I watched Juno with my partner two winters ago, on her laptop in the living room of my first grad school apartment. This wasn’t the first time I had seen it, but it was the first time I’d watched it since I had come out publicly as a transgender. My partner, also trans, and I simultaneously decided on Juno because of our shared nostalgia for the movie, arguably Elliot Page’s breakout film.
Released in 2007, Juno is about a sixteen-year-old girl who gets pregnant after having sex with her friend Paul. Juno decides to carry the baby and give it up for adoption to a couple she finds in a want-ad, Mark and Vanessa. Juno’s relationship with Paul grows distant because of her pregnancy (she being busier and he being terrified of the whole situation). Eventually, Mark and Vanessa’s relationship starts to fall apart as well because she feels ready to adopt the baby and he doesn’t. Mark and Vanessa break up. In the end, Juno has the baby, Vanessa adopts the child, and Paul and Juno get together. All of this is steeped in a quirky acoustic soundtrack and Juno’s grungy aesthetics.
In Roman mythology, Juno is the goddess of marriage and childbirth—but, more complicatedly, a “female guardian angel” representative of “the female principle of life.” A simple irony of the film is, then, that the girl with this name is boyish, brash, and the process of attempting to give her baby up for adoption to a couple essentially puts the nail in the coffin of their marriage.
Delving deeper, Juno is a movie about bodily change and the pain and euphoria that can come from it. I’ve seen many tweets since Page came out proclaiming that Juno is “now a trans movie,” and even an article in Autostraddle titled “Elliot Page Is Trans, So “Juno” Is Officially a Trans Film Now.” I agree—but I also want to argue Juno has always been a trans movie even before the lead who played Juno, Elliot Page, came out as trans earlier this week.
I’ve often been perplexed by my love for Juno, seeing as on the surface it seems to be heterosexuals all the way down. The only queer mention in the entire movie is Juno off-handedly mentioning to Leah (her best friend) that maybe she can give her baby to some “nice lesbos.” So why does it resonate so deeply with me? To find out, I watched the film again. By the end, I found myself crying and cradling the iPhone on which I watched it because of how much the movie spoke to my own complex feelings about trans embodiment.
In the first part of the movie, I find a lot of parallels between coming out as trans and Juno accepting that she’s pregnant and telling her family. You could argue that there are parallels between coming out and the admission of any secret, but Juno’s pregnancy feels especially; it alters her body, and how people see and understand it. This “coming out” kind of happens in two stages in the movie: before and after she visits the abortion clinic.
The movie opens with Juno saying, “it began with a chair”—the chair Juno and her friend Paul have sex on in his punk-ish basement. I’m not going to try to create some chair/bed binary, but there is a subversion going on here; usually people fuck in beds, so the chair in the context of the movie may represent a clumsy point of change. When Juno finds out she’s pregnant she carries the chair and sets up a little mock room on Paul’s lawn to tell him (this is all in the first 15 minutes of the film). I felt that by recreating that moment, Juno is trying to say “I am the same person” even though this is clearly a huge change for her and for their relationship. This feels like how I felt when I first told people I wasn’t a girl. I down-played it. I said things like “I’m the same as I ever was,” because drastic change is scary. Juno plays her reveal off with sarcasm and humor, concluding the conversation by telling Paul she’s going “to nip it in the bud”—insinuating that she’s going to have an abortion.
I think Juno is often mis-read as a pro-life movie because it’s about a girl who chooses to have a baby when she could have had an abortion; maybe it is, but I think it’s possible to read it otherwise. Examining the scene where Juno goes to the abortion clinic reveals much more complicated dynamics that run parallel to medical transition. At the clinic, she meets a pro-life protestor who tells her, among other things, that her baby “has fingernails.” In the waiting room, after a depersonalizing conversation with the receptionist, she focuses on all the fingernails of the people in the waiting room before running out. In a conversation with Leah afterwards, Juno complains about how weird and “like a dentist’s office” the place smelled. The whole experience is a little absurd and unfeeling—to both Juno and the viewer.
These details to me suggest that the process—which is affected and mediated by people—more than the actual abortion, made Juno feel medicalized and disembodied. Even before her conversation with Leah, Juno says over and over, to her friends, her dad, and in school, that she hates the phrase “sexually active,” which suggests a similar reluctance or dislike for processes that try to sterilize the messy boundaries of humanness. A lot of my early fears when coming out as a trans centered around what kind of site I was making of my body. What would I have to do? Where would I have to go to create the body I need? I view Juno’s decision, ultimately, as an ironic choice; she fears change and fears feeling estranged from her body, and so she accepts the more gradual change, carrying this baby.
After Juno decides she wants to have the baby, Juno tells her parents that she’s pregnant, already prepared with a plan to give the baby up for adoption to a couple she recently found from a magazine ad. She is totally organized for this conversation—trying to show them she has everything figured out already. Still, her parents meet Juno initially with both disappointment and a barrage of questions and suggestions. Their conversation ends with Juno’s father saying, “I didn’t know you were that kind of girl,” which illustrates that despite her preparations, Juno can’t help the ways this will change how her loved ones see her. Similarly, when I first told people I was trans, I recited a script about how I knew I was trans and how I planned to “take care of it.” I viewed my gender as something to be eventually resolved, like Juno says she wants her family to “pretend this never happened” in a few months. I assured my parents I hadn’t changed even if I was a different gender. We both knew being trans would alter my life and their relationships to me. I remember my mom saying, “You can be any kind of girl you want to be. You don’t have to be a boy.” Similar to what Juno’s father says, there was this reaction born from being confronted with a new way of seeing someone you love.
Juno’s key to “pretending this never happened in nine months” is Mark and Vanessa—that is, until she watches their marriage fall apart as the months pass, Mark feeling stifled by Vanessa’s desires for a baby. (Again, lots of cis heterosexuals, right?) Ultimately, the film doesn’t entirely demonize either of them for having needs that break their marriage apart; in the end, Vanessa still gets to raise Juno’s baby without Mark. It’s a lesson in parting ways with people who don’t have room for your dreams. In the hospital, when Vanessa holds her baby for the first time, she asks Juno’s stepmom (who happens to be standing by), “how do I look?” She’s afraid of not looking like a “mother,” which makes me reflect on how gender identities aren’t the only identities for which we seek affirmation. Likewise, being trans often means reaching a point where many people depart from knowing you, or, in other words, depart from wanting to change with you, and checking with others that you in fact do “read” or “pass” as the gender you are.
After Mark and Vanessa break up, Juno is initially distraught, both because she needs them to take her baby and because she believed in their relationship. She asks her father, “I wonder if two people can stay together for good?” (Juno tells us in the opening monologue that her birth mom had left her and her dad and “started a new family.”) Of course, this is about love and family, but it also harkens back to the question of who will be with you when you change—or transition. In “for good” I hear anxiety about all kinds of inevitable change—for Juno in that moment, because she’s having a baby, but she’s also in high school, and she’s also falling in love with Paul. It all begs the question, are things that aren’t “for good” worth having? The film answers “yes,” they are.
The biggest moments of euphoria come as and after Juno gives birth. She finds evolved relationships with her family, her friend Leah, and Paul. So often society imagines queerness and transness as disconnected from birth both because of heterosexism (only imagining cis-het couples as reproducing) and the heavily gendered way we thinking about birth (as something only women experience). In the same vein, “female biology” is weaponized against all kinds of trans people. (I’m using quotes because biological sex is just as socially constructed as gender; “sex” almost always refers to genitalia in the sense that the first gender marker written on our legal documents is the result of a doctor looking between our legs when we were first born. From that moment, that genitalia is assumed by the law and medicial institutions to connect to other biological traits like organs and secondary sex characteristics.) I know from personal experience; I learned, at age twenty-one, that I’m intersex despite living my life until then assuming I was “female.” Against AMAB trans people, transphobic people will point to a lack of “female” biology to suggest they “can’t know” the struggles of being raised female. Against AFAB trans people, they use our “female” biology to claim that, underneath it all we are immutably women. I’m not suggesting there aren’t sex organs and reproductive processes, just that they don’t fit into two boxes.
Following Elliott Page’s coming out, I’ve seen numerous lesbians tweeting and posting about how sad they are sad to lose Page as a “lesbian icon.” In high school, as someone who used to identify as a queer girl, I definitely looked up to Page in this way. I loved his punkish style and myriad of quirky often “tomboy” roles ranging from X:Men to video game voice acting. I’ve seen some cis lesbians take it a step further and suggest that Page coming out is them ceasing being a lesbian to “become heterosexual” (a label that Page and his partner have explained they don’t use). Why do some queer people still feel like they can’t look up to, celebrate, or be represented by trans people, just because they don’t share the exact same identity? You can feel represented by trans people (as long as you’re respecting their gender). I look up to lots of queer cis people (and plenty of non-queer cis people) and it hurts seeing they don’t want to look up to us. Labels can be tools for understanding ourselves as queer people but I don’t think we should let them limit which queer people we find community with. As I’ve explored here, I feel a connection to the character Juno even though I’m not a girl and I’ve never had a baby. That connection I feel doesn’t invalidate my transness, it just means the character resonates with my life.
In the end, what makes me feel most connected to Juno as a trans person is how it refuses linearity, reminding me of the unique timelines and milestones we create as trans people in a cis world, and the way it grapples with transition as an ongoing process. Juno and Paul’s relationship—an “inverted” relationship that begins with them having a baby and ends with them in acoustic-guitar-playing high school-impermanent love—exemplifies that. To read Juno not only as a sensitive movie about a young pregnant person, but as an allegory for the trans experience, is to embrace the ways trans and queer people are sites of care, life, and gender celebration—the way that we have a place in the creation of life and the creation of ourselves.
ROBIN GOW is a trans poet and young adult author from rural Pennsylvania. They are the author of Our Lady of Perpetual Degeneracy (Tolsun Books 2020) and the chapbook Honeysuckle (Finishing Line Press 2019). Their first young adult novel, A Million Quiet Revolutions is forthcoming in 2022 with FSG Books for Young Readers. Gow’s poetry has recently been published in POETRY, New Delta Review, and Washington Square Review.