Jillian Page:  A Liberated Woman

Gazette Copy Editor Breaks Boundaries

Photo by Jillian Page

Jillian Page is a Male to Female Montreal trailblazer.
Actually,­ let’s rephrase that: she’s a fierce, female pioneer at this point.

A copy editor at The Gazette for nearly 40 years, Page’s blog, Patent Pending, was the first of its kind in Montreal, when it came into being at the beginning of her transition, from Bill to Jill, in 2008.

Mapping her personal journey through the world of transgenderism with humour and style, while also addressing trans issues on a local, national and international level, Page has become a leading LGBT voice on the issues that matter.

Have you always been sensitive to how journalists and the media report on gender issues?

I really only became aware of how newspapers were dealing with transgender issues about 10 years ago, as I was finding my way through the wide world of transgenderism. What I noticed immediately is that newspapers didn’t know much about the subject or the terminology. They didn’t know the difference between a drag queen, a cross-dresser and a transsexual, for example. And they didn’t know how to deal with pronouns.

Newspapers have made some improvements in the last few years; there is more awareness. Unfortunately, they are not all up to speed. I see this mainly as the fault of copy editors, unfortunately, who don’t take the time to educate themselves on this subject.

Yes, workplaces are largely genderless institutions. And, as a Theosophist, I believe that the spirit is also basically genderless, but capable of expressing itself in multi-gender fashions.

Can you tell me about gender parity in the real world?
It is important to remember that the public views me as a woman, just one of 3.5 billion females on the planet. I am treated as a woman wherever I go: men hold doors open for me, men flirt with me, store clerks call me “madame,” etc. Would I receive the same reception in public if people viewed me as a transgender person instead of as a woman? I’m not sure, but I doubt it.

Transgender people walk a more difficult path. We transitioners tend to ride off into the sunset and blend in, while transgender people tend to stand out. Transgender people often live dual lives—for example, as women on the weekend, as men during the workweek.

I lived that dual existence for a long time, and there came a point where I couldn’t do it anymore. I
felt like I was lying to everyone I knew, and to the world around me. I had to come out and be one person—or die. It really did get to that point: do or die.

How did your blog originally emerge?
[My blog] came into being when the executive editor at the time, Andrew Phillips, asked me to write about my transition. I didn’t feel that the blog should be all about me and I saw it as a golden opportunity to raise some trans awareness.

I wrote about [L.A. Times columnist] Christine Daniels in my first blog item, as she was an inspiration for me and many other transitioning people. Her coming-out column was syndicated to newspapers all over the world. It was a brave piece, and I was very impressed by the reception she received.

I felt if Christine could come out to the world and be accepted, there was nothing preventing me from doing the same. Again, my paper showed a lot of class in the way they handled the Daniels piece, and they showed me the same class when it was my turn, with only a few individual exceptions.

And, you know, there are always going to be a few people who refuse to accept the transitioning individual. That’s life. 

You wrote in early posts about the “excruciating objectivity as a journalist.” Objectivity is something we learn the first day of Journalism 101. What are your thoughts about it? I’m also wondering if there’s anything you’ve also discovered about the subjective “self” in the business of journalism?
I am fortunate I can be both objective and subjective with my blog. The goal was to give my personal subjective views of my transition, as well as do some objective writing about transgenderism—but both always from an “everyday people” point of view. […]

As I said in the first post of my blog: I am nothing special, just one of many transitioning people trying to find their way. I guess my blog is something of a rarity for the newspaper business, and I am honoured that people read it and take the time to comment.

The experiences shared by my readers are very important to this blog. Without their feedback, there would be no blog. I made that clear from the outset: this was also to be a forum for all trans people who wished to participate, and each person who participates is helping to raise trans awareness.

How do you believe the media handles LGBT issues?
I think mainstream newspapers in Canada are treating LGBT issues with more respect now than ever before. Are they “queer-friendly?” Well, first, I doubt any mainstream papers would use the term “queer” unless it is in a direct quote. But I do think they are LGBT friendly. I am proud of the coverage my paper gives, particularly to the Gay Pride parade in Montreal. This year, we ran a big feature on some trans people, along with a sidebar on trans terminology and such.

While having had a “male” perspective or standpoint on the issues, how have both types of gender insight influence how you view the world?
I’m not sure how much of a male perspective I ever had, because I was never much of a male. First and foremost, I have always been a very spiritual person. I have always viewed the world first through spiritual eyes. Some things don’t change much when we transition.

However, I do have a more rounded view of the world now because I do have a better grasp on
both the male and female experiences. Again, I apply this to my spirituality.

I had been warned before I transitioned that I would lose the “male privilege” I supposedly enjoyed. Not true. I haven’t lost any so-called “privilege.” Then again, I am well-established in a field that treats people equally. It might have been very different if I had transitioned at the age of 20 instead of at the age of 20-something-plus-a-few-decades.

And I have learned about emotions. I must admit that I had a very middle-path attitude before. I suppressed my emotions. Well, there is no suppressing emotion when you are taking high doses of estrogen. I am not afraid to cry any more.

Can you comment about the strides society still needs towards LGBQ and trans tolerance? What do you believe is the biggest misrepresentation out there today about the trans community?
I think that while the Internet has done a lot to further the cause of transgenderism, there are some negative things happening on the Net, too, which give bad, incorrect stereotypical images of trans people, such as “shemales.”

Unfortunately, too many people think of “shemales” when they hear the word transgender. Or “chicks with dicks.”

Then there is the “tranny” terminology used by so many trans people in reference to themselves. They don’t understand that it is a defamatory and dehumanizing term, and it is hurting all trans people.

Could you share some tips for people who—for whatever reason—aren’t confident in themselves?
I AM a woman. I felt that I was a woman before I transitioned, but now it is official. The reality, though, is that I was a woman before—trapped in a not-so-male body. This is about liberation, and I am a liberated woman. […] There is freedom to be myself in daily presentation. […]

[In terms of] my advice to others: Just do it, if you feel you must. Put on a smile, and go out and embrace the world. That smile is really important. If you exude confidence, people will sense it and accept you, no matter your shape or size.

Check out Jill’s blog, Patend Pending, at The Gazette. For the full transcript of this interview, go to thelinknewspaper.ca

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 16, published November 30, 2010.