Just when I thought Valentine’s Day was going to be another day where people complained about commercialism, name dropped the word “Hallmark,” and barfed out on their chosen social media outlet: “I don’t need a designated day to celebrate my obviously far more authentic love for my partner!” for the sixth year in a row, things actually got really cool for eight minutes.
To those who react with celebrities coming out with either shock or a smug “I knew it all along” attitude, let me just say: WE DON’T CARE. We don’t care what you knew. Any queer person who follows even peripheral celebrity gossip pretty much knew it. In her next project, Freeheld, a narrative about gay activism, she plays a lesbian partner. She starred in an SNL sketch where she played a closeted lesbian. She neither denied nor addressed the speculation. She brought a lady date with her to the Oscars. Almost nothing comes up when you Google her name and the word “boyfriend.” She was in Whip It, fer chrissakes. I can’t prove it, but there is a distinct possibility that these are highly deliberate choices.
Even if this all means nothing (and it certainly can mean nothing because stereotypes blow), it all feels very much like a calculated push to see if the speculation might become less painful. How will you ever know when it’s okay to be yourself, to like the things you like, to do the projects you want to do, to participate in the things you want to participate in—until you take tentative steps to be yourself while everybody examines you under a microscope and talks about it? How will you know when it’s safe? On February 14th at the HRC Time to Thrive Conference, Ellen Page decided that it was. So even though it comes as no big surprise to most people, it’s a huge fucking deal that she decided to come out, and it’s an even bigger deal that she came out the way she did. A fantastic article from Autostraddle commented on just how big of a deal it was:
There’s a specific type of vulnerability involved in saying “I’m gay.” Most gay celebrities don’t actually say those words. They say they’re open to dating girls, they say they have a girlfriend, they say whatever Jodie Foster said at the Golden Globes… After Ellen Page said it on Friday, she sighed with her whole entire body.
There are several studies that show that the mere act of keeping a secret can be hazardous to your health, causing depression, extreme stress, and becoming a private hell for the keeper, especially if it’s a personal secret like a stigma that can be hidden. It may even feel physically burdensome. The bigger the audience, the bigger the act, and the greater the anxiety. And Ellen Page has a big audience. In her speech, she looks and sounds so nervous that it gave me anxiety just to watch it. As she gets closer to coming out her hand starts to kind of shake, and it’s distracting, and I stared at the tiny video in my browser going, Don’t freak out Ellen, you are so cool and brave, and don’t freak out, it’s going to be totally okay.
So what I really adore about Page’s speech in particular is that she addresses so many struggles with coming out that often get swept under the rug of “I knew it” peanut gallery reactions. She talks about the struggle to self-accept and self-love, she talks about feeling like you can’t tell the people closest to you the truth, the pressure of a personal responsibility to come out in direct conflict with the shame of being who you are, fearing for your job or your physical safety, fearing that you’re going to be “treated like shit for no reason.” She talks about the microaggressions that affect people daily. She talks a lot about the emotional torment of not being out, and about how both her mental health and relationships suffered.
Most of the speech is highly quotable and speaks to so many experiences, so I can’t help but be miffed that the “I’m gay” part is the only thing being quoted. She says she feels that coming out is a personal responsibility. But what’s better is she treats it like a personal responsibility, using her visibility to focus on the number of problems that plague the LGBTQ community: the bullying, the dropouts, the abuse, the homelessness, the suicides—problems so many queer youth experience, but which others are unaware of, or ignore, play down, or even encourage.
Bringing attention to these unacknowledged issues shows she has come out on her own very political terms, making sure that whoever watches the speech understands that the issue is not a matter of “is she or isn’t she?” The issue is a matter of who is hurting who, who is making an effort to support people, and how can we fight the challenges that keep others, like Page, in the closet? The speech is so excellent, and I highly encourage you watch the video if you have not already.