On Friday, Elliot Page sat down with Oprah for his first televised interview since coming out as transgender last December. Page has been cited as the most high-profile transmasculine person in Hollywood, putting a large amount of attention and visibility on the actor as he navigates his new public image as an openly trans person. (Page uses he and they pronouns.)
But with that level of visibility comes added pressure — pressure to “get it right,” pressure to be a representative for an entire community at a time when they are under attack by right-wing politicians. Page has recognised the position their privilege and platform have put them in, choosing to lean into the political moment and step into the role of an advocate for the trans community — and trans youth, in particular — as the Republicans attempt to legislate them out of existence.
Page’s interview with Oprah was a turning point both for the actor’s ability to step in and narrate his own story, and for the way that media coverage of trans people has evolved. Gone were the intrusive questions that have marked Oprah’s past interviews with trans women like Jenny Boylan, Lea T, and Janet Mock (Page asked Oprah to watch Disclosure, a documentary about the way trans people have historically been treated by the media, prior to the interview). Oprah gave Page space not just to talk about the difficulties of living with untreated gender dysphoria, but to talk about the joy of feeling at home in their body for the first time.
“What has brought me the most joy?” Page asks, repeating the question posed to him by Oprah. “It’s getting out of the shower and the towel is around your waist and you’re looking at yourself in the mirror and you’re just like, ‘There I am,’” Page says, their voice wavering. He begins to cry. “Tears of joy,” they explain.
Page opened up about many things in the interview, including his depression and anxiety before transition and what it's like to be able to be his authentic self. While his own story is an important part of the interview, Page clarifies that the reason he felt it was “imperative” to sit down with Oprah was about more than just his personal journey. "I wanted to talk about it for a couple of reasons," Page says of the decision to talk openly about his top surgery. "I wanted to share with people just how much it has changed my life. And I want people to know that not only has it been life-changing for me, I do believe it is life-saving and it's the case for so many people."
One poignant moment was when Page described collapsing at the premiere of Inception after being offered three dress options to wear. "I lost it, it was like a cinematic moment," he said. "That night, after the premiere at the after-party, I collapsed. That's something that's happened frequently in my life, usually corresponding with a panic attack."
This experience is why they understand how life-saving gender-affirming care can be for trans people (a study released just this week showed that trans people with access to gender-affirming surgeries have improved mental health outcomes compared to trans people who desire but do not have access to those surgical procedures), and why they felt compelled to speak out about the current wave of anti-trans legislation.
"Because there is such an attack on trans health care right now, when already there is such a lack of access or trans people who don't even want to go to the doctor," he explained, referring to the all-out legislative assault on trans people in the U.S. The stakes for trans people in the United States are too high right now for Page to feel like he had a choice in the matter: “How do you not use this platform to help trans kids?”
At a time when right-wing talking points overwhelmingly dominate coverage of transgender people in mainstream media, Oprah’s interview with Page is significant. Most coverage of anti-trans legislation never features any trans voices; cis journalists overwhelmingly ignore the people directly impacted by these bills. And, as of this week, there are over 200 anti-LGBTQ+ bills under consideration across the U.S. in at least 30 states, with over half of those bills specifically targeting trans people. They attempt to do everything from ban trans girls from competing on girls’ sports teams to prohibit minors from accessing gender-affirming care.
What makes these legislations even more threatening is the fact that the majority of Americans don’t know a trans person personally. When someone like Page sits down on perhaps the biggest stage in the world to share their story, the issue of trans folks’ existence stops being a scary hypothetical and becomes a lived reality. And Page recognises, the stakes are just too high not to use whatever platform he has to try to stop the growing anti-trans movement.
“These bills are going to be responsible for the death of children,” Page told Vanity Fair about his decision to sit down with Oprah. “It is that simple. So [talking to Oprah] felt like an opportunity to use a wide-reaching platform to speak from my heart about some of my experience and the resources I’ve been able to access — whether therapy or surgery — that have allowed me to be alive, to live my life.”
Giving Page — and other trans people — the opportunities to tell their own stories, not filtered through the lens of cisgender experience, is the only way society’s perception is going to change. As for what comes next, Page knows what stories they want to hear: “Trans people just getting to be people, instead of the story focusing on trauma or extreme violence or the idea there’s a mental illness or what have you… Writers, directors, telling more stories from the perspective of trans people.”