On Tuesday evening, my phone exploded with the same text: ELLIOT!!!!!
I spent a few moments trying to work out ‘Elliot who?’ before the news rolled in from every trans person I know. Actor Elliot Page had come out as one of us, and the overwhelming mood was delight.
As a transgender man who works for an LGBTQ mental health charity, that’s not a feeling I often associate with being trans in the UK.
I surprised myself with how emotional I become, and how suddenly vibrant and alive my community felt around me.
I’ve been out to myself since 2006, two years before Elliot bagged an Oscar nomination for Juno, so I’ve had a long time to cultivate a deep-seated appreciation for trans happiness, creativity, and resilience.
Growing up without an LGBTQ community around me, I had to work hard to find my trans heroes; from historical figures like Lou Sullivan and Marsha P. Johnson to the writers, artists, and friends who showed me how to celebrate my body and honour my community’s legacy of activism and care.
Though I’m still careful about sharing my trans status – I’ve faced employment discrimination, harassment, and perpetual disbelief that I can achieve what I have – I’ve always had my community behind me.
The hard truth is, though, that transgender people have struggled to celebrate much recently – and it’s made individual joy feel all the more important.
It’s really too early to say what impact this high-profile coming out might have on wider conversations about trans people. That’s probably the way it should be.
Page deserves privacy and dignity, just as much as he deserves our congratulations and love right now. Coming out, especially for a second time (he initially came out as lesbian in 2014) is hard work.
Most trans people know that representation won’t save us – healthcare, legal protections, housing, and safety from violence will
That said, there are plenty of good reasons why trans people are so uniquely excited to welcome Elliot Page.
Unlike other trans celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner, Page’s first significant encounter with LGBTQ life and politics will not be his own transition. On top of his blockbuster fame, Page is already a thoughtful, dedicated documentarian and campaigner for other LGBTQ people.
Like his fellow X-Men star Ian McKellen, he’s worked hard for years to involve himself in community politics and seems committed to using his status in strategic, useful ways.
In a world where celebrities often become spokespeople for oppressed groups, I like Page’s self-deprecating, honest approach to his own queerness and the diversity of others’.
His Gaycation documentary series deliberately pushed viewers beyond white Western understandings of gender and sexuality, with Page being the first to acknowledge his own ignorance and jump to learn.
Elliot Page’s coming out also poses some necessary challenges to the benefits of ‘trans visibility’. There’s a real danger in confusing Vanity Fair front pages and increasingly popular trans awareness training in the workplace with measurable social progress.
‘Visibility’ gets many of us – especially, as Page made a point of naming, Black and brown trans women – harassed, fired, and murdered in disproportionate numbers. Most trans people know that representation won’t save us – healthcare, legal protections, housing, and safety from violence will.
But representation was, somehow, what many of us needed this week.
It’s been a long few years of the morbid fascination with transgender existence and home-grown anti-trans campaigning, which have both coincided with spiking anti-trans hate crime. Statistics from 2019 revealed an 81% rise in trans hate crimes reported to police compared to the same period in 2016-2017.
Endless ‘debates’ about trans people’s rights have overshadowed the virtual collapse of the outdated British trans healthcare system. The wait to access hormones in England is over two years in some places – far longer than the 18 week target set – and only stands to get longer with Covid-19.
In my daily work helping trans people access healthcare, I’ve seen a significant spike in people crowdfunding to get care abroad and self-medicating with hormones bought online.
Just hours before Elliot Page’s public coming-out, the High Court delivered a new blow: children seeking access to puberty blockers will only be able to give consent to be prescribed them if they can fully comprehend what this treatment involves.
Puberty blockers are a medication used to pause puberty’s physical changes, though according to the NHS’ Gender Identity Development Service, puberty will resume if the blockers are stopped.
A judge said that ‘it is doubtful that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers’.
The NHS has since said that The Tavistock – a gender identity clinic – have ‘suspended new referrals for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for the under 16s, which in future will only be permitted where a court specifically authorises it’.
It’s a complicated case, but an important one with frightening implications for many trans youth who already wait years to access basic care.
Stonewall’s Chief Executive Nancy Kelley has said that she fears this could give a ‘green light’ to rolling back the rights of all young people, suggesting that she worries about the future of abortion and contraception access.
The news felt hard and exhausting, making the revelation that we had a famous new sibling all the more unexpected and bittersweet.
It also got me thinking about my own years as a trans adolescent. In 2006, I was 14, the age of many kids learning this week that their growing up could be harder because of a court ruling.
I had no language for my experience. I didn’t know puberty blockers existed until long after they might’ve been an option; the closest thing I had to therapy was a secret diary I hid (literally) in my closet.
Would things have been different for me if I’d had an Elliot Page? To tell you the truth, I have no idea. Even less than two decades ago, a charming, funny, famous trans adult was simply outside the scope of my imagination.
When I finally met another trans teenager on an online chatroom, I secretly drove my family’s car two hours to meet him. It was the first time I’d ever seen someone who looked like me. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember my face hurt afterwards from grinning.
That bit of illegal-feeling joy was a homecoming, one I’m glad to share with Elliot Page this week.
Not having a trans role model did not stop me from growing up into a trans adult, however. For all the fear and curiosity they inspire, trans kids are not a new phenomenon or anything less than a wonderful thing to be.
But I could have benefitted from Page’s advice, and it’s something all of us, of all ages in the trans community deserve to hear: ‘The more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more I dream, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive.’
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