Elliot Page at the Library of Congress National Book Festival

You know me—I’m not a big movie or TV watcher, since I always have my nose in a book. I’ve only seen a few minutes of the hit 2007 film Juno. I haven’t seen anything else Elliot Page has done, either. So I didn’t come to the 2023 memoir Pageboy as a fan of his acting performances, but as someone interested in hearing his story.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Even when I was playing a role, I couldn’t wear feminine clothes anymore. . . . I always struggled in the summer when layers were not an option and the presence of my breasts under my T-shirt forced me to incessantly crane my neck, sneaking quick peeks down. I would pull on my shirt, my posture folded. Walking down the sidewalk, I’d glance at a store window to check my profile, my brain consumed. I had to avoid my reflection. I couldn’t look at pictures, because I was never there. It was making me sick. I didn’t want to be here. . . . How was I in so much pain? Why did even slightly feminine clothing make me want to die? I’m an actor, there shouldn’t be a problem. How could I be such an ungrateful prick?”

The self-loathing that Page experiences for years, until his transition in 2020, is awful to contemplate. At several points in the memoir, he expresses wonderment that other people can live their lives without feeling wrong and miserable and trapped inside, all the time.

Page’s writing is open, authentic, and brave. And it underscores how very important mental health is. If someone needs to do something to improve their mental health, and this thing will not harm anyone else, why not smile at them with love and encouragement?

This is not a political book. It’s about Page’s experiences and feelings. I recommend it because it reveals experiences and feelings that have not been expressed in the past due to societal stigma, and that an element of society is actively trying to repress and censor. The remainder of this blog post is not about Pageboy, but about my thoughts upon reading Pageboy.

Some people want to make an argument about biology. Biology is not simple. If you go into a typical grocery store, you will see rows of sweet bell peppers that all look the same. As a former gardener, I have seen that sweet bell peppers in their natural state come in all kinds of diverse shapes, sizes, and colors. The peppers in grocery stores only look the same because they are cultivated in identical conditions, and anything that grows the least differently from the norm is thrown away. I’m not convinced that’s a great strategy for peppers. I know it’s not a great strategy for people.

Some people want to make an argument about how people “should” feel and behave, according to a particular worldview or religion or culture. But worldviews, religions, and cultures change over time, and that’s a good thing. As a woman, I’m grateful to live in a society where the predominant worldview / religion / culture says that women should be able to vote and have any job. That worldview / religion / culture was very different a mere 120 years ago. Why can’t we change our worldview / religion / culture so that LGBTQ+ people can be who they are without harassment?

Some people want to make an argument about children. When adults like Page transition, this has little to do with the topic of children transitioning. Further, it’s good to show children that there are many ways to live and be. Let’s prevent children from feeling like they are boxed in to only one future, which can lead to mental health problems.

Some people want to make an argument about surgery. The question of mental health is more important than the question of surgery. Sure, surgery is inherently risky, as well as difficult or impossible to reverse. But if someone’s mental health would be vastly improved by surgery, we are fortunate to live in a world where that is an option (though an expensive one).

Is your mental health in a good place?