November 28, 2013
A day to reflect on what we have. On what’s good in our life. On how we’re connected to others. On how we’re loved.
For the first Thanksgiving in maybe eight or nine years, one of my daughters is with me. As I compose this, Lily (twenty-one years old and a senior at a Minneapolis area college) sleeps in the second bedroom of my condo. Later today, my dear brother Mark (readers of Getting to Ellen will recognize Mark as someone who provided pivotal support as I transitioned from man to woman) and his girlfriend will join Lily and me for dinner at a downtown restaurant. At some point today, I’ll talk by telephone with Thap, my best friend since eighth grade, and another crucial person who’s stood by me regardless of where my gender journey took me. In short, today will be one of connecting with people I love, and who love me.
Last week I gave a keynote address at Iowa State University to commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance. After honoring transgender people who have died violently simply because they tried to live authentically, I spoke of the need for trans persons–and everyone else–to have self-compassion and compassion for others. I offered a formula for finding self-acceptance, and thus, compassion: honesty, kindness and gratitude.
If we’re honest with ourselves about one’s gender not being a choice, we’ll then gain the strength to understand that those who hate us–those who believe trans people are freaks or something worse–are simply to be ignored. “Honesty begets freedom,” I said. “Freedom gives you strength. The strength to endure. The strength to do the hard work of living a full life.”
Kindness toward one’s self is difficult for many. All too often we measure our worth against the worth of others–people who have more of something else: more Facebook friends, more money, a better career, a more beautiful lover or partner or spouse. The reality is that we simply need to give ourselves a break. I offered, “Kindness to ourselves–self compassion–is core to living an authentic life.”
That leaves gratitude, a word with special meaning on Thanksgiving.
I talked about how I lived as a man with everything that anyone could possibly want: a beautiful loving wife, two great daughters, a house in the best neighborhood, a money-making law practice, and even a fancy BMW. “Yet,” I noted, “I didn’t have the one thing I needed more than anything else–I didn’t have me, Ellen Krug.”
I went on: “Despite all of those things, and all of the immense love by others, I was never at peace, never happy. I knew that I should feel extremely grateful, but I just couldn’t get there. Today, I drive a nearly four year old Honda. I live paycheck to paycheck. I’m alone without a romantic relationship. In all likelihood, when I die, I will be alone.”
But I have gratitude, I told the audience. “And I am extremely grateful for all that I have. I am grateful that I can live my life as my own self, no longer an imposter as a man…Living your truth allows others to live their own truths.”
I am so incredibly lucky, I know. Many transgender people–heck, many people in general–never get to a place where they can live truly authentic lives free of wanting, free of suffering. (Oh, by the way, there still are things I’m working on, yet, I am the most free I’ve ever been in my life.) Still, I believe in the power of sharing one’s story, one’s gratitude, because in the end, we live by personal stories. People have shared their truths ever since the original savannah, when humans first roamed.
To those reading these words, I say “thank you” as well. Thank you for giving me your time. Thank you for letting my words temporarily occupy a part of your brain. Thank you for understanding, or at least wanting to understand.
And thus, on this day in particular, I wish all people everywhere honesty, kindness and gratitude. May compassion become a hallmark of your existence.
September 27, 2013
Two weeks ago, I did something that I never thought possible for me.
I stepped off an airplane in Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the tip of Cape Cod, for my first vacation by myself.
It was an alone vacation.
Before I transitioned to female four years ago, I never would have had the gumption to travel alone. After all, I believed that vacations were the kind of thing that one shares with someone else. What fun could there be in going somewhere by one’s self?
As it turns out, there’s a pretty fair amount of fun and satisfaction to traveling solo.
For one, restaurants and entertainment become pretty easy. There’s no debating between two palates or arts orientations. What’s more, the scenery and sights are just as pretty when you’re by yourself as they are when you’re accompanied by a spouse or lover.
Even more, you have no one tugging at you to head back into town when they get bored at the beach. Nope. I was able to stand in a wonderful late afternoon surf at Race Point for as long as I wanted.
It was long enough to watch a thunderhead crawl across the horizon, off in the Atlantic. How quite delightful!
There are other pluses. I got up at six in the morning and hopped on a bike to the beach without bothering another human. Or hassling with them to wake up. Even more, on another day, I decided on the spur of the moment that I’d see a string quartet named “Well Strung,” who play both classical and pop. Their tag line: “Mozart meets Kelly Clarkson.”
I didn’t have to fool with a travel companion who didn’t like Mozart. Or Kelly Clarkson.
I also met some wonderful people. Daniel, one of the proprietors of the Benchmark Inn, is a beautiful Swiss man with a wonderful European accent. Actually, he’s beautiful inside and out; upon realizing that I had been saddened by a hurtful email from someone dear to me in my former male life (the email came on the first night of my stay at the Inn) Daniel offered,”Ellie do you need a hug? You look like you could use one.”
With that hug, my spirits soared. Daniel’s kindness helped save my vacation.
I doubt that Daniel would have reached out had I been accompanied by someone.
I also did a reading from Getting to Ellen at the Provincetown Public Library to a nice group of people.
In short, my trip went very well. I’m lucky to have been able to take it.
Still, things weren’t perfect. During lunch one day, I sat close to a couple, a man and woman in their thirties. They held hands for much of the lunch and laughed softly. Most of all, so in love, they didn’t take their eyes off each other. They were completely oblivious to my existence. Or that of anyone else.
I suddenly missed the love of my life, Lydia, the soul mate with whom I shared a life until my gender gut tugs became too much. When the man left their table briefly, I almost whispered to the woman, “You’re so lucky.”
But I didn’t. Instead, I paid the bill and left the restaurant.
Life is short, as you hear all the time. I understand this very well. I’m proud of myself for doing something I never imagined that I’d do. I suspect there are more alone trips in my future.
Bring them on, please!
Thunderhead at Race Point
August 13, 2013
A few days ago, I walked into the office of a Saint Paul psychologist. No, it wasn’t to engage in therapy; instead, the room was filled with nine women–all psychologists or clinical social workers–who have had a book club for more than a decade.
The reason for my visit?
They had chosen Getting to Ellen as their August book.
How quite wonderful!
Admittedly, it was intimidating to see nine very smart women holding my memoir. Quickly, though, they put me at ease and we had a very engaging conversation for ninety-plus minutes. Their questions about the memoir and my life were insightful and kind. I spoke at length when asked, “What one event or incident confirmed that you were really female?” (Actually, it was a series of incremental steps, culminating in a very frank and emotional therapy session in late 2009 with my own therapist, “Sam the Hammer.”)
They asked about my relationships (past and present) with Lydia, my soul mate-turned wife-turned ex-wife, and my daughters Emily and Lily. I know that I shared more with these women–given their profession–than I ordinarily would. In turn, I received some wonderful validation about how being loving and kind to one’s self is key to a successful life.
In the end, loving kindness to self is the only way to authenticity. And to ending compartmentalizing and the inner turmoil that comes with living a life that’s not right for whatever reason.
One of the therapists made a delightful statement: “You can never get enough of the things that you don’t want.”
That precisely described me when I lived as a man. I substituted so many things in lieu of doing the hard work of being honest with myself and letting that lead to wherever it might.
As in admitting that I was really female and needed to change my life–and body–to conform to my true self.
When it came time for me to leave, I signed everyone’s book with an inscription, “Always cherish the dappled sunlight.”
You’ll need to read Getting to Ellen to understand what that means.
Thank you, Saint Paul therapists-book club; it was so very nice to meet and talk with you!
July 27, 2013
As Getting to Ellen makes its way across the country, I’m reconnecting with old friends. A friend from Cedar Rapids, Laurie, visited last night. A week ago, Sasha–my former associate whom I write about in the book–visited with her husband. Yet this morning, I heard from a dear friend from BC Law School. All of this is quite wonderful since I can now show up as Ellen, not as the tormented man that they previously knew. It’s one of the perks of living authentically.
And, I know, I’m incredibly lucky to be able to write that.
Last week, I was interviewed on Iowa Public Radio. You can access the interview here. I was asked many questions about what it’s like to live in two genders. I talked about my love for Lydia, who was first my high school sweetheart and then my wife. I discussed how I was so torn between loving Lydia and loving myself. Had I not realized that I could die without becoming Ellen–that I’d die a coward because of my fear of hurting her and others–I would never have mustered the guts to change my life. Yes, my story is about being transgender, but more than that, it’s a story of determination and luck and the love from others who were willing to stand by me as I found my way.
The IPR interview made me think about fear. After all, we humans have many fears. We fear the unknown, the uncomfortable, the bumpy parts of life. We’re afraid of hurting those we love, and of the impact our decisions might have on others. Many of us are black and white thinkers–that an outcome will be either good or bad, with no place in the middle. I still think that way myself sometimes, although I work to respect the gray in life. I try to always remind myself that I can’t control outcomes, nor can I control how someone reacts to me living my life authentically.
I also talked on IPR about a very basic fear–the fear of dying alone. I think it’s so very common for us to want someone holding our hand as we pass from this world to whatever lies beyond. For me, I couldn’t imagine dying without Lydia holding my hand. She was the love of my life and the person that I wanted to smile at one last time before I took my final breath.
I had to overcome the fear of dying alone if I was ever to find my way to Ellen. I understood that I couldn’t have both Ellen and Lydia. I knew that if I took my “gender journey,” it would be without Lydia, and that eventually, I’d die without her by my side. That was such an incredibly difficult fear to overcome.
Somehow I was able to conquer my fear of dying without Lydia being there to hold my hand.
How about you? What fear holds you back? Can you see to the other side of the canyon? You know which canyon I’m talking about–the one that prevents you from getting from Point A to Point B. On your side, there’s a desert–the pain of living a life that isn’t fulfilling or genuine. On the other side of the canyon–which you can plainly see–there are wonderful lush gardens, a place of contentment and beauty, a place of inner peace. To get from the desert to the gardens, you’ll have to work up quite a sweat. It’ll involve making your way down from the desert and climbing over boulders on the canyon floor. Then you’ll have to climb back out of the canyon, one foot and handhold at a time, until you make it to the top where the gardens grow green and beautiful.
It’s quite a lot of work, that canyon crossing. Overcoming ingrained fear always is so much work. But in the end, if you do the work, there’s a huge payoff.
Overcoming fear. Canyon crossing. Finding inner peace and harmony. They’re all possible. Trust me on that.
July 10, 2013
Pride Week in Minneapolis (the last week of June, 2013) was a whirlwind: three readings, two speaking engagements, friends visiting from Iowa. It was quite wonderful to walk through Loring Park in Minneapolis and see so many different GLBT people–tall, short, young, older–hand-holding and being themselves. It was as everything should always be, and not something restricted to simply one weekend a year.
June 22, 2013
Just this week, I was touched–moved is actually a better phrase–by questions from people who either heard me speak publicly or read from my memoir, Getting to Ellen.
For example, yesterday my friend Phil Duran of OutFront Minnesota and I presented, ”What it Means to be the ‘T’ in GLBT,” to a large Minneapolis law firm as part of its June Pride programming. Afterward, as often occurs, several people came forward with individual questions or comments, something I always welcome. One person, a woman in her mid-fifties, inquired whether she could ask me a personal question. I’m a pretty open individual, and I responded affirmatively.
I soon heard gripping emotion in the woman’s voice, and it appeared that she was fighting back tears. She began to shake as she asked, “Once you accept that you’re transgender, is it always that way? Do you have a choice about not being transgender?”
Obviously, this wasn’t a theoretical question from someone trying to understand the “transgender experience.” I hadn’t expected something so emotional and I reached for the woman’s hand. My first split second instinct was to say something that would allay her obvious fear–which would’ve meant saying something I didn’t believe. Instead, I went for honesty and answered, “I don’t think you can choose not to be transgender. It’s not a choice.”
I was certain this was something the woman didn’t want to hear. I suspected that someone she loves very much is grappling with gender identity issues. I further suspected that the woman is reeling as a result; often loved ones struggle to understand. Just as often, they want the transgender person to “go back” to the person they originally were. For most trans people who accept themselves, this simply isn’t possible. Once someone tastes gender freedom, they don’t often voluntarily relinquish it.
I gave the woman a copy of my book and suggested that she read it to understand that living authentically, as yourself in your true gender, isn’t a “choice.” I also wished her peace.
Another question came at a reading that the Human Rights Campaign sponsored earlier in the week. A friend asked whether I still talked to my old male self, a man named “Ed.” My friend inquired further, “What do you say to Ed now that you’re Ellen?”
Wow. No one’s ever asked me such insightful questions.
I paused before answering, “Ed’s gone. There’s only Ellen now.”
It’s true, too. When I was a boy-turned-man, I had become a master at compartmentalizing. For most of my life, Ellen was imprisoned in a closet adorned with a Fort Knox-sized lock. Once I was able to understand that I really didn’t have a choice about living as my true self–that real authenticity means self-acceptance regardless of where it takes you–Ellen was able to make her escape from the closet. In that instant, Ed evaporated. Poof.
Words can’t begin to describe how alive I felt coming out as Ellen. Today, four years after transitioning to live as my true female self, I can’t even think back to feeling like a man. It’s so entirely foreign now.
I love that my life now brings me in contact with people who make me think.
I’d like to believe that I make others think as well.
May 18, 2013
May is proving to be a watershed month. Locally, in Minnesota, the legislature voted in marriage equality. Finally, GLBT Minnesotans will be able to marry.
That leaves thirty-eight more states to go. Stay tuned.
On the national front, there are more and more stories about transgender individuals–and most of them are positive. That includes a story about ABC News producer Don Ennis coming out as transgender. My only thought: why did reporters/writers feel the need to include Ennis’ pre and post-transition photographs?
I’ve always thought that posting pre and-post transition photographs side-by-side is a sort of circus freak show. Hence why there’s only a single picture of me in Getting to Ellen–on the back cover of the book, as me, the true me, Ellie Krug.
Personally, this month has produced many inquiries and positive commentaries about Getting to Ellen. One reader wrote that he had recommended my book to several people because “your book is not about curing but is about healing the soul.”
Healing the soul?
How wonderful that someone would describe my memoir as healing. Many–both straight and GLBT people read my book–have said that the story has touched them. But to heal souls? That’s another thing entirely. I’m honored that anyone would view Getting to Ellen as soul healing.
I’ve also scheduled many scheduled for future months, along with talks. Earlier this month, I was part of a panel entitled, “Trans Gender Perspectives,” which covered how transgender people experience a change in perspective about gender as they transition. The panel consisted of two female-t0-male friends of mine, and me. We presented to an audience of eighty or so people at a very progressive law firm in downtown Minneapolis. The presentation was so well received that we’ve been invited to a national conference of legal administrators in Cleveland.
How cool is that? Way go go Devon and Rob, and our moderator, Rebecca! And thanks to Autumn for putting it together.
I am more convinced than ever that people truly are interested in understanding what it means to be transgender. Yes, transgender individuals still have no legal protection in thirty some states (meaning we can be fired or evicted simply for being ourselves), but I think the tide is turning. I believe that most people want to be accepting and inclusive; with transgender people, they simply don’t know how. What pronoun should I use? What questions should I not ask? Does this mean that you’re now going to use the women’s bathroom?
My hope is that Getting to Ellen demystifies the “transgender story.” While I also could never have hoped the book would be “soul healing” too, I’ll take that as a nice bonus!
Finally, May has brought spring to Minnesota. As I write this on a sleepy rainy Saturday morning, I’m looking out my condo window at trees with leaves. I’ve opened the window to city sounds–a passing car, the backing-up beep of a trash hauler, and the low murmur of urban life. In the background is the soothing sound of rain with an occasional distant thunder clap, another form of watershed.
It is all so, so wonderful.
Please tell others about my book. Getting to Ellen is a word of mouth project.
I happen to it’s think a good project at that!
April 23, 2013
Getting to Ellen is two and a half months old. The reviews have been extremely positive. On Sunday, April 21, Mary Ann Grossmann of the St. Paul Pioneer Press featured the cover of Getting to Ellen and described the book as a ”hidden treasure.” She went on to say it’s a “touching and honest memoir.” After chronicling the general story line, Ms. Grossmann wrote, “This book will not only take you into the mind and heart of someone who did something courageous but it’s also really good writing.”
Check out the entire review at the Pioneer Post here.
Frankly, I don’t know about being courageous. As I write in Getting to Ellen, true bravery is the soldier who falls on the hand grenade that’s tossed into the Humvee, all to save his or her colleague soldiers. My story is far different. I changed my life–and lost much in the process, including my soul mate Lydia–because I had no choice. It was a matter of survival; otherwise, the prospect of suicide was extremely real. My father killed himself, and I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps.
Thus, really, what I did wasn’t brave, but rather just an act of human survival. If you’re transgender, you understand this. If you’re facing a life decision that will disappoint and hurt others, you understand this too. We are simply trying to make our collective way to inner peace amid the distractions of life and despite the temptation to simply give in to addictions or escaping or settling.
All of us are linked together by our common humanity, our common desire to find our own space. This I believe with all my heart. And, this is why I believe my story resonates whether you’re transgender or not.
April 3, 2013
March was book-ended with major events–the Minneapolis launch of Getting to Ellen on the 1st and the memoir’s debut in Iowa on the 28th. The readings were well attended–more than 100 people each time. I was humbled and extremely grateful for the interest and support.
More readings and talks are scheduled for the coming months. We have been booking into June, and soon, into the fall. Stay tuned, and please, tell others about the memoir and this website!
There are many stories caught up in my story. People search me out to share their own personal stories. This too humbles me–who am I after all? Still, this is that interconnection at work that I write about elsewhere in this website. It is as if we need a “test dummy”–someone willing to take the plunge first, that initial leap in being vulnerable.
Maybe that’s who I am–Ellie Krug, the human story-telling test dummy!
If so, that’s perfectly fine. If my story prompts other human stories, so be it. Actually, that would be quite wonderful! The more we can relate to each other, the more we’ll learn that we’re not alone. That the fear we feel is not unique. Nor is the sleeplessness or the stress or the missing of being loved or need to find true love.
When I was Coe, I again saw the young woman I write about in Chapter 15 of Getting to Ellen–the one who was collecting HyVee shopping carts when she spotted my painted toes as I got in the car. At the time, I was still a man pushing the boundaries with toenail polish and women’s sandals and shorts. In the memoir, I write that the young woman said, “I like your toes!” It was a moment of generosity by someone young and it so touched me.
By coincidence, I learned this young woman is the daughter of someone with whom I graduated from high school. At Coe, both Mom and daughter asked me to sign books. For the young woman, I wrote in part, “You rock!” She’ll soon be off to LA to train to be a make-up artist–another dream in action, another story yet to be written.
We touch each other in many ways. Our words and actions ripple across the pond of life. It is something to always remember.
March 17, 2013
Little more than two weeks and seven Amazon Book five-star reviews after the book launch….
Many people have visited this website. I’ve seen the power of the internet and how it can connect us. On one day alone, people from five countries and four separate continents visited here. More importantly, I’ve witnessed the wonderful energy of those who read Getting to Ellen and find meaning in this memoir. Most of these readers aren’t transgender; in fact, most aren’t even GLBT. Instead, they are “simply” human beings who appreciate the value of one person’s story. We are, as I’ve written before, a community of storytellers. It goes back to sitting around the fire pit before any thing resembling a society existed–we’ve told stories for that long. And, as it turns out, Getting to Ellen seems to resonate–perhaps because it’s raw in certain parts or maybe because it’s simply honest. It’s that page-turner effect at work.
I feel extremely lucky and I have great gratitude. All of my work–all of that time in front of a Dell–seems to be paying off.
Thank you for visiting this place. I hope you enjoy my memoir. If so, please tell others about it. Facebook them. Twitter them. Link them here. This is a word-of-mouth phenomenon.
March 2, 2013
Getting to Ellen is launched!
I’m sitting in my downtown Minneapolis condo looking at the beautiful residue of a wonderful book launch–gorgeous vases filled with flowers, congratulatory cards, strewn bookmarks and empty boxes–boxes which where filled with books before last night’s launch event at the Normandy Inn. More than 100 people attended the launch representing every aspect of my life: members of the board of directors from the nonprofit that employs me, friends from Iowa and western Minnesota, my daughter Lily, other writers, and even sales clerks that I’ve befriended. I read several passages from Getting to Ellen and then signed many books. I am so grateful and thankful for the showing of support!
Thank you to everyone who attended the launch! I am simply in awe of your generosity. I’m also very appreciative of my brother, Mark, and best friend, Dennis (Thap) Tharp, who sponsored and underwrote the event.
Another great thing? Word of Getting to Ellen is spreading. The story–a human story about facing demons and loving one’s self–simply resonates with those who read or hear of it. Books are selling. Readings are being scheduled. Readers are adding glowing reviews to Amazon.
I am so very lucky.
Getting to Ellen is now available at Magers & Quinn in the Uptown district of Minneapolis. Look for announcements about other retail outlets that will carry my memoir.
February 28, 2013
In the last two days, five people have stopped me to say that they’ve read Getting to Ellen. I’ve been approached in business meetings, casual gatherings, and even the Minneapolis skyways. Consistently, I’ve heard that my book is easy to read, a page-turner, and something that resonates. Today, a woman reported that she greatly identified with my story because she had left her husband in December. “I was dead” she said of her marriage. She was grateful to read my story. I was grateful that she’d take the time to tell me that my story mattered to her.
Another book review is in, this one by ACCESSLine (note: I am a regular columnist for this monthly). The editor, Arthur Breur, candidly admitted that he’s not a fan of memoirs. Still, he writes, “Ellen Krug brings a rich humanity to every person she portrays, even the people seen only once or twice in passing….Ellen has managed to write her story in such a way that the reader will constantly find themselves feeling and experiencing moment by moment, the emotions –frustration, fear, anger, denial, happiness and love–that she describes. I felt myself wanting to cheer when…we finally ‘get to’ Ellen.”
Perhaps the best was this from Breur: “(M)y only complaint was that I wanted to have more to read when I turned the last page and the story was over. I know there are more chapters for Ellen to write.”
I am very lucky. Somehow, I managed to put together a book that seems to grab readers. My book launch is tomorrow night in Minneapolis. I am sure that I will feel even luckier after that.
Stay tuned. Please tell others about Getting to Ellen. It is a story about being transgender. Most of all, it’s a story about being human.
February 18, 2013
I woke up this morning to see that Amazon Books had ranked Getting to Ellen No. 40 in real time sales of GLBT-memoir/biography titles. I was both amazed and thrilled. Later in the day, I saw that the book had crept up to No. 32. I understand these numbers are fleeting (tomorrow I could be No 206!), but still, they are reason to pause and be grateful.
Thank you to everyone who has bought my book! I appreciate it so very much! I also appreciate you telling others about Getting to Ellen.
However, let’s pause for a second.
Why does Getting to Ellen even matter? Why should anyone read this book? Given that I’m Buddhist–and should veer away from any story about self or the idea of self-importance–what is it about my story that’s so relevant to this world of ours?
The answer: we are a culture of storytellers. Many of our stories reflect lessons from which all of us can learn. Certainly, stories help us understand that we are not alone–that the loneliness or desperation we feel is not solitary. Even Buddha appreciated the value of stories about the human condition.
In the end, I am a survivor. I embarked on a journey of self-discovery where I found answers about what it means to live an authentic life, what it means to be genuine and true to one’s self. I can only hope that this story–my story–will have meaning for others. If so, then I will have fulfilled my goal in writing Getting to Ellen: to help others understand that each of us is linked together, human to human, on a common journey in search of enlightenment.
February 11, 2013
How about an amazing book review?
Kathleen Watson of Lavender Magazine writes of Getting to Ellen: “Each sentence is a literature-lover’s delight. Krug’s commitment to telling her story in the most artistic way possible makes her prose among the strongest I’ve experienced in the memoir genre.”
Wow. Watson’s review continues: “Though Getting to Ellen will carry readers on an emotional (and sometimes painfully self-reflective) journey, Krug’s readers will recognize that Ellen’s struggles are quite similar to their own.”
This is precisely what I intended for my book–that the reader will recognize the story is a human one, in which all of us share. Whether you’re transgender or not–we make life choices, sometimes in the most casual and ignorant of ways.
I’m thrilled with Kathleen Watson’s review. I hope that you enjoy my book as much as she apparently did.