In imaginary games

How original.

Elliot Page doesn’t remember exactly how long he had been asking.

In case you’ve forgotten, that’s the former Ellen Page, star of the anti-abortion movie Juno.

But he does remember the acute feeling of triumph when, around age 9, he was finally allowed to cut his hair short. “I felt like a boy,” Page says. “I wanted to be a boy. I would ask my mom if I could be someday.” Growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Page visualized himself as a boy in imaginary games, freed from the discomfort of how other people saw him: as a girl. After the haircut, strangers finally started perceiving him the way he saw himself, and it felt both right and exciting.

Hey guess what: me too. Or not quite, not that literally, but close. I spent a lot of my play time pretending to be a boy or man character too, though I also pretended to be Laura Ingalls (who was herself a tomboy kind of girl) or Mary Lennox or Jane Banks.

We are speaking in late February. It is the first interview Page, 34, has given since disclosing in December that he is transgender, in a heartfelt letter posted to Instagram, and he is crying before I have even uttered a question. “Sorry, I’m going to be emotional, but that’s cool, right?” he says, smiling through his tears.

No, because men don’t cry, especially not before the interviewer has even said anything besides “Hello.”

It’s not hard to understand why a trans person would be dealing with conflicting feelings in this moment. Increased social acceptance has led to more young people describing themselves as trans—1.8% of Gen Z compared with 0.2% of boomers, according to a recent Gallup poll—yet this has fueled conservatives who are stoking fears about a “transgender craze.” 

Ok slow down there. Let’s think about this. “Increased social acceptance has led to more young people describing themselves as trans”…which can be seen as tolerance and liberality, or as social contagion that encourages “young people” to make drastic and irreversible changes to their bodies. It can be seen as both.

Second point: it’s not just conservatives who see that “increased social acceptance” can be a euphemism for “social contagion” and that the latter is not always beneficent. Given the inherent absurdity of what people mean by “trans,” it’s inevitable that it’s not just conservatives who think the whole idea is futile and destructive. Constantly framing “trans” as the latest expansion of human potential rather than a perverse and anti-reality daydream just throws more wood on the fire.

But having arrived at a critical juncture, Page feels a deep sense of responsibility to share his truth. “Extremely influential people are spreading these myths and damaging rhetoric—every day you’re seeing our existence debated,” Page says. “Transgender people are so very real.”

No, that’s the big lie again. Nobody is debating anyone’s existence, what we’re disputing is the description. We think you’ve got the description wrong.

Meanwhile, J.K. Rowling is leveraging her cultural capital to oppose transgender equality in the name of feminism…

No, not in the name of feminism. She really is a feminist, she’s not faking it. It’s funny how fans of the ideology think changing sex is completely real while feminists who call themselves feminists are fake.

Over the course of two conversations, Page will say that understanding himself in all the specifics remains a work in progress. Fathoming one’s gender, an identity innate and performed, personal and social, fixed and evolving, is complicated enough without being under a spotlight that never seems to turn off.

It’s not complicated. Forget about gender, focus on sex. It’s not complicated: you are what you are.

“Gender” is what you do with it, so by all means disrupt that if you want to, wear the “wrong” clothes if you want to (and can get away with it, which is where it does get complicated, but not the way Katy Steinmetz means), just don’t pretend that the social rules about gender are identical to the physical facts of sex.

A lot of it just has to do with clothes. In a way that seems absurd, but I guess in another way it doesn’t – they are in our face all the time after all.

Page’s tour de force performance in Hard Candy led, two years later, to Juno, a low-budget indie film that brought Page Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations and sudden megafame. The actor, then 21, struggled with the stresses of that ascension. The endless primping, red carpets and magazine spreads were all agonizing reminders of the disconnect between how the world saw Page and who he knew himself to be.

That part I can get. I would find it acutely uncomfortable and weird to have to wear feminized clothes, not really for any coherent reason, just because of the “not me” feeling. I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a suit and tie either; I rely on that androgynous middle ground, kind of Rachel Maddow territory (I could put on a blazer if I had to). Maybe if Hollywood conventions could just allow that, Page wouldn’t have felt forced to join this masquerade.

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