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In a climate rife with hate, Elliot Page says 'the time felt right' to tell his story

Elliot Page describes the gender dysphoria he experienced for decades as "a constant noise, a constant feeling that something's wrong."
Catherine Opie
/
Flatiron Books
Elliot Page describes the gender dysphoria he experienced for decades as "a constant noise, a constant feeling that something's wrong."

For much of his life, Canadian actor Elliot Page experienced gender dysphoria that made him extremely uncomfortable in his own body. He nearly quit show business following his Oscar-nominated turn in the 2007 film Juno because of the intense pressure he felt to dress and act in a certain way.

"It's like a constant noise, a constant feeling that something's wrong, like a sensation and a voice that's telling you to flee," he says.

Page continued working, appearing in films like X-Men and Inception, but his dysphoria never faded. It wasn't until the pandemic shut everything down that Page says he finally had the space "to sit with myself and reflect — which became very difficult in some moments, but ultimately led me ... to acknowledge and express my truth."

Page came out as a transgender man in 2020. Soon after, his character in the third season of the Netflix series The Umbrella Academyalso transitioned. Since then, Page has completed what he once felt was impossible: writing a memoir. Pageboy chronicles the joys and perils of fame, including the pressure Page felt in Hollywood to conform to the gender binary.

"In many ways, there was some organic surge of words that did need to come out," Page says of his memoir. "Also, in this specific time and climate just so rife with attacks against trans people, and having this strange life that's ended up with this platform I have, it sort of felt like these two things collided in many ways and in the time felt right."


Interview highlights

On wanting to quit acting after the success of Juno

I thought about quitting all the time. ... I didn't know what else I'd do. I didn't go to university or anything, so I thought, well, maybe I'd go back to school. But I didn't necessarily know what it meant "back to school." I didn't know what I'd want to study. And then I think it was actually after finishing Inception, even, I packed up my apartment in Los Angeles and went back to Halifax and I was like, I don't think I want to do this.

I always kept coming back from doing it. In many ways I think I did love the actual aspect of acting — that incredible magical sensation that it can allow for these moments you create with other people. It's an escape, and also you feel more present than I was probably feeling in life and in many moments. I also sort of resented that the joy I felt in that aspect of the job was disappearing or felt like it had been taken away in some ways.

On coming out as gay in 2014

I think coming out as gay was a massive step for me to getting closer to my truth and where I ultimately needed to be. I felt like a huge weight lifted, immediately, like overnight, because that really was just so challenging and insufferable, being as closeted as I was, and for as long as I was. I didn't come out till I was 27. But that wasn't the end of the story.

I felt like a huge weight lifted, immediately, like overnight, because that really was just so challenging and insufferable, being as closeted as I was, and for as long as I was. I didn't come out till I was 27. But that wasn't the end of the story.

It made a drastic change in my life, but the sensation I have in terms of the relationship with my gender was not going away. ... I felt so much more comfortable in many ways with queer-women environments, with queer women, but then there would also be this aspect where, in a certain way, things would start to feel worse in moments, because I expected to feel at home. I expected this sensation of, "Oh finally," and I still knew something about me was different.

And I really did have an idea of what it was. Friends bring up me ... saying, "I think I'm trans. I feel like I really want to transition," in moments years ago. ... I realized the amount that I actually was talking about it, and then I would talk myself out of it. I'd figure out ways around it because it did just feel like that's too much, that's too big. I can't and just shove it away and shove it away and shove it away — 'till finally I stop doing that.

On feeling public scrutiny

I experienced it a bit like when I made an X-Men movie when I was 18 and it premiered at Cannes. ... I remember just being in this very tight, gold dress and my publicist at the time, like the face just brightening up and people just going on and on about how you look, like you'd accomplished this feat, like I'd [been] given a reward for, like donning what felt like a costume for me, essentially. But it wasn't until Juno where that was just taken to a whole new level and intensely pressured to dress a certain way and act a certain way and not be seen with my girlfriend.

On experiencing sexual predation in Hollywood

I think in so many ways I didn't know what to do. My reaction was just to sort of freeze up. And, from a certain age onward, it just became so consistent. ... I was under 19. ... It's baffling to me why anyone would want to treat anyone that way, particularly someone who is so young and in a vulnerable position and new to that world. ... It's obviously in every aspect of our society and it's really harmful. So many of us shove it away, don't talk about it, are told to just let it go, brush it off, you know? And that can be just so damaging and harmful and I think allows for individuals to keep getting away with their predatory and hurtful behavior.

On the crew member who forced herself on Page and then later said, "We had fun, right?"

To me, that sounded like, "You're not going to tell anybody, right?" That, to me, was the subtext of that. What I could sense is her knowing that that was wrong, that she took advantage of someone who was quite young and I'm sure felt bad about it. But instead of having that conversation, I think, [she] panicked.

On why he doesn't like being called "brave"

I can't help but just think of the position I'm in and the resources I have and the access to health care I've had. And if something drastic happens, if I get death threats, I can hire security. I don't represent the majority of realities for trans people, [who] disproportionately deal with unemployment, experience homelessness, incarceration, violence — particularly Black trans women.

Sam Briger and Susan Nyakundi produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Tonya Mosley is the LA-based co-host of Here & Now, a midday radio show co-produced by NPR and WBUR. She's also the host of the podcast Truth Be Told.