This week, Elliot Page, who was known until very recently as Ellen Page, was featured on the cover of TIME. Looking pale, thin, sickly, and miserable, Page announces, “I’m fully who I am.”
Wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, Page has her hair cut short, signalling, we are to understand, her identity as a “transgender guy.” The hair, it seems, is a big deal. Page explains to the interviewer that she felt a sense of “triumph” when, at age nine, she was allowed to cut her hair, only to have that “joy” ripped away when she landed an acting role that demanded she grow her hair out. One wonders about the “dysphoria” experienced by women who cut their hair short for acting roles or actors made to wear wigs for a role? Do they feel as though their true identities are being ripped away, filled with trauma at a hair style that does not represent their innermost sense of self?
The signifiers of trans identity have never made sense, and are almost always incredibly sexist. Page always hated the hyperfeminization imposed on her by Hollywood — the “primping” for red carpets and magazine spreads; the pressure to look sexy… It all made her feel ill. But of course, this presumes that all other female actors are inherently comfortable and joyful about the “costumes” they must put on as scrunitized, sexualized women in the industry. I can’t imagine anyone enjoys the uncomfortable, time-consuming rituals involved in looking appropriately beautiful, fuckable, flawless, and glamorous in that line of work. It is a wonder all women don’t cave under that pressure. (Many, of course, do.) And perhaps Page was experiencing something different and unique, but when feminists have fought for so long to insist that women can feel equally as comfortable in a suit as a dress (I prefer neither, usually opting for something closer to Page’s cover shoot outfit), and that preference need not signal some kind of flaw, it is unbearably regressive to be told that, in fact, real women do love makeup and stilettos.
Page’s feelings of discomfort were not only about clothing and hair, but about her body, as well. When she got a mastectomy, Page says she felt relieved of the torment of feeling uncomfortable with her physical self — she could finally see herself as she wanted to be seen (and as she wished to see herself). But this, again, doesn’t strike me as unique, or, at least, as proof she is not a woman. I often wonder why, within the trans narrative, people like Page do not consider the millions of women who get breast implants or other forms of cosmetic surgery, and consider that they likely share similar feelings of discomfort or hatred of their bodies, and perhaps a sense of relief once they address their fixation on stomach fat, a too-big nose, sagging skin, or a flat chest. Why do we presume these feelings are exclusive to trans-identified people when there exists legions of evidence to the contrary?
Page, who came out as a lesbian in 2014, felt it important to publicly identify as transgender (“come out,” she also calls it) for “selfish” reasons, on one hand: “It’s for me. I want to live and be who I am.” This makes little sense, as she already was herself, and was free to dress and style her hair as she liked, and to remove her breasts. None of these choices are off limits to women living in America. But Page also adds that she felt a “moral imperative” to make such an announcement publicly, due to apparent attacks on transgender people, such as “mandate[s] that bathroom use be determined by birth sex, a blanket ban on medical interventions for trans kids, or the suggestion that transmen are simply wayward women beguiled by male privilege.”
Considering the widespread celebration of Page’s identity announcement in December, and the fact we are moving, in North America, to criminalize anyone who questions trans identity, I would challenge the notion that “coming out” as transgender results in widespread attacks. The “moral imperative” Page suggests will inevitably result in thousands more girls across the continent following in her footsteps — something Page may see as a victory, but has very serious, permanent consequences for the girls rendering themselves sterile and disrupting their development into healthy adults, without being offered any alternatives. Trans identity must be celebrated at every level — media, education, government medical, and personal. This is the new normal. Questioners are the ones who suffer consequences.
The trend of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) among girls has been well-documented, despite attempts to suppress such research — it is almost guaranteed that the promotion of Page’s “coming out” by the media will add to girls’ desire to follow in her footsteps. I wonder if Page has considered the moral implications of a narrative telling young lesbians, in particular, that their discomfort with gender roles, sexualization, and puberty can be resolved through irreversible medical processes, with insufficient long term research into consequences?
To be clear, Page has the right to do what she wishes with her body. She may change her name if she likes, cut her hair, starve herself to rid herself of curves, and pose on magazine covers in sneakers and jeans. But to advertise this as novel and somehow separating her from her female sex and identity as a woman is dumb, at least, and incredibly harmful, as worst. Attention-seeking celebrities who feel their experiences and selves are special and deserving of accolades is nothing new, but they should be responsible, nonetheless, for the ideas and practices they promote in public.
The media deserves much more blame (and certainly shame) than an individual like Page, who may be struggling with mental health issues, for all we know — today, often deemed “gender dysphoria,” as it is a simpler and more profitable approach. I worry about what Page’s future holds, once the temporary feeling of validation wears off, and she is left with a mutilated body, and the health consequences of hormone treatment, presuming she pursues it. But more than that, I worry for this generation of girls, indoctrinated to believe that their normal preferences and feelings mean there is something wrong with them that must be fixed — that they cannot truly be themselves until they change themselves completely. These girls should have benefited from the gains feminism made over decades — instead they will be victims of a backlash, propelled by media, the pharmaceutical industry, irresponsible doctors, politicians, social media corporations, and narcissists.
No one should believe or be told that in order to “fully be who they are” they must change themselves. You are who you are, and while surely improvements can be made, you can’t opt out of your biology — nor should you strive to.