How Elliot Page’s “Umbrella Academy” Character, Viktor Hargreeves, Appeared as Transgender

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Netflix

In the midst of rising legislative, rhetorical and physical violence against trans-humans by those who insisted that we destroy the very fabric of civilization, Elliot Page has revealed that he is transgenderAnd, suddenly, he became the de facto face of trans-manhood throughout the world. He has also confirmed that he will remain in his role in Netflix’s hugely popular superhero series The Umbrella Academy. It was a relief for many fans who raised an important question: Would he “play cis,” or would his character cross over with him? As a transgender whose own transition was delayed by erroneous, absent, and harmful representation, I hoped for the latter. According to GLAAD, transmen and boys are remarkably underrepresented in television: There were only fourteen transgender characters in the 2021-22 television season across all networks.

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I’ve known Elliot since 2018, when we met on the Netflix cast Stories of the City, for which I was a writer. Shortly after making his announcement, Elliot introduced me to Steve Blackman, the show’s runner-up La Umbrella Academy. Steve was passionate about integrating Elliot’s real-life transition into the show. It was right for the actor as well as the character because it deepened existing themes, Steve told me. The only problem? The scripts were locked. Season 3 was delicately arched, and they were ready to go into production in less than two weeks. The task would be to graft a transition story over the intricate plot of an ensemble show.

Headaches aside, the result was festive news. Elliot’s character would become Viktor Hargreeves, making that character the most high-profile transgender person on television.

In any case, the time and narrative limits presented a unique opportunity. As Elliot returned to the screen in an established role and with a fully characteristic arc that intersected with every aspect of the show, his story required that his transness exist as a texture, not a defining character trait. The creative obstacles did not stop there. Season 3 events return immediately after Season 2, so Viktor couldn’t figure himself out between seasons. Instead, his turnaround should take place within the first few episodes, and without the hand-holding usually provided for cisgender audiences. He was, like all passers-by, always himself — whether his siblings on the show, or the spectators watching, knew it or not.

Like life, I mean.

Trans-humans often know that we are trans long before we reveal that information to others. We have goals that don’t revolve around being across. We have a family drama unrelated to our gender identities, strengths, and flaws that span our entire lives. Of necessity, this was an opportunity to show a transition so organic, so fundamental to the character, that it could only function in concert with the existing character marks, not eclipse them. Elliot and I had a long conversation about when and how Viktor might have discovered his sexual identity, and in what ways he could embody that identity in season 3. Steve and I used Elliot’s insights as a starting point for shaping and ordering. overlay an economic story on those existing scenes – one that echoed where Elliot was in his own transition process during a shooting. Because Steve had an encyclopedic knowledge of the cis characters in the show, he helped flesh out how the family might react to his brother’s news.

The result of our work is more true than true in many key ways. In this story, being across is a context, a focus, a sharpening perspective that will only deepen the bond already has millions of viewers to Viktor and his family. And because of this, the truest truth of all shines through: On The Umbrella Academy, Elliot Page plays a transgender man who, like most trans people I know, is not working to destroy the world but to save it.

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RUVEN AFANADOR

This article appeared in the SUMMER 2022 issue of Esquire
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