When Elliot Page penned a note in late December of last year disclosing that he was a transgender man (who used he/they pronouns), it was a powerful moment across offline and online communities. For someone in the public eye to do that vulnerable work of introducing that part of themselves (with grace and some devoted attention to his community) and to let the world share in celebrating their truth — even in a small way — meant a lot to so many other trans folks young and old. And it’s that sense of responsibility toward and love for trans and queer youth that can be felt in just about every interaction Page has had since coming out.
“My joy is real, but it is also fragile,” he said in his original note posted to instagram. “The truth is, despite feeling profoundly happy right now and knowing how much privilege I carry, I am also scared. I’m scared of the invasiveness, the hate, the “jokes” and of violence…the statistics are staggering. The discrimination towards trans people is rife, insidious and cruel.”
And, now, in a lengthy interview for Time, Page opened up about his early experiences with gender dysphoria (exacerbated by his work as a professional actor from age 10 onward) and the mental health toll being closeted and expected to perform fame-sanctioned femininity took on him.
He said he struggled with “how to explain to people that even though [I was] an actor, just putting on a T-shirt cut for a woman would make me so unwell” and how he had a hard time navigating what he considered a privilege (working in a field he loved that so many people wanted to break into) while being forced to do the labor-intensive work of pretending.
Page then opened up about his decision to have top surgery — one of the optional surgeries many individuals who identify as trans may or may not choose to help them feel at-home in their bodies. The choice to get a surgery (which, as Page reminds, is an experience not universal to all trans folks) and the choice to disclose it is something private and intimate and generally no one’s business but the individual considering surgery — and it’s important to make sure that there’s a balance between representation conversations (i.e. showing other trans folks just one of the numerous hopeful options they can have in their lives), realistic access conversations (the average cost of surgery can be unaffordable and complicated to access for many trans individuals) and a reminder that the obsession and hyper-fixation on trans bodies and speculation about what they do or do not look like can be highly invasive at best and at-worst violent.
But, in Page’s case, it was something that felt right and went a long way to helping heal from what he called the “total hell” of going through puberty.
“It has completely transformed my life,” he said, adding that his surgery was “not only life-changing but lifesaving” for him.
For many transgender individuals, research shows that there are a number of barriers that interfere with care ranging from socioeconomic ones (particularly folks with multiple intersecting marginalized identities) to a lack of informed providers.
“Transgender persons suffer significant health disparities in multiple arenas. Real or perceived stigma and discrimination within biomedicine and the health care provision in general may impact transgender people’s desire and ability to access appropriate care,” one study in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health says. “…The biggest barrier both to safe hormonal therapy and to appropriate general medical care for transgender patients is the lack of access to care. Despite both guidelines and data supporting the current transgender medicine treatment paradigm, transgender patients report that lack of providers with expertise in transgender medicine represents the single largest component inhibiting access. Transgender treatment is not taught in conventional medical curricula and too few physicians have the requisite knowledge and comfort level.”
Which brings us back to a point Page emphasized throughout his conversation with Time, that communities need to do more to educate themselves about trans individuals and their experiences, speak out against the systemic inequality that endangers them and collaborate with them to save more trans lives: “My privilege has allowed me to have resources to get through and to be where I am today,” he said. “And of course I want to use that privilege and platform to help in the ways I can.”
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