Actor Elliot Page received an outpouring of support after he revealed that he’s trans and non-binary on Tuesday. The Juno and X-Men star shared his gender identity in a heartfelt Instagram post, and Netflix—the home of Page’s current TV show The Umbrella Academy—was among the social media accounts that wished him well.
While there are more trans actors working in TV than ever before, Elliot Page is an unprecedented figure for a couple of reasons. He’s the most high-profile actor to come out as trans after years in the public eye, and he’s also midway through an ongoing TV role. He stars as the superhero Vanya Hargreeves in Umbrella Academy, a character who is portrayed as a queer, cisgender woman during the show’s first two seasons. This raises questions about whether Vanya’s story will echo Page’s real-life journey next season.
According to Netflix inside sources in Variety, Vanya will continue to be portrayed as a woman in season 3. This may come as a surprise to some fans, but as a GLAAD representative explained in the same report, “Trans actors can and do play both trans and cisgender characters.” It’s a completely different situation from a cis actor playing a trans character; a common creative choice that is routinely criticized as transphobic. By contrast it’s extremely rare for an openly trans actor to play a cis character, and there’s no structural history of trans actors (an underrepresented minority) misrepresenting cis people onscreen.
At the moment, the vast majority of trans actors play characters who are explicitly portrayed as trans from the get-go. Examples like Star Trek: Discovery are rare. A trans and non-binary character was introduced this season, but their gender identity hasn’t yet been mentioned onscreen, and they use different pronouns from their actor Blu del Barrio. This reflects the fact that del Barrio hadn’t come out to their family when they first started filming the show. The character’s role was shaped around the actor’s experiences and comfort levels.
In the case of Umbrella Academy, we can safely assume that Elliot Page’s comfort and opinions were taken into account regarding Vanya’s portrayal in season 3. Not only is he the top-billed actor in the cast, but he already had an obvious impact on Vanya’s translation from page to screen—including costume choices, which closely reflect Page’s personal style in real life. And on the streaming platform itself, Netflix has already edited the credits and metadata for Elliot Page projects including Umbrella Academy, so they now reflect his correct name.