I never knew any openly trans people or nonbinary people growing up. Binary transgender people were something that was fine to be in my family, that we supported in theory. However, being in a southern state in public school, trans people didn’t exist – and honestly, neither did gay people, at least not openly.
I never saw someone growing up and went “that’s me!” I saw people who I could pretend to be or who I know other people saw me as. But I never saw myself. It took me until my 20s to find that. I hope trans/nonbinary kids in the next generation won’t have to wait as long as I did.
Leo Baker is the first openly trans/nonbinary person I saw in real life.
Growing up, I loved watching the X-Games, especially the skateboarding events. Every August, my brother and I would sit and watch X-Games nearly silently (unlike most other times when we’d fight over what to watch that day). I was so enthused about skateboarding, I even tried doing an ollie as a kid on a skateboard one day but was too worried about hurting myself, and honestly, my balance isn’t that great. The interest of actually skateboarding ended rather quickly.. I thought it was the coolest thing but it’s not something I could really take part in.
I played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater growing up and really loved it. They didn’t have any non-guy characters though. By the time I was a teenager, watching the X Games every year, I realized there weren’t any women’s skateboarding competitions, or at least it wasn’t shown on TV. By the time I was in college, women’s skateboarding (especially bowl competitions) started to become more visible. If they didn’t air it on ESPN, I could find it on the Youtube X-Games channel.
Eventually ESPN started broadcasting Women’s Skate Street, which I looked forward to every year, as I enjoyed watching the Men’s Skate Street before. I especially enjoyed watching Leo Baker compete in Women’s Skate Street, who had a more “masculine” presentation, wearing baggy ripped off sleeveless shirts and baggy jeans. I thought they were so cool. A few years after that, Leo came out as nonbinary and now uses they/them pronouns. I thought that was so cool, even though I didn’t identify as nonbinary yet myself.
I remember watching the “Women’s Skate Street” the year they came out, and I was amazed that the casters didn’t once use she/her pronouns for them, or misgender them at all. I really thought they were going to, I thought people wouldn’t care. It was awesome to see that people did seem to care. I was kind of amazed to be honest. That was the first openly nonbinary person I’d seen that I’d followed before. They even got a sponsorship with Nike, who made sure to get rid of Leo’s deadname when they changed it, and seemed to highly respect their identity and pronouns. (When looking this skateboarder up for this blog, I’ve learned that they are almost the same age as myself, which astounds me).
Seeing Yourself in Video Games
I was also elated when I heard that Tony Hawk Pro Skater was getting remastered, and Leo Baker would be a character in the game! I played only as Leo when I played that game just because I almost never get representation in video games – either I choose the male character, or if a game has a more “masculine” female character, I’ll sometimes pick that person. In high school I played an online game with a character creator, and I made a woman with short hair. A random adult I knew looked at the screen and called my character a dyke “as a joke” – I became very angry and yelled at him, obviously because it’s a slur, but also because that was absolutely not what I was going for.
Similarly, even though Elliot Page wasn’t out as a transmasculine person until this year, I really enjoyed all of their movies and characters they’ve played. Their characters were always direct and to the point as well as deadpan humor. They often seemed more masculine than most characters to me, even in movies where they wore more “traditionally feminine” clothes, maybe just due to their demeanor. I could kind of see myself in their bluntness and dry humor in the many different roles they played.
I’ve been waiting for an article to talk about how amazing it is for nonbinary/transmasculine people to see Elliot Page decide to be visible to the public. I’m sure it’s exhausting, frustrating, and emotionally tiring for Elliot Page to come out like that. I’m sure it is exhausting to battle the publicity and blatant transphobia they’re probably experiencing right now online. But I am so thankful to get to see myself in Elliot, especially as someone who is nonbinary and has a bit of a nebulous gender. I have always presented my gender expression in a more masculine way, but my gender identity is somewhere within nonbinary, a bit of transmasculine, and some agender in there.
It’s nice to see that Elliot Page uses both he/him and they/them pronouns. It’s nice to not see this clear cut binary that we see so often when people talk about being transgender. It feels validating to people who don’t fit in an easy societal category. Having a public figure talk about gender this way makes us more legitimate somehow – that Elliot can be used as an example to explain my gender to someone. I can just say, “Well, I’m kind of like Elliot, except I only use they/them pronouns.” It just makes things so much easier to me, to have an example of someone who looks somewhat like me and has a gender somewhat similar to mine. It’s just so much easier.
Thank you Elliot Page for allowing that visibility for people like me. I will always appreciate what you did.
The Lens of Our Binary Society in Shaping the Narrative
The reason I’m using they/them pronouns for Elliot is because I have not seen they/them pronouns used for them when talking about them, though Elliot does go by both he/him and they/them pronouns. Most cis and binary people lean towards using binary pronouns for anyone over they/them pronouns 99% of the time.
Elliot states in the Times article that they are a “transgender guy” but never uses the word “man.” Most people when referring to Elliot are referring to them as a “transgender man.” And maybe they would be fine with this, I don’t know! But it is interesting how binary people like to put traditional binary labels on trans/nonbinary people, even when talking about a transmasculine person who says they also relate to being “nonbinary” and “queer” as well within the same article. And it may be that Elliot intentionally used he/him pronouns for the Time’s piece because there hasn’t been binary transmasculine representation in the world either, and they want to provide that. They actually say this in the Times article: “During our interviews, Page will repeatedly refer to himself as a “transgender guy.” He also calls himself nonbinary and queer, but for him, transmasculinity is at the center of the conversation right now.” However, that doesn’t mean that their nonbinaryness and queerness doesn’t exist anymore.
Trans/nonbinary people shouldn’t have to pick a box to make things easier on cis people. We shouldn’t have to use only the 2 binary pronouns. And we shouldn’t have to simplify our identities for the sake of cis comfort. Cis people seem to really enjoy putting trans/nonbinary people back into a box because it’s easier for them, but sometimes that’s not how it works. Sometimes people’s gender is complicated.
We should be allowed to be complicated. Seeing Elliot Page come out the way they did made me excited for the future of people like me, of not having to explain everytime, of not having to say “please don’t use ‘ma’am’ or miss.”
It made me feel okay with being messy.
We deserve to be ourselves and to celebrate us, messiness and all.