Elliot Page and The Umbrella Academy helped my dad understand me being trans

Side-by-side photographs of Ryan Phillips

Ryan Phillips, an ambassador for LGBTQ+ young people’s charity Just Like Us, writes for PinkNews how Elliot Page and The Umbrella Academy helped his family understand his trans identity.

It took a while for my family to adjust when I told them that I’m transgender. They tried their best to get it right and be respectful. But I don’t think they truly understood.

In many ways, it’s understandable – it was a big change for everyone. They spent nearly 20 years thinking they had a daughter, and now I had told them that they had a transgender son instead.

I think the first time my dad started to realise what I was going through was when he found me crying one day.

I was crying because the waiting list for the gender clinic was more than three years long and I felt like the medical transition was something I’d never get to experience. I felt like I would never get to truly be me. My dad tried to comfort me as I cried, still quite confused about what was going on with me.

Now, my family have always been proud nerds. For as long as I can remember, we’ve bonded over science fiction, fantasy, and superheroes.

My dad and I have different preferences within the superhero genre (he likes Marvel, I like DC), but when Netflix’s adaptation of The Umbrella Academy was announced, we were both excited to watch it.

We enjoyed the first two seasons, and I was really happy to see the gay relationships in the show: first Klaus and Dave in season one, then Sissy in season two. When season two finished, we theorised about what happened next.

Then something unexpected happened: in December 2020, Elliot Page came out as trans masculine.

I was excited when I read Elliot Page’s statement on Twitter. I empathised with his journey and felt excited for Elliot to finally be able to be himself and for there to be such a prominent trans masculine person in the media. I was also overjoyed to see so many positive responses to him coming out.

Elliot continues to play one of the most prominent characters in The Umbrella Academy. His coming out led to much speculation over what the show would do with his character. Whether he would keep playing a female character, or whether they would change the character to be trans or non-binary to reflect Elliot’s gender.

Earlier this year we got the answer. Elliot and Netflix shared an image on Twitter of Elliot with his short hair, dressed as his Umbrella Academy character, with the caption: “Meet Viktor.”

Elliot Page as Viktor Hargreeves in The Umbrella Academy

Elliot Page as Viktor Hargreeves in The Umbrella Academy. (Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix)

There are so few examples of good (or any) trans masculine representation in popular media, I was ecstatic to see that The Umbrella Academy would be acknowledging Elliot’s gender. That said, I was also apprehensive. Would Netflix get this right? Would they do the trans experience justice? Would this be another piece of media that focuses too heavily on the pain, suffering and trauma that trans people can experience, making it difficult for me to watch?

All these questions were still on my mind when season three dropped last month. I’m pleased to say that my fears were squashed.

The Umbrella Academy season three features one of the best trans coming out stories I’ve seen in fiction. It was sensitive to the struggles trans people can face, while also depicting a warm and accepting response from the people around Viktor.

It also didn’t solely centre the trans narrative – Viktor experiences trauma and has a rocky relationship with his family but not because he’s trans. His gender identity is not a conflict in the story, it is just a fact of it and a way to positively develop his relationship with his siblings.

It was really impactful hearing Elliot as Viktor express things I’d felt for a long time but had never been able to put into words. Viktor’s conversation with Allison in episode two about how he came to know himself as trans is one of the best moments in the show so far.

And it wasn’t just me who was affected by this. My dad messaged me right after he saw the episode.

He first described it as a “very poignant moment”. This might not seem like much but it was amazing for me to hear, especially knowing it took him some time to get used to the idea of me being trans.

What was perhaps even more impactful was what my dad said next. “It really brought to life the pressures you’ve been under,” he said. My dad had never before understood how difficult being trans can sometimes be or how much of a relief it is to finally come out and transition but this was a turning point.

Elliot Page and Viktor Hargreeves gave my family a window into my own experiences as a trans man and helped them to better understand me. This story has helped me to express things I’’e not been able to express before, to both my family and other people in my life.

Representation isn’t just important for LGBTQ+ people, it’s a way for people outside our communities to get a glimpse into who we are and what our lives are like. It can help build empathy and understanding.

When Elliot as Viktor looked into his reflection in a window and said, “I see me,” I looked at him on my screen and I too saw me. I saw a man like me expressing things I’d been feeling my whole life. I felt understood and I felt seen.

Viktor: “You know, I always hated mirrors. I thought everybody felt so strange in their skin. I guess that’s not true, right?”

Allison: “What do you see now?”

Viktor: “Me. Just me.”