We may earn a commission through product links on this page. But we only recommend stuff we love.

In “Pageboy,” Elliot Page Gets Vulnerable About Gender Dysphoria, Trans Joy, and Much More

By now, you’re probably well-acquainted with the criticism of Elliot Page’s debut memoir, Pageboy, which came out on June 6 to mostly widespread acclaim and some salacious coverage only focusing on the parts of the book that detail Page’s intimate and private relationships with other celebrities. It might be recency bias but Pageboy is one of the most — if not the most — anticipated books on trans life I can remember. As of last year, Page is, no doubt, one of the most famous trans people in the world, and while I generally don’t get excited about memoirs written by celebrities (or other ultra-rich people), I knew I wanted to read it. There’s a lot to talk about in regards to this book, and I suspect (and also hope) people will continue discussing it for a while.

Like a lot of millennials my age, I grew up watching Elliot Page’s films and his ascent to stardom. First, Hard Candy, then Juno, then Whip It…it seemed that every new film was just blasting him farther into the stratosphere and deservedly so. His talent is undeniable. It wasn’t shocking to me when he came out in 2014 and then again in 2021 because, as I’m sure a lot of the people reading this do, I felt like I understood the journey. I came out as queer at 14, and I didn’t come out as nonbinary until 13 years later at 27. It’s hard to come out to yourself and to the people you love, and it’s easy to see why it would be harder to do that when you’re in the limelight. After growing up in the weird push and pull of homophobia and transphobia mixed with praise for the depiction of queerness and transness in the media of the 1990s and the aughts and knowing what we all know about Hollywood, it takes a shit ton of courage for queer and trans celebrities to reveal that part of themselves publicly.

Pageboy is, of course, partially a chronicle of that struggle, that nagging feeling of necessity, that bravery to ultimately do it, and the various attempts by Page to figure out who he is inside and outside the world of stardom along the way. Written in a series of non-linear vignettes, Pageboy starts when Page is 20 — meeting one of his first longtime loves and going to a gay bar for the first time with friends — and jumps around in time from ages 4 to 22 to 12 to 36. I couldn’t help but be struck by this. It’s certainly not even close to the first time I’ve encountered this structure, but it struck me again how often we, queer and trans people, choose to narrate our stories this way. Jumping back and forth through time, trying our best to put the pieces of our lives together in a way that makes the most sense to us. As you’re reading, you get the feeling Page is doing exactly that: undoing the fracturing of his life caused by external pressures and internal self-punishment.

Some of Page’s experiences are familiar to those of who are queer and/or trans. Born and raised in and around Halifax, Nova Scotia, Page knew early on that something was different about him. His mother “let [him] exist as [himself] in many ways when [he] was young,” but eventually, because of familial and societal pressure, Page came to a point where being a “tomboy” was no longer an acceptable way to be: “Eleven was the age I sensed a shift from boy to girl without my consent.” He fought against this as much as he could, choosing to make friends with other boys in his classes and pursue activities that were mostly reserved “for boys” at the time. As he grew older, other kids sensed his difference and bullied him, further isolating him from the worlds of his peers and forcing him to find solace in solitude and “private play” where he was free to imagine newer, better worlds in which he could be his full self. As he grew up, he found refuge in other “weird” kids and, eventually, in acting: “I could disappear, leave the body for a moment, paradoxically allowing me to connect to my body more. This would happen when I went away to film. The clothes and hair were not always fun, but the joy I got to feel while acting, that permission to leave, I could breathe. […] I wanted a space that would allow some autonomy, that reflected reality in a way that school did not. I was addicted to the fresh start I got on every film set. Enthralled by possibility, I poured my whole self into that world — I was in a place where being a weird kid was good.”

This liberation Page initially felt with acting would change a lot as his fame began to rise. Being a young person by himself in the entertainment industry made him susceptible to the abuses and inappropriate sexual advances of adults who worked with him, and he writes on some of those harrowing experiences in scant detail in the book (some experiences, he admits, are too difficult to fully write about, even now). He discusses the damage done to his psyche and self-confidence when the speculation about his sexuality after Juno became a huge hit was all over the press both here in the U.S. and Canada. His managers and advisors in the industry insisted that he stay in the closet for as long as possible, so as not to hurt his chances to work on other projects, and the pressure of what that took made him feel even more unable to fully embrace who he is: “I got lost in the part, unable to fully lean into the character but still losing track of myself. Stuck in the liminal space.” Their insistences, along with the general stresses of being a working actor, only compounded his sadness, his discomfort, and his ability to connect with other people, especially the people he fell in love with. Throughout it all, “gender dysphoria was slowly crushing” him, and the shame he felt regarding the feelings of dysphoria and his guilt about having them were making it even harder to examine.

In sparse but image-heavy prose, Page writes about these moments — some of the lowest of his life — in a way that builds tension throughout the book. You’re along with him as he goes through the hook ups and romances and breakups, the eating disorder recovery, the instances of self-harm, the fights with Hollywood producers and photographers and his former agents, the beautiful and terrible experiences he has with his family, the brotherhood he builds with other men, and the joys and sadnesses he feels while doing his job. Like Page himself during the last couple of years before this book was written, the reader is pushed in the first two thirds of the book to the “edge” with him, to the space where he can finally figure out who he is and what he wants and needs to do.

In the final third of the book, Page finds respite after spending some extended time by himself living in the woods of Nova Scotia. A voice in the back of his head tells him: “You don’t have to feel this way” and this time, finally, he listens: “This was not miracle water that sprang out of nowhere. This was a long-ass journey. However, this moment was indeed that simple, as it should be — deciding to love yourself. There had been multiple forks in the road, and more than once I had taken the wrong path, or not, depends on how you look at it I guess. It is painful the unraveling, but it leads you to you. There it finally was, a portal. It was time to step through.” There is relief, for Page and for the reader, here but there’s a new journey, a much different one, ahead.

While I know people — especially cis people — will read Pageboy for a variety of reasons, I find this part of the book where he describes the happiness he gets from feeling gender euphoria for the first time and the relief he experienced upon finally revealing himself to others to be the most important and powerful part of the book.

As Page describes in one of the final chapters, the authenticity of trans people is constantly being called into question, but the fact of the matter is that gender dysphoria is real. Trans people are exactly who we say we are. This palpable shift in tone and language from the first two thirds of Pageboy to the last third is a stunning example of what that means in written form, illustrated so clearly for people to see that I can’t imagine anyone walking away from this book without feeling that same sense of alleviation for Page and for all trans people who share these experiences. In a time when our lives are under threat from myriad angles (even from those who “mean well”), this illustration coming from a person who has some influence in our society made me feel more optimistic about the possibility of people listening and of avenues opening up for more of us to share our own stories.

This is not just a story of growing up, of becoming, of transforming and surviving, but one of choosing to live and to fight for that life, even when the costs are higher than anyone could possibly imagine. I know that some of the questions many people probably have won’t be answered in Pageboy. But I think that’s a good thing. Not because I think Page should publish another book — though I would welcome that — but because I don’t think we need it all. Page took this opportunity to let us into his world on his terms, which is something many people in the entertainment industry don’t get the chance to do. Follow him into it. Let it break your mind and heart wide open. And let’s not let this be the last trans memoir to hold this amount of power.


Pageboy by Elliot Page is out now.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Stef Rubino

Stef Rubino is a writer, community organizer, and student of abolition from Ft. Lauderdale, FL. They teach Literature and writing to high schoolers and to people who are currently incarcerated, and they’re the fat half of the arts and culture podcast Fat Guy, Jacked Guy. You can find them on Twitter (unfortunately).

Stef has written 95 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. I’m currently reading the audiobook of this right now and it is so good! Thanks for this lovely review Stef. I’m really excited to get to the gender euphoria in the last third of the book now!

    • I am #67 on the hold list, so I may break down and pay for the hardcover in the meantime.

      Stef, thanks for this review. The nonlinear narrative and fragmentary, collected-memory collage of experiences has me even more keen to read Elliot’s perspective. There’s another really sensitive review over on Book Riot called “Elliot Page Does not Owe You a Legible Timeline,” whose author also captured the visceral impact of the narrative structure of the book as well, and why the structure isn’t incidental but in fact really matters.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!