It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years Ellen Page gave her tear-duct-ruining coming-out speech before the Human Rights Campaign’s inaugural conference in 2014. Now a vocal LGBTQ activist, Page has used her platform as a respected actress to produce movies like Freeheld, with Julianne Moore as New Jersey police lieutenant Laurel Hester’s battle to secure her pension for her domestic partner (Page) after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the Viceland docu-travel-series Gaycation, in which Page and her best friend, Ian Daniel, explore LGBTQ cultures around the world. Speaking as a keynote speaker, along with Daniels, for South by Southwest’s (SXSW) Film Conference, Page was unfiltered about her journey toward self-acceptance these past couple of years, but it was a question from the moderator, NPR’s Laura Sydell, about whether she thinks coming out has hurt her career that elicited Page’s most impassioned response.
Had Page noticed a difference in how people treated her?, Sydell wanted to know. Did she feel like sometimes people weren’t telling her something and there were roles she wasn’t getting?
You know, truly and honestly, it’s hard for me to know. I’m not in rooms where people are making decisions of who to send what to, and the truth is, I’m absolutely not focusing on it, because being in the closet hurt my career way more than being out and being happy and feeling inspired again, being able to fuse my authentic self with creative interests, and that wasn’t something I could do, and now I can make Gaycation, I can produce something like Freeheld. I mean, I’m producing other movies — they don’t all have to have LGBT characters. I’m producing a movie with Kate Mara and Christine Vachon, it’s a love story between Kate and myself.
And I feel so in love with what I do again, and I feel so grateful for that. I think the differences I see are, “Oh, you’re doing this thing that’s gay and this thing that’s gay …” And you would never even bring that up with a straight person. You would not say, “Oh, you’re doing another movie where you play a straight person, are you a little worried about it?” And no judgment, I’m just saying these are the standards and this is the conversation that needs to change, you know? It really does. Because I feel so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to make this show. Truly. I hope people know just the gratitude that I feel, and the people that I got to meet, the most inspiring, courageous people that you could ever meet in your lifetime, braver than you could ever possibly be, and those are interactions that I’ve gotten to have in my life.
And, yeah, if I was still closeted, I wouldn’t be making this show, and let’s think about how much that limits people, or limits people of all minorities who are not given opportunities to create work. We do a job that’s about telling stories. Obviously it’s imperative — we can’t just be telling stories about one group of people. People need to have opportunity, and that’s what’s going to make the whole industry grow and blossom. And a person who’s involved with it, and a person who’s an audience member, I really hope that starts to happen. It’s just something I’ve been reflecting on as to, “Oh, what if I hadn’t come out?” Anyway, I’m sorry I just went on a tangent.
The room applauded; no one was upset with that tangent.
Here’s what else we learned:
Gaycation was Page’s idea.
She’d pitched it when longtime friend Spike Jonze had asked if she had any ideas for Viceland, a new network he was starting. Her co-host, Ian Daniel, is an art curator she met eight years ago when they were both studying sustainability on an “eco village” outside of Eugene, Oregon, called Lost Valley. “For me it was about wanting more representation,” said Page, “because I know how much it meant to me at 14 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to be stumbling through the TV and find But I’m A Cheerleader, and when Natasha Lyonne’s like, “I don’t get it,” about French kissing that guy, I was like, “Neither do I!” That meant something to me, and I do think there can be such loneliness and isolation when you’re living in a society that has this view of you’re different, or something’s wrong, or you’re sinful.”
Making the series was a lot about Page’s own self-discovery, and she pointed out many times that she was grateful for the opportunity and realized how even the chance to travel is something many people don’t have. “I’m a privileged person,” said Page. “I live in Los Angeles. I have done a job that has given me money and I can walk down the street and kiss my girlfriend. I think a lot about those who are much more vulnerable than me all around the world and in the United States. And here’s an opportunity to go make something that allows voices to be heard that you sometimes never hear, and hopefully reflect struggles that a lot of people go through and I think a lot of people simply don’t know about.”
Her confrontation with Ted Cruz was as much about curiosity as anger.
“I’m naturally a curious person and I want to learn about people,” said Page, “and I want to know about people’s stories and people’s experiences, even people I know potentially don’t like me just because of who I am. I am fascinated by it. Fascinated might be the wrong word because it is utterly disheartening and it also makes you feel so angry, but it is baffling to me the hatred that people have. What is that and where is it coming from? All of those things are what interest me. Those issues are what I read about and what I feel passionate about. … I think it’s a human being striving to have a conversation with human beings.”
She gets why her coming out was a big deal, but knows that she had it easier than her predecessors.
“Let’s be real, what Ellen Degeneress did at that time was extraordinary,” said Page. “I don’t think of myself as ‘ooh’ [special] because I came out, and that’s because of, needless to say, all of the people that have made that possible. And now I do have the opportunity to do all these things that a lot of people just don’t get, and that’s the reality of the world we live in and the industry we’re working in.”
She’s just as kind and generous in real life as she was in the episode of Gaycation where she told her own story to help a Japanese man come out to his mom.
The talk ended with a beautiful woman coming up to the mic and revealing that she’s trans, and how fearful she is of what will be seen when she goes through the body scanners at airports. Page listened intently and then responded with kindness. “You even sharing that right now is moving,” she told the woman. “I’m sorry that that’s something you have to feel anxiety about. That breaks my heart. I wish that wasn’t the case, and thank you for sharing that with everyone. That makes people go, ‘Oh, I didn’t necessarily think of what it was potentially like for a member of a trans community to just travel, let alone go to a country where it might be really difficult.’ And the show is of course about celebrating the triumphs and the joys and the nightlife and offering representation as much as we can, but I hope that we can show the struggles and difficulties that people do face that they just don’t know about.”
She also added in what sounded like a veiled jab at Donald Trump, who opposes nationwide marriage equality.
“I think when we’re hearing a lot of the political rhetoric we’re hearing now, hopefully the show can say, ‘Hey, that’s not just a little sound bite,’” Page concluded. “If we’re in any way perpetuating a society that discriminates and treats people unfairly and doesn’t strive toward true equality, you are causing a lot of harm in people’s lives and a lot of pain and a lot of difficulty. And I hope the show can maybe connect people to that.”