Thirty seconds into our conversation, and it’s quite clear Jillian Page is a writer. She’s already telling me how the lead for this article should read.
“How about: ‘Another trans writer – ho hum,’” she suggests. It’s not something I’d consider, given that Page is a really fascinating interview and has an inspiring life story to tell. “But you know what? That’s part of my goal,” Page says, with determination. “I’d like to see the day when the idea that someone is trans is really just considered blasé. I hope that one day we don’t have to shine a light on trans issues.”
While there’s still a lot the public has to learn about trans people and the struggles they face, they can turn to Page, who writes a lively, lucid blog, Trans Talk, which runs on MontrealGazette.com, the online version of one of North America’s oldest daily newspapers. The blog kicked off in March, 2008, after an editor at the paper suggested Page take on the task of explaining her own transition to Gazette readers – readers who still find many trans issues mysterious.
At that point, Page was going through a long struggle to come out as a trans person to her friends, family and colleagues at the paper. Page started as a copy editor at the Gazette almost 40 years ago. Then living as Bill, Page loved Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and sported a hippy hairdo.
“Most people knew from a very young age,” says Page of her self-awareness about her gender identity. “I guess I just thought that God didn’t know what to do with me and left me in between.”
When Page made her decision to begin to discuss being transgendered, she says most of the experiences were good ones.
“There was some negativity, but not much. Some of my colleagues had a hard time dealing with it, but they never lost their professionalism. You can’t blame them for feeling a bit weird about it. If we’re asking for tolerance, we have to be tolerant and understanding too.”
Page says she drew inspiration from another trans journalist, Christine Daniels, who came out as trans while working as a sports reporter at the LA Times.
“Her coming out column was published everywhere,” recalls Page. “I thought that if she could do it and be accepted by all these jocks, then I thought I could too.” But there was also great sadness in Daniels’ story, as she fell into a depression about her transition after negative remarks were made by other sports journalists. Sadly, she succumbed to that depression and committed suicide.
“The trans community flocked to her like she was some kind of messiah,” Page says. “They put a lot of pressure on her. The sports world was very accepting at first, but then took some jabs, which really hurt her. So she actually de-transitioned, and tried to live her life as Mike again. De-transitioning rarely works. It was shortly thereafter that she killed herself.”
When considering the possibility of a blog, Page says one thing was on her mind: possible transphobic violence.
“You do hear about trans people being murdered. I still worry about it to a certain extent. It only takes one nutcase.”
But finally, Page says the blog was “too good of an opportunity to pass up. Here I was, in the mainstream press, where I’d have a really good chance to reach a lot of readers who wouldn’t otherwise be thinking about these issues. It’s pretty cool.”
Since launching the blog in 2008, Page has touched on a broad range of topics, from larger issues facing trans communities around the world to Page’s own cyber-cruising.
“First, one bit of disclosure,” she wrote in her first post. “I’m nothing special – just one of thousands and thousands of transfolk around the world who are transcending old gender norms in one fashion or another. In a word: liberation.”
Page describes blogging as addictive, but says if she feels she has nothing to say for a day or two, readers notice and nag her to post something. She’s written about violence against trans people, the struggles trans people face in other parts of the world and how trans people are accepted by different religions. When I ask her if she has considered writing a book about her experiences, she balks: “If one of the Montreal Canadiens transitioned, that would be a book. I’m just a lowly copy editor at a daily newspaper.”
Page says her story is ultimately a happy one, and that in large part has to do with her workplace. “I think the best part is the feedback I get from people around the world. I have more readers outside of Quebec than in the province. In the last couple of weeks I heard from a student at Concordia who is also transitioning. He wrote me a lovely letter after reading my blog, which was really nice.” But, she adds, “there has been some negativity, usually from people who knew me before.”
It’s difficult not to marvel at the fact that Page is doing this through the Gazette, widely regarded as a pretty conservative daily newspaper, part of the PostMedia chain (formerly CanWest, formerly Southam). “People say it’s a conservative paper, I don’t know how conservative we are,” Page insists. “Things have changed for everyone. Ten or 20 years ago, you couldn’t talk about trans issues. People say we’re about where gay people were 20 years ago. But I don’t think we’re that far behind. Increasingly our rights are being enshrined. Here in Quebec and in some other provinces our gender reassignment surgery is being subsidized by governments. We’re making inroads. I think people are far more tolerant. But of course acceptance is another matter.”
When Page’s own story verges on melancholy is when she posts about the dating scene. “That’s where I learned a lot about how we are accepted,” says Page, who is bisexual. “I go on Lava Life and other dating sites. Sometimes I say in my profile that I’m a transitioned woman, other times I don’t. I get hit on a lot. But 90 precent of the guys flee when they find out. They say I look gorgeous, they want to date me, they want to do everything, and then I tell them and they’re gone. But that’s life.”
But Page says disclosure is not an option. “I’ve written a lot about the disclosure issue. We have to tell them. Hiding the information could get us killed. I’ve still dated quite a few men who didn’t know and didn’t care. But then you have some guys—I don’t always tell right away, I might wait for six or seven emails. They like my pictures, my personality. When they say we should meet for coffee, then I tell them. Then it’s usually over.”
Page remains philosophical.
“Yes, I’d love to meet someone. But I’m very happy with my work. I’m very lucky –many trans people are very poor. We’re at the bottom of the spectrum of the LGBT scale. Trans folks usually don’t have much money or influence. Many trans people can’t hold a job, because people won’t hire them. And many lose their jobs when they come out.
“I’ve been very lucky to be working here. It’s mainly been a very positive experience, and now I get to write about it.”
Page concedes that “all that estrogen” may have altered her writing style. “Though people have said my writing always had a feminine element to it.” Which prompts the question: now that she’s transitioned, does she still love Led Zeppelin? “Absolutely! My musical taste hasn’t changed. I still try to work in a reference to Rolling Stones lyrics wherever I can.”