What Elliot Page’s coming out means for trans visibility
Piers Mucklejohn reflects on Elliot Page’s coming out and transmasculine visibility in the film and television industries.
On 1 December last year, Elliot Page came out as transgender. The actor, best known for his roles in Juno and The Umbrella Academy, posted a heartfelt message on both Instagram and Twitter in which he announced that he would be going by he/him and they/them pronouns. In the message, Page stated that “I love that I am trans. And I love that I am queer.” Although the message was one of excitement and joy, Page also sought to draw attention to the issues facing members of the transgender community.
Among the problems faced which Page chose to name were the murders committed against transgender people simply for being who they are and the “fury of vile and demeaning rage that lands on the shoulders of the trans community” which leads to 40 per cent of transgender adults having attempted suicide at some point in their lives, and many more having considered it. Page’s announcement was ultimately one of excitement but sorrow, recognising the hurdles that still need to be overcome.
Page’s announcement was ultimately one of excitement but sorrow, recognising the hurdles that still need to be overcome
Elliot Page’s coming out is an event which is important in itself for transgender rights and specifically with regard to the visibility of transgender people in mainstream culture. Although survey results differ, it’s estimated that around 0.6 per cent of U.S. adults identify as transgender and the Office for National Statistics in the UK estimates a similar number of 0.3-0.6 per cent. Although this means that there are millions of transgender people in those two countries alone, trans people often find it difficult to see themselves represented and their struggles taken seriously. In light of this, Page’s announcement is a big step forward. Prior to Page’s coming out, the most famous transgender celebrities were the likes of Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, among a few others. Although both Jenner and Cox have been inspirational figures in the transgender community, Page’s relative youth (at 33 years old) gives him a relatability which Jenner (who came out at the age of 65) does not have. Laverne Cox has been an openly transgender celebrity and an inspiration for transgender people since she starred in Orange is the New Black back in 2013 (aged 41), although for younger transmasculine people, Elliot Page’s coming out will be of particular importance, as he joins the shorter list of transmasculine celebrities.
Most importantly, Elliot Page’s role in the successful superhero television series The Umbrella Academy makes him one of only a few prominent openly trans stars and is a sign of hope for young trans actors who have long been underrepresented. The acting profession has been one in which LGBTQ people have long been unable to succeed due to discrimination, with transgender or gay characters often being portrayed by cisgender, straight actors, despite there being an abundance of talented gay and transgender actors who struggle to get any roles at all. Most notably, Scarlett Johansson was chosen to portray a trans man in the film Rub & Tug in 2018, which drew widespread criticism and resulted in Johansson (who is a cisgender woman) withdrawing from the role.
Page’s announcement nonetheless offers a glimmer of hope, particularly for the many trans people who feel invisible in mainstream culture
Elliot Page’s public coming out does not fix transgender oppression. In fact, the backlash he received from a small (but loud) minority is a harsh reminder that there is still far to go in the struggle for trans rights. However, Page’s announcement has a significant impact on the mainstream visibility of transgender people and the problems they face simply by daring to live as who they are. The future of trans rights is uncertain; Page came out on the same day that the UK High Court ruled that children under 16 could not give informed consent to take puberty-blocking drugs, a decision which was disappointing to many trans people and pro-trans organisations. However, Page’s announcement nonetheless offers a glimmer of hope, particularly for the many trans people who feel invisible in mainstream culture, and his poignant references to the struggles faced by trans people forces us to have a conversation about transgender rights which modern societies and governments (comprising nearly entirely of cisgender people) often refuse to have.