Dec. 1 was a rare day of unbridled joy for the transgender community as we collectively welcomed a new brother into the fold. Elliot Page, star of Juno, The Umbrella Academy and roller derby drama Whip It, announced to the world that he is trans, and would now be using he/they pronouns.
The elated, supportive response on social media to Page’s decision to come out as trans — which is just the first step in what is often a tumultuous, arduous and emotional process of self-discovery fraught with familial and interpersonal conflict — illustrates one of the great things about the trans community.
When celebrities come out as trans it’s a big deal — for better or for worse. For other trans people, it is often helpful to have a public figure to point to when coming out, which is often a huge leap of faith. It’s a terrifying act of vulnerability that precipitates a significant shift in the way your family, friends, community and society view you. Unfortunately a common reaction when a loved one asserts their trans identity for the first time is disbelief. Parents, partners and siblings will desperately search for a way to rationally explain how you are actually not trans, but rather just: gay, confused, depressed, seeking attention, suffering from “rapid onset gender dysphoria” (if assigned female at birth) or “autogynephilia” (if assigned male at birth), or any number of other outlandish scenarios. It’s nice when the newly trans can identify with a recognizable celebrity and say, “Just like Elliot Page.” I am immensely happy for all the trans dudes coming out in the next two years who can use someone like Page to help their loved ones grasp what they’re trying to explain about themselves.
Around the time I came out in 2015, my trans celebrity du jour was Caitlyn Jenner, which wasn’t as helpful for many reasons, a big one being the reaction from the media. It’s a testament to the work of countless trans people over the last five years that Page hasn’t been the subject of ribald jokes, invasive speculation about his genitals or the relentless, persistent dead-naming that Jenner suffered during her transition.
It’s hard to overstate how important Page’s coming out is, especially for transmasculine people, who don’t get nearly the media representation that transfeminine people do. Trans women actually have a relatively wide variety of openly trans celebrities to look up to: Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Laura Jane Grace, the cast of Pose and a surprising number of state legislators, to name a few. Trans men have Chaz Bono.
It’s true that visibility is a double-edged sword, and tomes could be written on the “visibility discourse,” those intra-community conversations around the pros and cons of presenting ourselves for cisgender inspection and approval, but having more out trans celebrities is important. It’s “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” for the modern day.
A lawsuit against the Boulder Valley School District illustrates why Page’s coming out is so important, and why visibility and representation — basic, fundamental things — are still worth focusing on. Parents of students at Superior Elementary College are suing the district because their children saw a presentation on challenges faced by transgender K-5 students, after incidents of bullying against a transgender student.
The lawsuit illustrates the lengths people will go to in order to pretend that trans people don’t exist. A presentation that essentially stated, “trans people exist and you shouldn’t be a dick to them” was, in the parents’ view, at odds with their Christian beliefs.
The pushback from conservatives on basic educational efforts about the LGBTQ community, especially the trans community, is part of the reason why coming out as trans is such an arduous task. This kind of willful ignorance is what makes most trans people’s first year of transition a never-ending Trans 101 presentation. When celebrities like Page come out, publicly, it makes it harder for people to hide or misconstrue the existence of trans people, and that makes things a little easier for all of us.