I’d always been told I was gay, made fun of for it. I felt comfortable in environments with queer women. But something in me knew that I was transgender. It was something I had always known but didn’t have the words for, wouldn’t permit myself to embrace.
“I was never a girl. I’ll never be a woman. What am I going to do?” I used to say. Have always said.
The first time I acknowledged I was trans, in the properly conscious sense, beyond speculation, was around my 30th birthday. Almost four years before I came out publicly.
“Do you think I’m trans?” I’d asked a close friend. They answered hesitantly, knowing no one can come to that conclusion for someone else, but they looked at me with a quiet recognition and said, “I could see that . . .” It was a light shining through from under the door.
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Then there was the time when I wasn’t the one to bring it up. I was having a small party. People jumped in the pool and huddled together on outdoor furniture. My friend Star and I sat off alone, catching up on the patio. I met Star when we were making the first season of Gaycation—she worked at a San Francisco clinic run by trans women that offered health care and support for those in the LGBTQ+ community who needed it.
Star and I connected, in that way where the future flashes, an auspicious beginning. We stayed in touch and became good friends. She has experienced far more obstacles and barriers than I have, yet she holds space for me, supports me, sees me. She’s a singer, and I remember being mesmerized by her voice when I first listened to her album, Star. The lyrics of her song “Heartbreaker” played on repeat in my mind for weeks after:
I run away from feeling too good
I’m scared as hell you’d leave me if you knew I run away from feeling too good
I’m scared as hell you’d leave me if you knew
At my party, we sat together on an oversize chair, the splashes and music blending together in the background. We spoke about gender. I shared the degree of my discomfort, how even when I was playing a role, I couldn’t wear feminine clothes anymore. How I always struggled in the summer when layers were not an option and the presence of my breasts under my T-shirt forced me to incessantly crane my neck, sneaking quick peeks down. I would pull on my shirt, my posture folded. Walking down the sidewalk, I’d glance at my profile in a store window, my brain consumed. I tried to avoid my reflection. I couldn’t look at pictures, because I was never there. It was making me sick. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to be lifted out—the gender dysphoria slowly crushing me.
“It’s a role, you’re an actor. Why are you complaining?” people would say. “I would wear a skirt,” a straight, cis man said to me, playing devil’s advocate. I kept trying to explain the difficulty I was having. But he kept spitting out his unwanted opinions, then berating me for getting “too emotional.” I believe hysterical was the word he used.
His words triggered a deep shame I’d held since I could remember. I was puzzled too—invalidating my own experience. How was I in so much pain? Why did even slightly feminine clothing make me want to die? I’m an actor, there shouldn’t be a problem. How could I be so ungrateful?
Imagine the most uncomfortable, mortifying thing you could wear. You squirm in your skin. It’s tight, and you want to tear it off your body but you can’t. Day in and day out. And if people learn what is underneath, who you are without that pain, the shame will come flooding out, too much to hold. The voice says you deserve the humiliation. You are an abomination. You are not real.
“Do you think you’re trans?” Star asked me, locking eyes.
“Yes, well, maybe. I think so. Yeah.” We exchanged a soft smile. I was so near, almost touching it. But I panicked, and it burned away like the joint I was smoking, becoming an old roach left to rot in a forgotten ashtray. It all felt too big—the thought of going through this publicly, in a culture that is so rife with transphobia and people with enormous power and platforms actively attacking the community.
The world tells us that we aren’t trans but mentally ill. That I’m too ashamed to be a lesbian, that I mutilated my body, that I will always be a woman, comparing my body to Nazi experiments. It’s not trans people who suffer from a sickness, but the society that fosters such hate. As actress and writer Jen Richards once put it:
It’s exceedingly surreal to have transitioned ten years ago, find myself happier & healthier than ever, have better relationships with friends & family, be a better and more engaged citizen, and yes, even more productive … and to then see strangers pathologize that choice. My being trans almost never comes up. It’s a fact about my past that has relatively little bearing on my present, except that it made me more empathetic, more engaged in social justice. How does it hurt anyone else?
Sitting with Star by the pool, I couldn’t quite touch the truth, but I could talk about my gender without bawling. That was a step. It had taken a long time to allow any words to come out. When the subject came up in therapy, I got lost in sobs. “Why do I feel this way?” I’d plead. “How can I have this life and be in such pain?”
Not long after my 30th birthday, I did a U-turn. I bailed—I stopped talking about it. I closed my eyes and hid it away.
I met my ex-spouse Emma around that time. Meeting Emma let me leave it behind, a foggy memory. Falling madly in love, the energy was indisputable—just a hug would make my body shake. I threw myself in, and we got married quickly.
If a part of you is always separate, if existing in your body feels unbearable, love is an irresistible escape. You transcend, a sensation so indescribable that philosophers, scientists, and writers can’t seem to agree on what the f-ck it is—if it even is. I often wonder if I have actually experienced deep love. I feel as though I have, but is it real if you’ve numbed yourself to the truth about who you are?
Love was an unwitting emotional disguise, and my relationship to it is another muscle to be transformed. I’m working on it. I don’t want to disappear. I want to exist in my body with these new possibilities. That sense of possibility is one of the main components of life lost when we lack representation: options erased from the imagination, narratives indoctrinated that we spend an eternity attempting to break. The unraveling is painful, but it leads you to you.
During my marriage, I ignored therapy. And when we moved to New York City from Los Angeles at the end of 2018, I virtually stopped going to therapy altogether. It wasn’t until our relationship was falling apart two years later and my gender dysphoria was so extreme that I sought out someone in the city. I was ready to talk.
I could barely find the words, but I did. As if they moved on their own, wriggling through and up my body, pouring out. My body knew, deep down I knew, and something had shifted. It was now or never. It was alive or not.
From Pageboy: A Memoir by Elliot Page, Copyright © 2023 by the author and reprinted by permission of Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC.
If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental-health crisis or contemplating suicide, call or text 988. In emergencies, call 911, or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.
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