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The Umbrella Academy actor and transgender advocate, 35, talks about his transition and finally being comfortable in his own skin in a new interview kicking off Pride Month. He's also candid about being harassed for being transgender and how transphobic jokes made by famous comedians only spawn hate.
"What have I learned from transitioning?" Page asks in the cover story for Esquire’s Summer 2022 issue. "I can't overstate the biggest joy, which is really seeing yourself. I know I look different to others, but to me I’m just starting to look like myself. It’s indescribable, because I’m just like: There I am. And thank God. Here I am. So the greatest joy is just being able to feel present ... To go out in a group of new people and be able to engage in a way where I didn’t feel this constant sensation to flee from my body, this never-ending sensation of anxiety and nervousness and wanting out. When I say I couldn’t have ever imagined feeling that way, I mean that with every sense of me."
The Oscar-nominated star of Juno didn't expect the reaction to his transition, announced in 2020, "to be so big." He did, however, expect the quality of it to be both loving and supportive as well as cruel, and that is what came.
"I came out as gay in 2014, and it’s different. Transphobia is just so, so, so extreme," he said. "The hatred and the cruelty is so much more incessant."
He recalled a large man screaming at him in menacing way on an L.A. street, to name just one scary and hateful interaction.
"'You f****t! Don’t look at me! You f****t, f****t!'" he recalled the stranger saying. "I couldn’t even just go ... 'I’m not looking at you.' ... I decided in my brain — because he was so tall — that I couldn’t do anything physically. If I said something, he could retaliate. If I turned around, that could trigger something else. So I thought: I’m just going to have to bet on standing completely still and staring straight ahead."
While he did, the man proceeded to scream the slur some more and then threaten: "'I’m gonna kill you, you fucking f****t! ... I’m gonna gay-bash you!' So I ran — I was alone— I ran into a convenience store, and as I was opening the door he yelled, 'This is why I need a gun!'" He added, "Yeah, I don’t think people really get it."
Page said people who don't really get it include members of his own community — the entertainment industry. Comedians Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais have defended transphobic jokes in their Netflix specials, with the continued support of the streamer service's co-CEO Ted Sarandos.
"Why are people making it more difficult? It really breaks my heart. It really breaks my heart. That’s literally all we’re trying to communicate," Page said. "That’s what’s so funny to me. When people say: 'Cancel this.' 'Cancel that.' No, they get four more comedy specials and have a jillion followers! The people getting canceled are the trans people who are suffering, or killing themselves or murdered."
Page, who publicly supported the Netflix employee walkout over Chappelle's transphobic jokes last year as a star in the streaming service's The Umbrella Academy, said, "Jokes have an impact that hurts people. I understand that people might think it doesn’t. I understand that they’re not meaning to. But ... It’s not a joke. You believe what you’re saying... They believe it. It’s clearly not a joke. And all we’re saying is: Can you just please listen and understand the harm that it causes? ... That is literally all we are trying to say. And then we get inundated with hatred for saying it. But I’m sorry: You are the ones who don’t want to have the conversation. You are the ones who are so sensitive, who can’t handle people saying, 'Hey, can you not do that?'"
Transphobia is far and wide, with polluting comments coming down from politicians and leaders, he continued.
"Everything that’s being said about us is all the same s*** that was said about LGB people: 'Pedophiles, mentally ill, should they be allowed in the changing rooms.' It’s the same ... But the politicians are saying, 'Oh, s***! This is working!' And that’s what’s scary."
He continued, "There are people in elected office saying that, essentially, transgender people are going to be responsible for the end of existence. That degree of rhetoric is really alarming and horrible. It’s also endless misinformation — and people buy it. The idea of gender being a binary concept specifically based on genitalia is a very new idea in relation to human history. We existed in every culture throughout history! People don’t learn about that reality. They’re banning kids from learning it. It’s all tactical."
Page "can relate deeply" to the alarming suicide problem among trans people.
"And not only to the very conscious, direct act of doing it but also certain times when I lost so much weight or when I was having such severe panic attacks and collapsed multiple times — all these things that very easily could, and statistically do, lead to death," he said. "And that’s all a manifestation of that trauma and discomfort that’s a disproportionate issue for transgender people.
"There were moments of wanting to not be here, but that was just the sensation that I was left with. It wasn’t a movement for action — other than the ways in which I was abusing my body, clearly. I would look out the window of my apartment and think: With everything going on right now and how incredible it all is, this is how I feel? And I’m 22? It was like, I don’t know if I could do it."
Page said people still don't understand how hard it was for him, pointing to the period after his break-though role in 2007's Juno but before his transition when he was expected to parade on red carpets in dresses during awards season.
"'Oh, f*** you, you’re famous, and you have money, and you had to wear a dress, boo-hoo,'" he said of the criticism he's heard for past reflections about that painful time. "I don’t not understand that reaction. But that’s mixed with: I wish people would understand that that s*** literally did almost kill me. I’ve had to have plenty of devil’s-advocate conversations with cis people who were like, 'Well, I’m not trans and I could wear a skirt!' And it’s like, cool. Okay. Great. So yeah, in my early to mid-twenties, I didn’t know how to tell people how unwell I was. I would berate myself for it."
While filming 2010's Inception, things had gotten so much worse he practically didn't leave his hotel.
"I struggled with food. Intense depression, anxiety, severe panic attacks," he said. "I couldn’t function. There were days when I’d only have one meeting, and I’d leave my house to go to the meeting and have to turn around. Not being able to get through a script — could not" when reading was one of his favoriting things.
So today, despite the challenges facing the trans community, he revels in just being ... him.
"I thought it was impossible how I’m able to feel now," he admitted of his lifelong struggle to feel normal in his body.
The Esquire photo shoot shared a series of fashion looks, including shirtless photos displaying his abs as well as some of his tattoos (many the names of friends: Catherine Keener, Kristen Wiig, Spike Jonze).
"I’ve never worked out more in my life," Page admitted. "Working out always felt like such a conundrum, because it didn’t feel good. I walked and I hiked, but that was it. The experience of being in my body now is so different," having had what he previously called "life-saving" top surgery. "I’m absolutely hooked. The feeling of being really engaged with it, present, pushing it and getting stronger and gaining weight. It’s thrilling. I feel like a kid doing it."
And while he models suits, it's the simpler styles that make him feel best in his own skin. He said "euphoria," to him, is "summer, it’s hot out, and I'm just in a white T-shirt that fits me, walking down the street, shoulders back, enjoying the sun and the day. In the past, that would’ve been a very different walk. Instead, you have ideas blossoming in your mind, not constant feelings of shame and self-hatred."
He also spoke about love and sex and how "confusing" and "painful" navigating relationships can be.
Page, who divorced Emma Portner in 2021, also spoke about not wanting children.
"Kids? No. I feel like I’ve also had to take care of myself so much," he said. "I mean, if I met someone who had a kid, I’m not completely closed off to the idea that maybe when I’m older, I could adopt a kid who’s older, you know. But no."
In addition to The Umbrella Academy returning for a third season on June 22 and his character coming out as trans, he's working on his memoir, Pageboy, which he says has been "intense" as he revisits his "feelings and trauma and difficulties." He said since the book announcement, he's had "three random, suspiciously timed apologies" from people in his past, calling it "interesting timing." The book is expected to be published in 2023.
The Trevor Project offers a 24/7 suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline for LGBTQ youth and their loved ones. Call 1-866-488-7386, text START to 678-678 or send a confidential instant message to a counselor through TrevorChat. More resources are available at thetrevorproject.org.