In the first episode of Gaycation, Ellen Page and Ian Daniel’s new documentary series about LGBTQ communities around the world, there’s a particularly powerful moment in which the duo accompanies a Japanese man who's about to come out to his mother. “He was basically like, ‘I need you to be there,’” Page told me over tea last month in a Los Angeles restaurant. “It was hard for me to understand why he wanted that, and we definitely struggled a little with like, is that appropriate? Or, what does that mean for the mom?” As we saw last night, when the episode premiered on Viceland, Page and Daniel came to understand that the man needed support, and so they obliged. “I will tell you, that was probably one of the most intense experiences of my life. I can’t even explain to you how it felt to be in that room.” When the man first told his mother that he’s gay, she walked out, seemingly unable to handle the information. “It really broke our hearts,” Page said. Eventually, the mother returned. “You could see really quickly that she was like, ‘What did I just do? I love you and I’m gonna grow with you.’ It was really special," Page said. "A feeling I’ll never forget." The encounter encapsulates everything that Page hopes to convey with Gaycation, in which she and Daniel (whom she calls her “soul twin”) explore what it’s like to be gay all over the world. In each episode, they visit a different country, from Jamaica to Japan to the U.S. The idea for the series came when Page, a fan of travel shows, realized the lack of programming for LGBTQ travelers. “What I was really interested in seeing was a travel show from a queer perspective, because LGBTQ people traveling may have more to think about when you’re going to certain places,” said the actress, who came out publicly in 2014. “Mostly what I wanted was to do was... give voice to those much more vulnerable than me that don’t always get an opportunity to share their perspective or their struggles.” She and I talked about that and more, including her feelings about the presidential election.
You mentioned in the Japan episode that the previous times you had been there, you were not openly gay. What was it like for you to travel there now that you’re out?
“It’s awesome. I feel so fortunate to have gotten to go there multiple times for work, and to get to go and be out and explore the LGBTQ scene there was so fun, which is obviously something I felt like I couldn’t do in the past anywhere. It’s nice to have my life now. I was interested in how there was this sort of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ vibe [in Japan] mixed with this amazing queer district, Ni-chōme, in Tokyo.” You also said that you had been terrified to go to Ni-chōme in the past. Why?
“When you’re closeted, you’re always existing in that anxious space of, ‘Oh, I can’t do that because...’ you know? I’d barely been in a gay bar at that point in my life. It was more the fear you have that comes with being closeted.” In the Japan episode, women who like sexually-driven manga are referred to as “fujoshi,” which translates to “rotten women.” Do you think there’s a similar word for women and their sexual preferences in the U.S.?
“I’m sure there are. I feel like women being freely sexual is an issue for people.” Which country surprised you the most?
“I think the intensity of some people’s situations somewhere like Jamaica, for example, was a really devastating thing to see. So the difficulty for people struggling there specifically was probably the most alarming and upsetting and jarring.” What specifically?
“We spent time with homeless youth there, and every day for them is about survival. They suffer. One of the girls we were interviewing had plastic burns on her body. She had been shot days before and still had the bullet in her side. Recently, they were squatting in this vacant lot, and people had come and burned down their little huts they built while they were sleeping. So they were living under blue tarps, and you could see all the burnt debris. It’s that bad.”
When you’re closeted, you’re always existing in that anxious space of ‘Oh, I can’t do that...'
What moment was the most moving for you?
“In Jamaica, at the end of our trip, we went to the first-ever public pride celebration. That was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen, after witnessing what the kids go through. And to be there and to see just the most brave, courageous people you could meet, I felt so completely humbled to witness it and so grateful for them to allow us to be there with cameras. A lot of people don’t want to be on camera in certain places for their own safety. To let us be there and share that experience with them was really incredible.”
Did you learn anything from doing the series?
“God, it’s so hard. That’s probably the biggest takeaway — just how much I’ve learned. I mean, I do feel changed by the experience.”
In what way?
“You know, I think it’ll take me time to really understand what it is when I say that — just such an extraordinary experience filled with so many different emotional aspects. Not that it wasn’t something I was conscious about before, but this experience has made me so aware of my privilege as a person and as a gay person. It does feel crucial to use that in whatever way you possibly can. When you meet people who are more brave than you could ever be in your lifetime, fighting so hard to create change and risking their lives, you come away so inspired and motivated. These incredible people had left me with those kinds of feelings.”
How would you characterize the spirit of the gay communities in the series?
“Within each country, it’s going to be very different. If you’re a rich person in Jamaica who happens to be gay, you can probably create a life for yourself and go on vacations and have control [over your life]. Just like the privilege that I have in America. I live in Los Angeles, and it’s a great place to be an LGBTQ person. Not to say that [bad] things don’t happen here, of course they do, but I think it depends a lot on your situation and particularly your financial level in the country or how your parents feel. The feeling of shame would be one of the factors that unites everyone in dealing with that. The differences are typically how homophobia manifests. In certain places it’s more violent. The fact that the amount of homeless youth that are LGBTQ, especially in in the United States, it’s about 40% of homeless youth. Trans women of color have a life expectancy of 35. That’s fucking insane.”
One woman in Japan was saying to you that it’s harder for a woman to be gay in Japan than it is for a man. Do you feel that one gender has it harder in the U.S.?
“I don’t know if I could answer that. I think right now the thing about gender is that it’s really difficult to be trans, and there’s all these people actively trying to take the rights away of trans people, actively not protect them. I don’t know if there could ever possibly be a clear answer for that. There’s just too much.”
Ian says in the series that “society will catch up.” In what ways do you think American society is behind on LGBTQ issues?
“Well, we’re behind in a lot of ways in the sense that there’s a lot of work to do. Obviously, the recent Supreme Court decision for marriage equality is incredible, and just how far we’ve come should be celebrated. We’re in a city right now where, at one point, being gay was illegal and you could go to a bar and an undercover cop would flirt with you and if you responded to that flirtation, you’d be beaten and thrown in jail.”
To have every single GOP candidate so anti-equality and so proud of it is disturbing to me. It’s just hateful.
“It is crazy to think about, even like how little we talk about or acknowledge LGBTQ history. One of the main things I hear from a lot of — shall we say — homophobic, transphobic, biphobic people, not just in the United States but all over the world, is like, ‘Back in the day, there weren’t any [gay or trans] people, and now all of a sudden it's everybody.’”
As if they didn’t exist before.
“And it’s like, ‘No, that’s not true.’ Society has just become — I don’t even like the word tolerant — but a tolerant place that allows people to live their lives. In 32 states, you can still be fired or denied housing for being an LGBTQ person. You’re not legally protected. If you’re young and you’re growing up in an area where there’s a lot of rhetoric about how it’s sinful or how, as some pastors preach, there should be a death penalty for LGBTQ people... Ted Cruz campaigned with a pastor who said that. If you’re living in a community or growing up in that community, and you end up running away from home, or you come out and you get kicked out and you’re trying to live on the street? It’s just unacceptable. And to have every single GOP candidate so anti-equality and so proud of it is disturbing to me. It’s just hateful. I hope that the show can demonstrate just how destructive that is, how it affects people’s lives. People say things like, ‘Oh well, Ted Cruz probably won’t be president,’ which, who knows at this point? It doesn’t matter, he’s still a senator. That’s a lot of influence.”
He has a platform.
“Yes. Look, I think now over half the country is in favor of marriage equality, and over half of young Republicans are in favor of marriage equality. I just find it so disheartening that [some] people actively want to prevent people from having equal rights. I just can’t wrap my head around that.”
One episode of Gaycation shows you talking to Ted Cruz about this specifically. Have you heard from him since then?
“Oh, we chat all the time. [Laughs] No, no. Of course not.”
He didn’t seem very interested in debating it with you.
“Yeah, I mean how cool that we live in a country where I can [approach Cruz], and we did have a long conversation.”
What about Hollywood? How is it behind?
“There’s just not enough LGBTQ parts. I think we did a great job this year with Carol; I had a film [Freeheld] with Julianne Moore. There is an idea that I know I felt, that was like ‘Oh, I can’t be out because I’m not gonna have a career, I’m not gonna get a part.’ And that obviously prevents a lot of people from coming out. Yeah, there’s more people out now, but obviously there’s a lot more LGBTQ people working in the industry. I think Hollywood is dealing with the fact that they are backwards and have so much to do in a lot of ways. In terms of the lack of representation of people of color, lack of women in specific positions, LGBTQ people, I’m hoping that the tide is turning. Not only do I hope for more trans people to be represented in film, but I want trans actors to be given opportunity. That’s what it’s coming down to: People are being left out and not given the opportunity to share their talent, and that needs to change.”
Obviously, you’ve been very active in working for gay rights, but do you feel inspired to do anything additional after Gaycation?
“If anything, it just motivates you to keep doing what you can do. I obviously hope the show will move people or help people understand certain people’s struggle. We’re going to continue to make more [episodes]. It’s definitely where most of my focus is in terms of LGBTQ issues and what I feel like I can do. And then, of course, always offering support in whatever way I possibly can.”