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Elliot Page Shares Struggles and Former Selves in Engaging New Memoir

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A transgender man sits, expression plain, in front of a red background. He is wearing a white tank.
Elliot Page, as seen on the cover of his new book, ‘Pageboy: A Memoir.’ (Flatiron Books)

Reading Pageboy, Elliot Page’s memoir, I found myself hoping and praying that the world might treat queer kids with more kindness today than it did when the actor was growing up.

“Dennis, what are you gonna do if Ellen’s a dyke?” Page recalls his grandmother asking his father, knowing full well that Page was in the room.

At six years old, when Page asked his mom if he could be a boy, she matter-of-factly responded: “No, hon, you can’t, you’re a girl … But you can do anything a boy can do.”

That same conversation between parent and child might play out a little differently in the current climate, now that trans and gender non-conforming communities and issues are more visible than ever before. Then again, with legal attacks being waged on transgender rights across the country, perhaps it wouldn’t. What Pageboy does very well over the course of its 29 chapters is hammer home the damage done — and the pain endured — by kids like Page who aren’t given the full support they need to be who they are from a young age.

Pageboy flits back and forth in time, bouncing between various movie sets, awkward childhood moments and multiple relationships. The nonlinear structure can be dizzying (and not always successful), but if there is a theme that runs throughout the memoir, it’s of pain endured and survival fought for. And there is not a small amount of either here.

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Page describes navigating exploitation as a teen actor and being preyed on by multiple men and one woman on a variety of sets. He recounts his nerve-rattling experience with a stalker while just 16 years old. Turning 18, Page writes, didn’t improve his situation. Rather, it created “an unspoken permission slip I didn’t consent to” — a notion that won’t be lost on many girls and women reading.

A book cover showing a youthful transgender man wearing blue jeans and a white tank top, and sitting in front of a red backdrop.
‘Pageboy’ by Elliot Page. (Flatiron Books)

Dotted throughout are also Page’s painful memories of homophobic attacks, starting in adolescence and running well past the point of fame. After coming out in 2014, for example, Page was accosted at a party by “one of the most famous actors in the world.” This man, drunk at the time, unfurled a torrent of abuse on Page, telling him that he wasn’t really attracted to women, he was “just afraid of men.” In one particularly disturbing moment, the actor told Page “I’m going to fuck you to make you realize you aren’t gay.”

It’s an enormous shame — and likely a legally prescribed one — that Page doesn’t name names here.

The party incident is not the only time Page doesn’t point fingers as directly as I wish he could. Page writes extensively of a closeted actress that he met while making a movie together. They had a prolonged secret affair that ended in heartbreak for Page — a pain made worse by running into her at a party while she was on a date with a man. I would be lying if I said I didn’t go straight to IMDB to try and figure out which costar Page was describing. (I failed.)

Thankfully, it’s much easier to discern which “world-renowned photographer” once gave Page a hard time at a magazine shoot. Based on the clues in the story, it’s almost certainly about a Vanity Fair shoot with Annie Liebovitz in which Page was forced to don a tight blue dress and red heels. Looking back at the photos now, it’s impossible not to notice his defeated slump.

What makes reading all of the hardships in Pageboy bearable are the passages celebrating the relief of slowly finding the strength and support to be his authentic self. Describing his coming out in 2014, Page’s newfound feeling of liberation screams out from the page. (“I had a burgeoning sense of ease in the world, a confidence … This time of firsts and newfound boldness was also, unsurprisingly perhaps, the most promiscuous period of my life.”)

Similarly, the relief after Page’s first gender-affirming surgery is blissful to read after so many sections about fear and the struggle to come out as transgender. “Mark picked me up after the three-or-so-hour procedure,” Page relays in the book’s penultimate chapter. “He took a photo of me … high as fuck, wearing a black compression vest, my nipples just removed and slapped back on. The smile on my face, in my eyes, the degree of contentment glowing off me, phew.”

Pageboy is not always an easy read. But there is a blunt honesty in Page’s writing that makes this memoir an important testimony, especially for queer and gender non-conforming kids, that things can and do get better. In many ways, the most painful periods of Page’s life stand as a testament to what happens to people unable to live as they wish and love who they want. Having endured years in the public eye while closeted, and experienced homophobia since coming out, Page has an unflinching clarity about which one was worse.

“I’d rather feel pain while living,” Page asserts in Chapter 8, “than hiding.”

Amen to that.

‘Pageboy’ by Elliot Page is out now, via Flatiron Books. Page will be appearing at San Francisco’s Sydney Goldstein Theater (275 Hayes St.) as part of the City Arts & Lectures series, on Saturday, June 10, 2023 at 7:30pm. A recording of the event will be broadcast on KQED on Aug. 6, 2023. Details here.

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