Ellen Page and her gay best friend explore LGBTQ life in countries around the world.
By David Goldberg
When Ellen Page came out during a speech for the Human Rights Campaign in 2014, it was immediately clear that this was no publicity stunt. Page was not a has-been athlete or former sitcom sidekick looking to get a magazine cover, but a young movie star breaking from industry advice and taking a scary risk. As she builds up to the big moment in her speech, you can recognize the tension before the Band-Aid is ripped off. The HRC audience launches into a standing ovation and Page breathes a tremendous sigh of relief. For her, the show was finally over.
Two years later, the Juno, Hard Candy, and X-men star has quickly transformed into a fierce advocate. She produced and co-starred in last year’s Freeheld, about Laurel Hester’s battle for her same-sex partner’s pension rights in New Jersey, and made headlines for a now-legendary surprise attack on Ted Cruz at the Iowa State Fair last August. Now, Page is taking her cause on the road in Gaycation, a Viceland documentary series that explores LGBTQ life in countries around the world. Co-hosted by Page’s best friend, journalist Ian Daniel, the series sends the duo to one country per episode. So far, they’ve hit Jamaica, Japan, and Brazil.
Fueled by the curiosity of two young gay people coming into themselves, Gaycation is as much an anthropological documentary as it is a personal narrative about discovering the larger world outside of your closet. Taking inspiration from Anthony Bourdain and putting the Vice network’s on-the-ground hook-ups to the test, Page and Daniel throw themselves into danger by visiting brothels in Brazil, bonding with trans runaway communities in Jamaica, and confronting conservative presidential candidates in the States.
Because such experiences are new to these young people, Page and Daniel dance, cry, and deal without having to compose themselves for the camera. During their harrowing trip to Brazil, the duo interviews a masked former cop with a reputation for killing gay people on sight. As he describes his reasoning, a gasping Page turns to her producers. “I want to tell him I’m gay,” she mumbles. “Do you think that’s safe?”
In that same episode, the team hits a lesbian bar in Rio. Within a few moments, Page is flirting with local women, Daniel’s shirt is nearly off, and crew members can be found dancing and drinking like they’re on spring break—which, in a sense, they are.
Just when an episode of Gaycation gets too bleak—after a transwoman in Jamaica reveals acid burns from an unprosecuted hate crime, or a closeted Japanese businessman describes his “friendship marriage” to a woman— fate (and the editors) intervene with breakthrough moments of joy and optimism. As they witness one of the first Pride celebrations in Jamaica’s history, and even help a young Japanese man come out to his mother, Page and Daniel rejoice in moments of hard-earned progress.
Angelically pale, short of stature, and speaking with that trademark shaky voice that has made her such a sincere actor, Page often seems out of place in the countries she visits. But it’s refreshing that the hosts of Gaycation aren’t seasoned international reporters; they don’t know what to expect from a night out or a frightening interview with a bigot. When Page hits a packed lesbian bar in Tokyo, she admits that she was too closeted to go out when she was previously in Japan, but now she can’t wait.
Negotiating their own beliefs while facing the horrors and splendors of world travel, the hosts of Gaycation embody the awakening of an un-closeted person to full awareness on a responsible, curious, global scale. The series asserts that coming out should be the beginning of a larger mission and not a fast track to complacency. Just two years out as a lesbian, Page is risking her career (and sometimes her life) to support her new community all over the planet. How many of us who have been out for over a decade can say the same? Gaycation is a call to stand up for our local and global LGBTQ family, and a reminder of the spectacles that the world has to offer, if only we’re willing to go searching for them.
Gaycation airs on the Viceland channel. Details at viceland.com.