphasised that the flood of support for Page can’t stop at the coming out of white non-binary people. It needs to be extended to trans women, trans-feminine people, and Black nonbinary people and non-binary people of colour, too.
There is, then, a long way to go toward true acceptance and equity. But, no TERFs or transphobes can take this joyful moment away — nor should they be centred in any narrative about trans people anyway. Elliot Page coming out as trans isn’t about cisgender people at all. It’s not a dig at lesbians or women. His gender, his transness, is about him and no one else. And it’s for trans people to rejoice in. We deserve that joy. It’s a celebration. It’s a welcoming home.