Elliot Page’s defiant memoir burns with the fury of the long silenced

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Elliot Page
Doubleday, $35

The first time I started getting read as male was during the Covid mask mandates. With my body shrouded in a coat and face hidden by an N95, men would address me as “mate” in that distinctive way only used for fellow blokes. “Hey mate, how’s it going?” If they heard my voice, the illusion would shatter, but so long as I kept quiet and merely nodded, I could be admitted to a masculinity that both thrilled and terrified me. For the first time since I was a cropped-haired 11-year-old, the world saw me as something close to whom I actually was.

The same thing happened to Elliot Page. While living in NYC during spring 2020, the 33-year-old actor would be greeted “as a dude” whenever he took a masked walk with his dog Mo. It was an experience that changed everything.

Elliot Page’s memoir is a defiant text that burns with the fury of the long silenced.Credit: David Livingston

Page, who was still then attempting the womanhood he’d been assigned at birth, found in these masculine salutations a “rush” and “thrilling vibration” that propelled him out of the closet. Even though the star of Juno (2009) had come out as queer in 2014 and started questioning his gender among friends only a few years later, it took the upheavals of a global pandemic for Page to finally name the truth about himself. On December 2, 2020, a few weeks after gender-affirmation surgery, Page announced himself as trans via social media – making him one of the world’s most high-profile trans people.

This pandemic-fuelled self-discovery is the climax of Pageboy: A Memoir, Page’s account of coming of age within a Hollywood system drenched in queerphobia and transphobia. For a celebrity memoir released by a mainstream publisher, Pageboy is remarkably unapologetic in its queerness, a defiant text that burns with the fury of the long silenced.


Composed of short episodic chapters the memoir is, Page explains, “a nonlinear narrative because queerness is essentially nonlinear” – a statement that conjures queer theorist Jack Halberstam’s observation that “strange temporalities” and “imaginative life schedules” are foundational to queer life.

Propelled to overnight stardom by Juno, on the eve of his first queer relationship, Page spent the next decade being told “you can’t exist as who you are if you want to have a career”. Despite knowing himself to be a boy from age four, living authentically while working as an actor felt impossible.

Page did what he was told, he followed the rules, but was rewarded with shame, isolation and crippling dysphoria that manifested as depression, anxiety, and disordered eating. Along the way, he experienced sexual assault and homophobic abuse, all the while pressured to smile and sparkle for the cameras.

If nothing else, Pageboy is a searing indictment of celebrity, akin to Jennette McCurdy’s 2022 memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died in its portrayal of youthful fame as a fate not to be wished on one’s worst enemy. Although Page has been critiqued as an uber-privileged celebrity whose fame distracts from the struggles of ordinary trans people, Pageboy makes plain that celebrity is no blessing when it comes to the human quest to find community and become our truest selves.

There’s a cruel irony here: Page was first drawn to acting as a form of disassociation and escape, but it was his success as an actor that ultimately prolonged his suffering. Page, by his own admission, “almost did not make it”. Only the love and care of chosen family kept him afloat during the long wilderness years. But now he’s out, proud and angry, ready to blow the lid on a Hollywood and broader culture that for too long kept him feeling “inadequate, erroneous, the little queer who needed to be tucked away”.

Most striking are Pageboy’s joyous and candid sex scenes, which read as a provocation designed to challenge the infantilisation and desexualisation of transmasculine bodies. In contrast to the pervasive hypersexualisation of transfemininity — the trope of the trans sex worker, glamorous and doomed — transmasculine people are too often imagined as Peter Pan figures, sexless little boys looking for nothing more than a patronising pat on the head.

Page isn’t having a bar of it. “How deeply freeing to have someone love f—ing my dick and my pussy and permitting myself to enjoy it,” he writes. He gets “hard”, has “adventurous sex”, enjoys a partner “f—ing me”. Later, Page cringes when a friend describes his new masculine presentation as “adorable”, reflecting that “I am sick of the … compulsion to infantilise”.

Even though Page’s celebrity renders him an exceptional figure, his gender story is also remarkably ordinary. For starters, his lockdown-induced “coming out” was part of a worldwide uptick in trans self-discovery, with many finding that enforced downtime and isolation enabled suppressed truths to come to the surface.

Beyond that, Page’s journey is littered with classic tropes of contemporary transmasculine experience — childhood androgyny, adolescent topless euphoria, puberty as a crisis, teenage anorexia, aversion to being photographed — to name only a few. These are experiences documented in my own 2021 memoir (among others), and also uncannily commonplace among the dozens of female-assigned trans millennials who’ve filled my inbox over the past few years. We all thought we were the only one, but it turns out we were living parallel lives.

By giving voice to this shared story via his massive platform, Page’s memoir may well become a generational touchstone, a millennial counterpart to transgender activist Leslie Feinberg’s iconic Stone Butch Blues.

Page is no match for Feinberg in terms of literary craft, but he is self-aware enough to know this. “I’ve nothing new or profound to say,” he writes. “But I know books have helped me, saved me even, so perhaps this can help someone feel less alone.” By that measure, Pageboy is a resounding success.

Yves Rees is a historian at La Trobe University and author of All About Yves: Notes from a Transition (Allen & Unwin).

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