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Elliot Page
Photography Justin H. Min, via Instagram (@elliotpage)

Elliot Page perfectly captures what it means to be trans in 2020

The actor came out as transgender this week – for trans men everywhere, it’s personally and culturally significant to see wider trans masculine representation in public life

It’s a lousy time to be transgender. In the UK, anti-trans hate groups angle for legitimacy, and it feels like another celebrity comes forward to express their ‘concerns’ about trans people at least once a month. They say trans people are a threat to women, a threat to children, a threat to the cis gay experience. Just this week, the UK High Court ruled that nobody under 16 could be prescribed puberty blockers unless a ‘best interests’ court order was in place. This effectively bars many trans youth from accessing hormone blockers until well after the usual onset of puberty. The purpose of blockers is to give young people the time and space to figure themselves out without the onset of irreversible physical changes hanging over their heads. There’s not much point to them once puberty has already had its way with you. The argument against blockers seemed to revolve around the cry of ‘protecting the children’. A noble pursuit, if those invoking it didn’t seem to only care about protecting kids as long as they don’t dare to be trans. 

It was into this bin fire that Umbrella Academy and Juno actor Elliot Page made his announcement, coming out to the world as transgender, and that his pronouns are he/they. His lengthened Instagram post was joyful, but also frightened, angry, and determined. Essentially, it captured everything that it is to be trans in 2020. 

It was an emotional moment when Elliot came out as gay at the HRCF’s Time to THRIVE conference in 2014. His anxiety was palpable – the fluttering hands, the trembling voice – as he said: “I am here today because I am gay.” He’d committed to the moment all queer people experience at some point or another; the moment that could never be taken back. It was moving to watch him stand there, taking long, shaky breaths, as one by one a room full of people who knew what it meant to take that step stood up to applaud. It was a moment of complete and perfect solidarity. There was so much hope in it.

This week, there was that same surge. Hope.

While we’re beginning to see more transgender people in the media and creative industries, it’s slow going. Many people not otherwise familiar with trans lives can now name Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, but that’s not the case when it comes to transmasculine and non-binary people. Certainly, none come to mind with Elliot Page’s level of fame. To have someone of his profile living as their authentic self, a person who once went by ‘she’ but who now uses masculine and non-binary pronouns, is hugely influential. It says, ‘Yes, we are here too’. It humanises transness. Representation leads to acceptance. To some without openly transmasculine or non-binary people in their lives, we become something other than an ‘issue’ in the paper. Even for people years into their transition, another trans person publicly coming forward can feel validating. It matters to have somebody stand up alongside you. 

Of course there are risks with being visible. It’s vastly more dangerous to be transgender if you are recognisably so. And, as Elliot noted in his Instagram post, it’s more dangerous again if you are a Black or Latinx trans woman. This is where the missive turns righteous. Elliot turns his attention “to the political leaders who work to criminalise trans health care and deny our right to exist and to all those with a massive platform who continue to spew hostility towards the trans community”.

“Transness isn’t necessarily a fixed destination; there’s no correct way to get here. That Elliot has come to view himself in a different way is a joy, and a testament to the constant shifting of humanity”

“You have blood on your hands,” he writes. As we’ve seen this week, and for months and years before that, these are issues on both sides of the Atlantic. Trans people are tired. In the years that he has identified publicly as gay, Elliot has used his acting roles and his profile to advocate for change and acceptance. It’s great that’s going to continue in his new chapter, but also bittersweet that this moment of celebration comes with a fight. 

Already, there are people implying that Elliot fell foul of internalised misogyny: “Another lesbian lost” has been a galling part of the discourse. It’s a false narrative of course, that tries to impose absolutes on experience. Personally, I went directly from identifying as a straight cis woman to identifying as a queer trans man. Do not pass go, do not collect £200. But this is not the case for every trans person, or even necessarily most of them. Many people initially know themselves as cisgender gay people, before arriving at a trans identity. Transness isn’t necessarily a fixed destination; there’s no correct way to get here. That Elliot has come to view himself in a different way is a joy, and a testament to the constant shifting of humanity. Like all trans people coming into their own, he deserves to be celebrated. As he says himself, “I love that I am trans. And I love that I am queer”.