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Mind in the Media: Viktor’s Transition on The Umbrella Academy Highlights Trans Experience

Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

Mind in the Media is an ongoing series discussing mental health and psychological topics in popular movies and television

Spoiler alert! This article contains spoilers for the the first three seasons of the TV show "The Umbrella Academy," available on Netflix.

When Elliot Page came out as transgender in 2020, making him perhaps the most famous trans man on the planet, it was unclear if he would continue in his role as one of the super-powered Hargreeves siblings on Netflix's popular series "The Umbrella Academy."

For two seasons Page had played “Number 7,” the sibling most likely to be overlooked and undervalued, but also the one who has the most explosive power of any of the Hargreeves. Now, with the release of the show’s third season, not only is Page back, but his character Viktor has also transitioned in a storyline that parallels the Oscar-nominated actor’s real-life transition.

Viktor’s transition arc is handled subtly. Yet, while it never pulls focus from the apocalyptic events driving the plot of "The Umbrella Academy," it also sheds light on the trans experience in a way that’s rarely been seen on television before. Here are some of the insights provided by Viktor's transition on "The Umbrella Academy."

The Gender Identity Milestones of Trans People

Although no two trans people have the exact same experience, there are gender identity milestones many go through.

First, they may realize they don’t feel like they meet the gender expectations of the sex they were assigned at birth; next, they recognize their identity as a trans person; then, they start to live in their trans identity, which can mean coming out to family and friends as well as adjusting their name, the pronouns they use, and their appearance; and finally, some seek out gender-affirming care, which can include hormones and surgery.

While these milestones are not all neatly laid out in Viktor’s story in "The Umbrella Academy," that doesn’t mean his story is missing anything. Transgender people may go through each of these milestones, only one or two, or none at all. For Viktor, the road to transitioning could be seen as starting in Season 1.

In the memorable scene early in the show's first season in which Viktor and his siblings dance in separate rooms to the Tiffany song “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Viktor appears to be the least comfortable as he moves to the music.

Aditi Paul, PhD

This increased media visibility of trans people provides more opportunities for anyone who's questioning their gender to understand that their gender identity doesn’t have to be limited to the sex they were assigned at birth.

— Aditi Paul, PhD

Even though the writers hadn’t planned for the character’s transition at that point, looking back on that scene now gives it new meaning, as Viktor's awkward moves could be seen as suggesting that he doesn't feel at ease in his body, even if he’s not yet aware of his trans identity.

On the show, Viktor credits the realization that he's trans to his romance with Sissy Cooper (Marin Ireland), which happened in the show’s second season. For the first time, Viktor experienced a relationship in which he was genuinely loved and accepted for his authentic self.

In the process, he learned to trust his instincts about who he was, and so at the start of the third season, this leads to the recognition that he’s trans, and a social transition in which he changes his clothes and hair and reintroduces himself to his family by his new name.

When they initially express surprise, Viktor explains that this is “who I’ve always been,” suggesting that he may have always been aware of his trans identity on some level but only recently learned to label and define it. Now that he has, he's ready to live as his authentic self.

When Do People Realize They’re Transgender?

Like Page, Viktor is in his 30s, but people can realize they’re transgender at any age. A recent study of 695 trans people found that, on average, people recognize they feel like a different gender that the sex they were assigned at birth at approximately 11 years old, with some participants coming to this conclusion as young as 2.

Despite that early age of realization, people usually didn't start living as their gender identity until later in their lives, with the timing varying greatly based on the generation they were born into.

Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, didn’t make this transition until they were approximately 50 years old, those in Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, were approximately 34, millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, were approximately 22, and those in Generation Z, born between 1997 and 2012, were approximately 17.

That people in each generation are transitioning at increasingly younger ages may be partially the result of the greater visibility of trans people in the media, including through books, TV shows, and social media.

As Dr. Aditi Paul, PhD, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Pace University observes, "This increased media visibility of trans people provides more opportunities for anyone who's questioning their gender to understand that their gender identity doesn’t have to be limited to the sex they were assigned at birth, even if they don’t know any trans people in their real lives."

Moreover, if people don't identify as cisgender, exposure to shows like "The Umbrella Academy" and support through social media can help validate and affirm their gender identities.

Mental Health of Trans People

While trans visibility has improved, this has also led to backlash in America, which has resulted in political efforts to, for instance, prevent trans girls from playing sports or prevent children from receiving gender-affirming care.

Moreover, due to their gender identity, trans people are frequently discriminated against, something Page himself describes experiencing in an essay, and victims of violence.

Studies have shown that many trans people suffer from mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, especially if they lack social support.

Yet, in his essay, Page also discusses the joy of transitioning, a feeling that points to the positive mental health benefits of affirming one’s gender.

For example, one study showed that transitioning improved trans people’s quality of life, increased relationship satisfaction, and led to higher confidence and self-esteem while reducing substance use, anxiety, depression, and suicidality.

Similarly, another study found trans young adults who used puberty blocking drugs and then underwent gender reassignment surgery had improved psychological well-being that resulted in them functioning as well or better than same age individuals from the general population.

Although Viktor doesn’t express the positive mental health outcomes of his transition in an exuberant way, his improved mental health is signaled at several points throughout the third season of "The Umbrella Academy."

For the first time, Viktor is at the center of his family’s adventures and is more assertive and outspoken about making decisions, a signal of the confidence his transition has instilled in him. In addition, in another dance scene at his brother Luther’s (Tom Hopper) wedding, Viktor is seen contentedly swaying to the music without a hint of the self-consciousness he betrayed in the Season 1 dance sequence mentioned above, signaling how his transition has helped him feel more at home in his body.

How Can Loved Ones Support Trans People

One of the things the third season of "The Umbrella Academy"demonstrates well is how to support someone who transitions. Viktor has brief conversations about being trans with his siblings, especially his sister Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), who he’s particularly close to, and all of them are steadfast in their love and support.

Dr. Lee Phillips, LCSW, psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist says, "Even if someone starts their transition in childhood or adolescence, the best thing parents and family members can do is 'support and validate' them while avoiding challenging this part of their identity. The support of family and friends can decrease distress and suicidal ideation."

Lee Phillips, LCSW

...the best thing parents and family members can do is 'support and validate' them while avoiding challenging this part of their identity. The support of family and friends can decrease distress and suicidal ideation.

— Lee Phillips, LCSW

Phillips’ observations are backed up by research. One study demonstrated that transgender children between the ages of 3 and 12 who were living as their affirmed gender and were supported in this transition had normal levels of depression and only slightly raised levels of anxiety for their age groups.

The best thing loved ones can do to support someone who comes out as trans is to continue to love and support them as they always have. While it’s okay to ask questions, as some of Viktor’s siblings do, it’s never helpful to attempt to question a trans person’s gender identity or try to convince them it’s a phase they’ll grow out of.

The Hargreeves siblings' open-minded acceptance of Viktor’s gender identity provides an excellent model for people with trans friends and family to follow. For trans people who need additional support, it can be helpful to speak to a mental health professional or to join a support group.

The third season of "The Umbrella Academy" also illustrates that Viktor's transition hasn't turned him into a completely different person whose past is forgotten or relationships are reset. In fact, Viktor’s past actions and how they impact the present are frequently brought up throughout the season.

This is valuable for both people who transition and their loved ones to keep in mind. After all, while transitioning is often valuable to a trans person’s mental health, gender isn’t the sum total of everything an individual is.

A person’s transition doesn’t change everything about who they are, but it enables a trans person to be more authentically themselves, a fact their loved ones should accept and celebrate.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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