While it is objectively easier to be queer in Hollywood than in many other parts of the world, where homosexuality is illegal, there is still more homophobia than one might suspect in the North American entertainment industry, as Elliot Page shows in his new memoir, "Pageboy," published on June 6.
A book of resistance
Page, who started acting as a child and gained major fame for his Oscar-nominated role in "Juno" (2007), was born on February 21, 1987. Assigned female at birth, he came out as a trans man in December 2020. Since then, the actor has been documenting on Instagram his transition and his activism for transgender rights.
"Writing a book has come up a few times over the years, but it never felt right and quite frankly, it didn't feel possible. I could barely sit still, let alone focus long enough to complete such a task," Page writes in the introduction of the book, explaining that for too long, his entire mental energy was wasted in trying to hide his discomfort. "At last, I can be with myself, in this body."
Pointing out that many books helped him in difficult times, or perhaps even saved his life, he hopes his story can also help others "feel less alone" in their journey. Sharing a diversity of experiences "is an important step in the resistance against all those who want to make us invisible," adds Page.
'Simply existing' felt overwhelming
Told in non-chronological order, Page's story shifts from one chapter to the other to various phases of his life, depicting the atmosphere of movie sets, different "first time" experiences and relationships, as well as growing up in Nova Scotia, Canada, in two homes — with his overworked single mom half of the time, and the other half, with his father's new family, which included for Page two half-brothers and a harsh stepmother.
The main tenor throughout Page's memoir is that he never felt completely at ease in society, and that it took him a long time to fully realize that gender dysphoria was poisoning his life.
He long wondered how other people managed to be so at ease with themselves: "And I don't even mean being 'happy,' maybe they're not happy, but at least they're able to exist."
The actor's path to accepting his gender identity and transitioning publicly wasn't easy.
In the book, Page relates different experiences of assault, including death threats by a crazed stalker, directors trying to sleep with the actor as a teenager, homophobic attacks from strangers — including a threatening experience in an LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood in Hollywood — as well as everyday homophobic insults.
Hollywood, an obstacle to coming out
Hollywood may tout itself as a progressive environment, but Page's experience shows that the industry pressured the actor to stay closeted for a long time.
In 2008, an article in New York's Village Voice, known for being the country's first alternative newsweekly, speculated that Page might be a lesbian. Page recalls then being told by people in the industry that coming out as gay would have a negative impact on the actor's career. Page also remembers being pressured — or in many cases, forced — to wear dresses and heels for promotional events, which was a source of anxiety for the actor.
Page describes for example a romantic relationship with an LGBTQ co-star that was even kept secret from some of their closest friends. It was only at the age of 27, in 2014, that Page came out as gay, during a speech made at a Human Rights Campaign conference.
That led to a feeling of liberation, but also exposed Page to more attacks. One chapter in the book, titled "Famous A**hole at Party," provides another example of homophobia in Hollywood. An actor, who remains unnamed in the book and is simply described as "an acquaintance," started provoking Page at a social gathering: "You aren't gay. That doesn't exist. You are just afraid of men." He went further with threats, heard by many other party guests: "I'm going to f**k you to make you realize you aren't gay."
A time of exploration and heartbreak
But for Page, coming out as gay also introduced a new period of exploration.
One romance described in the book happened while Page was filming "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014) — with actor Kate Mara (Zoe Barnes in "House of Cards"), who was dating Max Minghella at the time. Mara's boyfriend was apprently supportive of her exploring her feelings for Page.
After the relationship ended, Page realized that it followed a pattern in his life — of falling for people who aren't fully available.
A new joy
After coming out as trans in 2020, Page had quick access to top surgery in 2021 due to someone else's cancelled appointment. The actor is well aware of his privilege, as many other trans individuals have to wait for years for the operation, or are completely denied access to the procedure.
The surgery happened before the shoot of the third season of "The Umbrella Academy," in which he stars. The creators of the superhero were supportive of Page's transition, and in the following season, his character also comes out as a transgender man.
Beyond the hateful attacks that can always be found on social media, Page mentions in the book a few insulting comments coming from Hollywood "friends" after his first public appearances as a trans man.
Still, despite the challenges, Page says that he has found a new calm, well aware that his story is currently being written as he keeps taking testosterone and his body is still developing.
"It is all just the beginning," he writes. "Let me simply be in this world with you, happier than ever before."