Elliot Page Recalls the Trauma of Being Forced to Wear a Dress for 'Juno' Premiere

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday June 2, 2022

Elliot Page attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala in New York on Sept. 13, 2021.
Elliot Page attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala in New York on Sept. 13, 2021.  (Source:Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

In a wide-ranging interview with Esquire, Elliot Page recounted being bullied at school, almost getting bashed by a random stranger, and the trauma of being forced by a studio to wear a dress for the premiere of his 2007 breakout film "Juno."

Variety recalled that "The Jason Reitman-directed abortion drama served as a breakthrough for Page, who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as the title character."

Referring to times when "people actively were like, 'No, you need to wear a dress' in very, very, very pivotal moments," Page recounted how, for "the premiere of 'Juno' at the Toronto International Film Festival" he "said I wanted to wear a suit, and Fox Searchlight was basically like, 'No, you need to wear a dress.'"

"And they took me in a big rush to one of those fancy stores on Bloor Street," the actor, who came out as transgender in late 2020, went on to say. "They had me wear a dress, and... that was that."

Except it wasn't quite that simple for Page, who wasn't out yet. Page remembered the look of a co-star from the film: "Michael Cera was in slacks and sneakers. I look back at the photos, and I'm like...?"

Variety noted how Page called the studio's treatment of him "fucked up," and "pointed out there are many heterosexual cis women who don't like to wear dresses, so it's not like this is just a trans issue."

Page also noted that for cisgender people, the depth of the pain he felt might be impossible to comprehend. "Oh, fuck you, you're famous, and you have money, and you had to wear a dress, boo-hoo," Page imagined cis-het people thinking.

"I don't not understand that reaction," Page allowed. "But that's mixed with: 'I wish people would understand that that shit literally did almost kill me.'"

That traumatic episode followed a childhood marked with bullying and being forced to live as a girl when Page knew from an early age he was male. "When I left Halifax to go to Toronto in grade eleven, I thought the bullying would lessen, in regard to what people were clearly bullying me about," Page told the magazine. "And that wasn't the case at all."

The "Umbrella Academy" actor went on to say, "Those kids left a whole bunch of shit that I had to dig through and unlearn." But the damage they inflicted was, he suggested, something his tormentors didn't have any way of comprehending. "I'm sure I could bring up a moment and one of them wouldn't remember it, because it didn't mean anything to them," he said.

The bullying hasn't stopped simply because Page has grown up and come out publicly. Indeed, his coming out attracted both "love and support from many people and hatred and cruelty and vitriol from so many others."

Page had experience with how haters online responded to him coming out as gay in 2014, as well as the reaction to him coming out as trans six years later — and, he said, "it's different. Transphobia is just so, so, so extreme. The hatred and the cruelty is so much more incessant."

And the abuse isn't just online. Page related how, on one occasion when he was simply waiting to cross the street in Los Angeles, a "really big dude, less than an arm's length away" began "screaming" at him out of the blue.

Page remembered the man screaming, "You faggot! Don't look at me! You faggot, faggot!"

"I couldn't even just go, like, 'I'm not looking at you,'" Page said. Talking about how any response to such an unprovoked verbal assault can trigger a physical attack, he added: "So I thought, 'I'm just going to have to bet on standing completely still and staring straight ahead.'"

When he was able to cross the street and start walking away from the man, though, the verbal harassment only intensified. Page recalled the man screaming, "I'm gonna kill you, you fucking faggot! I'm gonna kill you, you fucking faggot! I'm gonna gay-bash you!"

"So I ran — I was alone — I ran into a convenience store," Page said, "and as I was opening the door he yelled, 'This is why I need a gun!'"

But it's not just random strangers on the street doing the attacking. GOP politicians in state governments across the country have ratcheted up their attacks to record-breaking levels, with many of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills being churned out focused on transgender children.

"Everything that's being said about us is all the same shit that was said about LGB people: Pedophiles, mentally ill, should they be allowed in the changing rooms," Page said. "But the politicians are saying, 'Oh, shit! This is working!' And that's what's scary..."

"It's also endless misinformation — and people buy it," the actor went on to say. "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!" But, Page noted, "People don't learn about that reality. They're banning kids from learning it. It's all tactical."

Despite everything, Page continues on. In a case of art drawing from life, the character he plays on "The Umbrella Academy" will reportedly transition in the upcoming third season. Page had this to say about it:

"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."

Page's memoir, "Page Boy," is set for publication next year.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.