There is something uniquely American, and uniquely dangerous, about the connections between dysphoria and fame.
Ellen Page attends the ‘Freeheld’ premiere during the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 13, 2015 in Toronto, Canada. (By BAKOUNINE/Shutterstock)
Elliott Page does not exist. Of course we must admit to the legal fiction of an “Elliott Page” whose name appears on a number of documents held by California bureaucrats, but a legal fiction is just that—a fiction. Conservatives must make it abundantly clear that Ellen Page (star of Juno, Inception, and a number of other successful movies) does not cease to be Ellen Page (woman) because of that nominal change.
Page—who has recently received a double-mastectomy and a short, unflattering haircut—is featured on the cover of the latest issue of Time magazine. In large, white letters in the foreground is a quote pulled from her first post-transition interview: “I’m fully who I am.” By this, of course, Page means that her feelings of masculinity are now, in part, reflected by her outward appearance. I have no doubt that the feelings are real, and can only imagine the distress experienced by anyone who suffers from them. But that the feelings are valid—that it is possible for a person to be “born in the wrong body;” that the natural form can be altered to make a person more fully herself—is not just false but manifestly absurd.
I say this not to insult Ellen Page—who, were she merely struggling personally with dysphoria, would have my unqualified sympathy—but because her confusion is being affirmed and broadcast to the world as a means of persuasion and encouragement for others to follow suit. A delusion becomes a lie when you put it on the cover of Time.
And it can hardly be up for debate that the effort is propagandistic. If you were to ask Ellen Page why she consented to the interview, or Katy Steinmetz why she wanted to conduct it, or the editors of Time why they agreed to publish it, odds are that every single one of them would tell you something about validating and normalizing the trans experience, about encouraging others with similar feelings to follow Page’s footsteps and transition (i.e., become more fully who they are).
In 2021, Ellen Page—like Bruce Jenner half a decade before her—is the focal point of the national effort to bring transgenderism into the mainstream. Homosexuality largely gained first toleration and then acceptance through a slew of legal efforts, culminating in the Supreme Court victory of Obergefell v. Hodges. The current racial ideology has its roots in the academy, with critical race theory in particular originating in some of the nation’s most elite law schools. The transgender phenomenon, meanwhile, owes its ascendancy to the efforts of Hollywood—and did long before Ellen Page’s 2020 Instagram announcement.
Anyone who spends more time in front of a TV than they ought to—which is just about everyone—can likely rattle off a long list of transgender celebrities whose mere presence in a prominent corner of the public square has gone a long way toward advancing the cause in society at large. One of the most recognizable is Chaz (formerly Chastity) Bono, daughter of the late musician/Republican politician Sonny Bono and his second wife/singing partner, Cher. (Bono, like Page, is a woman who presents as a man—a far less common decision than the inverse, in Hollywood and elsewhere.) Robert “Alexis” Arquette was a member of the moderately well-known acting family who spent most of his adult life presenting as a woman, undergoing sex reassignment surgery in his late 30s, eventually modifying his label from “transgender” to “gender suspicious,” and finally dying from HIV complications at the age of 47. Olympic athlete and Kardashian-by-marriage Bruce Jenner, whose 2015 decision to become “Caitlyn” was headline news for months, is perhaps the single most famous trans person in the world. Other more or less familiar names like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock (whose memoir is actually titled Redefining Realness)—both cited as inspirations by Ellen Page—augment the ranks of the transgendered famous. Kim Petras (née Tim) first gained recognition as the youngest person ever to be surgically transitioned (at 16) and is now an L.A.-based musician dubbed “the new princess of pop” by a number of publications. The brothers who wrote and directed The Matrix are now the sisters who wrote and directed The Matrix.
Maybe there is something unusual in the celebrity psyche that leaves them prone to gender dysphoria more than the average person. Maybe the same impulse that drives some people to seek out fame inspires some percentage of those folks to take up…other kinds of performance. Psychoanalyzing the correlation is both more difficult and less valuable than simply recognizing the fact: Transgender people are grossly overrepresented in the entertainment class, and thus have a disproportionate influence on American popular culture—and, by extension, on public morality.
This is concerning in part because celebrities in general have an outsized bully pulpit in political and moral conversations. (There’s a reason that, in the last century, identifying Communists in Hollywood was treated as nearly an equal endeavor to identifying Communists in the CIA.) A successful Hollywood writer or actor or singer or director is a person of immense influence. This is partly due to the narrative-forming nature of their industry—history is written by the Victor/Victorias. But it is probably owed more to America’s perverse obsession with the rich and famous. People—especially young people—tend to idolize the men, women, etc. they see featured on TV.
And that is exactly the point: The stated goal of every transgender activist in Hollywood is to give young boys and girls watching at home plenty of good, queer role models to follow. It’s working. Steinmetz’s profile of Elliott Page observes that “1.8% of Gen Z compared with 0.2% of boomers” identify as transgender—an 800 percent increase. She treats this as a reason for optimism (“increased social acceptance”) without much consideration for the source or consequences of that increase. A quick look around suggests that its cause is the imposition of a deliberate agenda by pop-culture creators, and that it has no intention of slowing down.
There is one very good reason that it may succeed and one very good reason that it may fail. The potential for success is simple; kids are impressionable, and that impressionability has proven troublingly open to “gender suspicion” already. The potential for failure lies in the manifest absurdity of the basic concept; it may be a bridge too far. There remains a distinct possibility that the vast majority of people can look at a man, see that is a man, and come to the conclusion that anyone who says otherwise is either lying or confused. But this is not an unqualified good; in fact, it illustrates just how bad success would really be.
The stakes are higher than they seem: Will we allow a cadre of delusional celebrities to take a sledgehammer to observable truth—a profoundly important truth, for that matter, tied up not just in our social order but in our very means of continuing society at all—and to demand positive assent to unreality by anyone seeking a place in the public square? Would we survive the ripple effect caused by such a massive concession? Not for long, at least not as anything recognizable (or deserving of survival).
Rome was killed, in the end, by a string of invasions by barbarians from the untamed north. The Aztec Empire was overthrown by the great Hernan Cortes and his army of Christian soldiers. The British Empire effectively could not survive the maelstrom of two world wars in quick succession. America, meanwhile, will owe its death to PETA’s 2014 Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity of the Year.
Actually, that’s not entirely true, since Page did not lay sole claim to that high honor; she shared it with fellow Hollywooder Jared Leto, who at least admitted he was acting when he dressed up as a woman.