Ellen Page On Hollywood’s “Protective” Attitude About Coming Out: It’s “Homophobic, Transphobic, Biphobic”
Over the course of her Freeheld press tour, Ellen Page has had the opportunity to talk about the difficulty of coming out, and the condescension of referring to actors as “brave” for playing LGBTQ+ characters. She had the opportunity to elaborate on all of the above at length in an interview at Metro Weekly, in which she continued her trend of pointing out her own privilege and highlighting the experiences of other marginalized people both in North America and elsewhere.
The main quote making the rounds is her response to Matt Damon’s clueless comments on coming out in Hollywood:
Heterosexual actors and actresses do not have to go to great lengths to hide their sexuality. Yes, of course, keep your private life private. Protect yourself. Have boundaries. When you’re a public person, you need to think about your safety. But if it’s in relation to sexuality, then no — that’s an unfair double standard. Heterosexual people walk down the red carpet with their partners all the time, they talk about their children …
Earlier in the interview, Page had cited taking her own longtime girlfriend to the red carpet as a moment of particular pride.
To experience being in love and get to live my life, hold my partner’s hand, bring her to the premiere of the film, go down the red carpet — it’s all these firsts in my life. I’m like, “This is the first time I’m in an out relationship in an airplane!” That might sound so insignificant to a lot of people, but probably not to a lot of people in the LGBT community because they would understand. I can’t tell you how special it is. It’s really extraordinary, and I feel really lucky.
She also admits that in her youth, she internalized the aspect of Hollywood culture that discourages actors from coming out. Matt Damon’s comments reflect a background undercurrent in this field, not a one-off opinion only held by him.
It’s just an idea that exists that you cannot be a gay actor, particularly a young, out gay actor. It’s this idea that, for some reason, I believed and listened to and participated in. I felt guilty about not being a visible person for the LGBT community. And, quite frankly, personally, I feel like I should have felt guilty. I’m a very, very privileged person. Of course the right thing to do is to say I’m gay. For myself as a person and for the community, you know?
Page explained that she believed this sentiment comes from a “protective place” as opposed to a “negative” one — actors want to help their peers succeed within a bigoted system, and many may still believe that remaining closeted is the safest path to success. But it’s also a harmful path, and ultimately, Page says, it “makes our society homophobic, transphobic, biphobic.”
I appreciate that Page has managed to walk the difficult line between emphasizing how important and valuable it’s been for her personally to come out, as well as how much happier she’s felt afterward, while still emphasizing that it may not be possible for everyone. It’s a topic that I struggled to navigate back when I covered Kristen Stewart’s experience with having the media constantly try to out her.
By coming out, Ellen Page has been automatically cast in a role for which she never auditioned: an “advocate” role. Recently, when she appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he asked her if she ever felt like this new role was a “burden.” Page responded,
No, I feel so grateful for it. I feel so grateful to feel how I feel now, compared to how I felt when I was a closeted person … And, as a person, I’m a very privileged person. I’m a very privileged gay person. Those who are affected the most in our community are the most vulnerable.
Although Page seems to have taken to her new advocacy position like a fish to water, that isn’t the case for many other closeted people, including people within Hollywood. Not everyone wants to play this role, and it seems to be a given that once a public figure comes out, they become a representative, even if they don’t feel qualified to do so. And yet, the reason that happens is because so few public figures tend to come out, so undue scrutiny gets placed on the few that do.
I keep feeling relief to see Ellen Page navigate these murky, uncharted waters with such smart answers, because she isn’t an expert, and I wouldn’t necessarily have expected her to know about concepts like privilege or intersectional feminism. She’s an actress, not a women’s studies expert! And yet, she seems to have done a little homework on advocacy; I’ve been surprised by the nuance and depth of the answers she’s given in all of these interviews.
Perhaps Page’s discussion of these tough topics could chart a path for other more marginalized people to follow in the future — but for the moment, this still isn’t a path that’s available to most. It’s still much easier for someone like Ellen Page to cross this ocean than it is for others, and that could still be a source of resentment for some, no matter how many times she acknowledges it.
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