Thursday, June 22, 2023

But Pageboy doesn’t read defiant, strong or joyful. It reads sad: the story of a vulnerable girl thrown into the entertainment business at the age of 10; unprotected by her family; struggling with food; closeted, and reminded by the casual homophobia of Hollywood to stay that way; and subjected to sexual assault and harassment by people who should have been trusted colleagues.

In the memoir, Page says: “At certain points I’ve referred to myself using my previous name and pronouns. This is a choice that felt right to me, occasionally, when talking about my past self, but it’s not an invitation for anyone to do the same.” But talking about Page’s past as though it happened to a boy is nonsensical: Ellen’s experiences are tied to her femaleness, and more than that, her lesbianism.

Not that Page refers to his pre-transition sexuality as “lesbian”: “queer” is preferred, and when the word “lesbian” comes up, it’s marked as something held in contempt, by others if not by Page. At one point, Page calls lesbianism a “repugnant” feature that directors cannot allow on-screen.

Any resistance to compulsory femininity — high heels, tight dresses — is cast by the industry as Page being “difficult”. Roles for women are so sexualised that at one point Page describes Juno as representing “a space beyond the boundary”. This is, remember, a film in which Page’s character is pregnant: you could hardly get a more female role. But because Juno is not “hyperfeminised” — because Page wears tees and jeans for the part — the pressure of gender is lifted, somewhat. 

But 2007 was also the year that trans writer Julia Serano published Whipping Girl, which is probably the most influential text in terms of solidifying gender identity theory. In it, Serano argued that “feminine verbal and aesthetic expression” are “driven by intrinsic and deep-seated inclinations that are likely to be the result of biology”. In other words, regardless of your actual sex, if you don’t act or dress “girly”, you might not be a girl at all. 

As this idea gained intellectual purchase, femininity standards in popular culture were growing ever more exacting. This pressure was even dramatised in Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody’s follow-up movie, Jennifer’s Body, which starred ultimate hottie Megan Fox as a cheerleader succubus, and Amanda Seyfried as her hoodie-wearing, jealousy-gnarled best friend. The space for the kind of girl-character Page played — girls who were not limited to being objects of desire — was shrinking.

But Hollywood was only amplifying messages Page had heard from her family. Page’s mother informs her daughter that she can “do anything a boy can do”, but from Page’s perspective, this is never sincere. There is continual maternal pressure for Page to be more girly, as well as an absolute rejection of the possibility of homosexuality. One of the few vignettes in which Page recalls his mother being happy is when Page requests a shopping trip to buy “girl clothes” as a teenager. (Page enjoys the way the new wardrobe alters her social standing, but not the way the clothes make her feel about herself.) When Page initially comes out as gay, her mother’s reaction is to yell: “That doesn’t exist!” 

Becoming a “transgender guy” doesn’t spare Page from judgement and disgust. (Page still seems wounded by a Jordan Peterson tweet that referred to the surgeon who performed Page’s mastectomy as a “criminal”.) But it does resolve the problem of being a lesbian: Page’s mother, at least, seems better able to accept a trans child than a gay one. “She loves her son endlessly,” writes Page. Transition also makes Page’s body safer — a body that has been repeatedly violated and threatened. Page mentions an “acquaintance” who told her, after she came out for the first time, “I’m going to fuck you to make you realise you aren’t gay.” There’s also a male director who “grooms” her, a male crew member on an early film who forces oral sex on her, and a female crew member on another film who sexually assaults her while presenting it to Page as a consensual relationship. Over and over, Page is informed with violence that her body is not hers.

Again, Hollywood reinforces what began in Page’s childhood. Her adversarial relationship with her body can be seen in her reaction to her stepmother’s cooking. Page hears an “internal voice” saying “no, that can’t go inside you” when she’s confronted with food that scares her: a terror of adulteration, of losing control. Puberty inevitably heightens this. Page describes the age of 11 as “the age I sensed a shift from boy to girl without my consent”. This is, I think, a common sensation for girls: puberty ends an era of uncomplicated, happy embodiment, and launches you into a world where your body appears to invite dangerous attention against your will. Not a shift from boy to girl, but a shift from “person” to “thing”. As Hilary Mantel wrote, some girls want out. They starve themselves, or punish their bodies, and now they have the option to disown their sex entirely. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment moderation is enabled.