An Open Letter to Every Leelah Alcorn in the World
(On December 28,2014, a 17 year old transgender woman named Leelah Alcorn committed suicide near her home in southern Ohio. In a suicide note, Leelah described how her parents wouldn’t accept that she was female due to religious convictions and their belief that because she had been born with male genitalia, God “doesn’t make mistakes.” Leelah wrote about hopelessness, despair, and feeling as if she had no options other than suicide. To give meaning to Leelah’s death, here is my message to every other young transgender person–every potential Leelah Alcorn–in the world.)
Dear Hurting Human:
I feel your pain. Actually, I know your agony all too well: I lived with it for fifty years until I transitioned from sad and gravely depressed man to to the real me, a happy and full-of-life woman.
Like you, I know what it means to keenly understand that your body doesn’t match your brain. I too experienced the never-ending gut tug and pull–the relentless voice of authenticity from deep within–that shouts at you night and day about not living in your “true” gender.
I also know how that voice won’t go away until you’re whole, living as your true self.
I’ve lived through the other things we transgender people experience to extremes before we’re able to transition genders, like the compartmentalizing and hiding that we must do lest we be judged or unloved or beaten up or worse.
And yes, I know about the self-hatred that comes from being caught between their world where gender is based on birth anatomy and our world where we intuitively know that gender resides in our brains. I’ve found that unless you act with self-compassion and understanding that being born into the wrong gender wasn’t something you willingly did, the hatred you feel toward yourself will devour your soul.
What’s more, just as you’ve experienced, I was judged by others for wanting to live as who I really am–a woman. Like you, I heard that I was “choosing” my new gender; that I was electing to hurt those I loved; and that I was unforgivably “tinkering” with “God’s gift.” One person even called me a “ghost”–that the real person they knew and cared about (me as a man) was dead.
Boy, that stuff hurt. On some days, I heard words that caused me to want to die–to just give up and end the struggle to achieve Me. But I didn’t.
In short, I understand how incredibly hard it may be and I absolutely get how you’ve arrived at this point.
I also absolutely know that you can get past all of this crap. Trust me on this.
For starters, please remember that you’re not alone. Hundreds of trans people are coming out every week; there are thousands of us showing up every month; hundreds of thousands of us are finally living as our true selves every year. Education systems, governments, churches, and businesses are making room for us. More and more therapists understand what it means to be transgender and can better counsel us. The world is changing at light speed–all for the better.
Please also know that many people–some familiar, some not–care about you. We are all interconnected: electronically, emotionally, by affinity. There are those in your circle of friends who care about you; no one is ever totally alone. Moreover, there are many public trans people who make it their mission to mentor and guide younger trans folks. Search out those people; they will help you.
If all else fails, I will help you. I mean that.
Another thing: please give yourself credit. We trans folk are persistent and incredibly resilient, even tough. We take journeys that most people can’t even fathom taking. We’re smart and savvy–it’s not easy clearing the hurdles that others put in our way, but we do it. Most of all, we understand that everything good in life comes incrementally. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one backward; however, over time, we move forward until we achieve the one thing we know life’s worth living for: authenticity.
Two last things before I go. First, you need to be in therapy. This journey of ours is incredibly difficult and no one can do it alone. If you have the wrong therapist, find a new one. If that means banging on a table until you get a new therapist, then do it. (There’s that persistence thing again.) If things get too bad, go to the hospital and ask for help. There is always some therapeutic alternative that’s available. (Put into your phone the number for the Trevor Project’s Trevor Lifeline: 866-488-7386 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255. Use these; they can save your life!)
The second thing?
I actually know what it means to be left behind when someone takes their own life. My father. I was thirty-three. I never had the chance to help. Even worse, I never got to say goodbye. There’s a wound in my heart that will never, ever heal and that really sucks.
In the end, suicide isn’t about you. It’s about those who are left behind. Many of those you’d leave behind have the capacity to change, to become open to you–the real you–over time. I’ve seen people who I lost when I came out as Ellie come back to me with open arms. If you kill yourself, you’ll never give those who don’t understand the chance to grow and love the authentic you.
Finally, I started this letter with the salutation, “human.” That’s because “human” is, after all, synonymous with “transgender.” Humans are by no means perfect but when allowed, they can be infinitely genuine and true to themselves. So can trans persons.
Please allow that to happen with you. Please give yourself the chance to be a genuine and authentic human. I promise, you will be worth the effort.
September 20, 2014
I have a personal barometer of sorts–it’s my journal, which I always carry in my purse. The volume of writing over a particular time period usually reflects the complexities of my life and the compression of time within which they appear.
This explains why the journal that I started in mid-June is nearly filled with words. As you may imagine in light my last post, many of those words relate to the death of my nephew, TJ (see the June 28, 2014 entry below), and the effect his death has had on my best friend “Thap” and adoptive family, the Tharps. Other words stem from some family issues, which I won’t go into. Yet more words followed the murder of my friend, Kelly Phillips, in mid-August.
Yes, it’s been a summer of much heartache and loss. I’ve written far, far too much about death, grief, debilitating sadness, and the absolute necessity of remaining resilient. It hasn’t been easy for me. Yet, I know that my difficulties pale in comparison to the pain that Thap and his wife Bebo and daughter Nisty have experienced.
Additionally, I can’t even fathom the degree of pain that the Phillips family (of Mason City, Iowa and other parts) now know as a result of Kelly’s death. I met Mr. and Mrs. Phillips at a Human Rights Campaign dinner two weeks ago; they were the nicest people. I watched as Mr. Phillips, whom I guessed is in his mid-seventies, rise from his chair to greet me. I immediately saw a stoic Iowan struggling to make sense of something that isn’t at all sensible. He hugged me and said, “Any friend of Kelly’s is a friend of ours.” I spoke with Mr. and Mrs. Phillips for just a few minutes and mentioned that I had written Kelly’s obituary that appeared in Lavender Magazine. They were very appreciative and thankful.
I hadn’t quite anticipated how emotional it would be for me to meet Kelly’s parents. An overwhelming sense of grief flooded me and I left the dinner, only to sob as I walked through a downtown Minneapolis skyway. I was supposed to attend a post-dinner gathering that night but instead, with eyes showing of smudged mascara, I took a cab home.
Ten minutes later, I was writing in my journal, decompressing, trying to make sense, just like the Phillips family. It was an exercise in futility.
However, not all the words in my current journal are sad. I’ve also written about an early morning bike ride (we’re talking a 5:00 a.m. time of ride) that I took several weeks ago. As I stepped outside my downtown Minneapolis condo and donned my bike helmet that morning, I looked up to find a beautiful luminescent crescent moon. How incredibly gorgeous! While on the trail toward Lake Calhoun, I repeatedly looked up; it was as if the moon was specially shining at me. Time and again, I said out loud, “Hey crescent moon! How are you? I love you crescent moon!” I couldn’t help but think of my daughters, both of whom were born in Korea. When they were little, Lydia (my ex-wife) and I would often tell our girls that they had the “most beautiful crescent moon eyes in the world!”
That bike ride was the best of the season thus far. (There’s not much of a biking season left now in Minneapolis, much to my displeasure!) I dare say that I will never forget that ride.
Just as life is a mixed bag, so too are the words in my journal. That is reality.
As we head into fall (tomorrow!), I’ll have many speaking engagements. (See my calendar at http://www.elliekrug.com.) No doubt, I will talk about TJ and Kelly and my crescent moon bike ride.
June 28, 2014
Pride Weekend in Minneapolis. For those who’ve read Getting to Ellen, you know that this is the one weekend a year when queer people get a free pass from straight society, meaning that no one will object to men holding hands or women kissing in public.
I should be in Loring Park today and at the Pride parade in downtown Minneapolis tomorrow. But I won’t be.
Instead, I will be here, in Boulder, mourning the death of my 20 year old “nephew,” Thomas J. Tharp, who was known to everyone as TJ. He died sometime on Tuesday night or early Wednesday; no one knows for sure since he simply never woke up after going to bed on Tuesday evening.
Again, for readers of my memoir, you will recall that I’ve been best friends with TJ’s father, Dennis (whom I call “Thap” in the book) for more than 40 years. Thap stood by, never wavering, as I transitioned from man to woman several years ago. Except for the actual genes, we are in all respects like brother and sister.
And thus, when I received the call about TJ late on Wednesday night, there was no question about me traveling to Boulder, to be here with my family, with the people who have loved me regardless of name and gender.
Yesterday, someone described TJ as “precious.” He was that without question–a sweet young man with a contagious smile who warmed any room he entered. He struggled with many demons, but had made great progress in finding his way. I had written to him several times praising his hard work and his good heart.
How all of us will miss you, TJ!
Now I’m watching firsthand the consuming grief of Thap and his wife, Bebo, along with other family members. I feel so very helpless, as do others who are here to be supportive. All I can think of is to simply be. I am present, available, open, waiting, willing, and here. Clean out TJ’s apartment? Done (with the help of many others). Tag along for errands? Done. Stand by while rivers of tears are shed?
Done that too.
Parents should never have to bury their children. It’s that painfully simple.
My heart goes out to you Thapper, Bebo, and the other Thaps. Please know that I am here for you. As you have always been for me.
June 15, 2014–Father’s Day
It’s Father’s Day and I find myself in front of the computer on what’s turned out to be a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. From outside, I can hear music from the Stone Arch Bridge Art Festival, just a half block away. Yet I sit here typing.
I’m feeling fairly introverted at the moment, and since it’s my day, that reserved for fathers, I figure that I can justify some laziness. Yes, I should be out biking or taking in the festival or doing a million other things to take advantage of some sun, but I won’t. At least not until this blog entry is done.
I’ve received a number of Father’s Day cards and phone calls. At 7:30 this morning, Emily, my oldest daughter, texted “Happy Father’s Day!” Later this morning my youngest, Lily, came by. Both girls sent me flowers yesterday. It’s so nice to be remembered.
Ellie Krug celebrates Father’s Day? Really? Didn’t she go to all kinds of life-changing trouble to not be a man? Why not celebrate Mother’s Day?
All good questions. The reality is that both daughters already have a mother–sweet Lydia, my ex-wife and former soul mate. I didn’t become a mom simply by virtue of undergoing sex reassignment surgery. No, they have only one mother.
Since birth, the girls have known me as “Dad,” or as I like to sign cards and letters, “Daddio.” That didn’t change when I transitioned genders. Indeed, both girls still call me “Dad.” That’s absolutely fine with me, although it can become a bit awkward in public. Like the time when Lily and I were at a local restaurant and she looked up from the menu and asked, “What are you going to order, Dad?”
Just before that, the server had appeared, ready to take orders. I’m sure Lily’s question confused the heck out of the server. (But then again, with my way-t00-deep voice, maybe not.)
Frankly, I’m grateful my daughters are accepting. For many transgender persons who transition with children, all too often the children can’t accept the parent’s physical changes that come with transitioning. Many times, the children shut out the trans parent. It’s a very familiar pattern of loss and pain for trans parents; some parents can’t recover from it. That’s very understandable.
Sometimes I have to speak to others (educators or various professionals) about my daughters. I never refer to myself as their “father”; that would be way too confusing. Instead, I say that I’m “Lily’s parent.” That “parent” word is a great out for us trans parents!
It’s not lost on me that my transitioning has been a huge challenge for both daughters. They didn’t sign up for Dad to turn from man to woman. They hadn’t planned on me going from having a male name to a female one. Nor was it ever contemplated that the man they knew with very hairy legs would one day show up with silky smooth legs partially covered by a skirt. Throw in a divorce, public misunderstanding (and some bias), and new risk factors for Dad (such as the higher rate of violence experienced by trans people in general), and you have a recipe for great disruption in the lives of children.
Still, my daughters have shown up. The reason?
Love. Simple, pure, rock-solid, love. It’s the very same reason I’ve gone through hoop after hoop to make my transition as easy as possible (like waiting for Emily to graduate from high school before I started hormones and the process of growing my hair out).
I have such immense gratitude that neither daughter has run from me. Yes, Emily has had some very understandable difficulty accepting all of this fundamental change in her life, but she’s never run away. Even Lily, who’s not shy about appearing in restaurants with me, has her moments, such as when she asked me to wait in the car so as to avoid her dorm roommates and the possibility that someone might make fun.
I get that it’s difficult. Still, as I write above, I’m so incredibly thankful that both daughters would acknowledge me on this special day. And love me.
As they say, I don’t care what you call me, just as long as you call.
Amen to that.
April 19, 2014
We’re a month into spring here in Minneapolis and still I’m waiting to see “green fuzz” on the trees–the undeniable indicator that leaves are about to pop. Instead of green fuzz, there are pockets of snow and the residue of salt, sand, and other winter crud on the roads.
Yuck. Yes, it’s been a difficult winter. I cannot wait for real spring to arrive!
On an entirely different subject, a number of people have asked if I plan to write a sequel to Getting to Ellen. The answer to that question is yes, I have a second installment of my memoir series in the works. The working title is Being Ellen: A Newly Minted Woman Tackles the World.
Okay, maybe I need to rethink the title. Still, you get the idea. My second book will be about the delights and challenges of finally achieving womanhood. I’m hoping for publication in late 2015. Stay tuned.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of how important writing is to me. I’ve always kept a journal (there’s a box containing a dozen completed journals under my bed), something which helped me navigate on my “gender journey” as I got to Ellen. For the last four years, I’ve been a columnist for ACCESSLine and Lavender Magazine. I have also submitted pieces to a number of magazines and blogs.
In short, writing is an integral part of my identity as Ellen–or Ellie to my friends–Krug.
However, I’ve also realized that there are other key components to my identity. One of those components is a burning desire to make a difference in the world. It’s for that reason that I speak (next week, I will be at the University of Denver Law School). That’s also why I mentor to many younger people (particularly younger women trying to make their way through the world).
I don’t know if I have any particularly special wisdom which qualifies me as either a speaker or mentor. I do know, though, that I have perspective. After all, there aren’t that many of us (maybe 200,000 people world-wide?) who have transitioned from one gender to the other. And too, I learned a few things about self-honesty and compassion as I wrestled with my “gender demon” for so many years (decades actually).
All of this introspection has come up because I’m contemplating yet another challenge, another way to make a difference in the world. It’s a potential shift in careers. That’s all I can say for now.
Once more, stay tuned.
It’s not lost on me that age is both an asset and a hindrance. I’m much smarter now, in my late fifties, than I could ever have hoped to be even fifteen years ago. However, the body seems to have a mind of its own at times–I’m presently nursing a temperamental knee. Two weeks ago it was my back.
For sure I’m very fit, but there are some things that even Ellie Krug can’t control, much to her chagrin.
The point here is that we are always changing, always evolving, regardless of whether you’re transgender or LGB or simply a dude who likes to ice fish. The key is understanding that we need to embrace that change and put it to good use. For me, that good use is making positive things happen for other people.
When I’m gone, I’d like for people to be able to say just two things: that Ellie Krug was a good person and that she helped make the world a better place.
As a human, I don’t think I could ask for anything more. Or better.
January 5, 2014
As I write this, Minneapolis is entering the grip of what may be the coldest few days in more than a decade. How lovely!
Actually, though, there’s something about subzero temperatures–the utter, raw, take-your-breath-away cold–that instantly brings you to the present. Those thoughts you were having about your “to do” list as you walk on the Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi?
Gone. The bone chilling cold that you feel makes it impossible to think of anything else.
There’s nothing like subzero weather to make you exquisitely mindful.
For Buddhists like me, that’s the whole point.
I hope I can remember that little nuance as my I work to keep my teeth from chattering….
### ### ###
Almost daily, I hear from people who have read Getting to Ellen. Just this morning, there was an email from a reader who kindly wrote that she’s read both my memoir and my other writings on-line. She reported that she had started my book, but had to put it down for a while because it had reopened memories, fears, and some triumphs, from her own life’s journey. More recently, she finished the book and found that it touched her in a way she hadn’t expected. It sounded as if in a very good way.
I hear this quite often, actually. Readers will come up to me and say, “I absolutely loved your book! It made me cry….”
Thank you, I answer. Then I wonder: did I actually intend to make her shed tears?
No, of course I didn’t desire for that to happen. What I did intend, however, is for people to connect with my story. Yes, the book is about a transgender person moving from male to female, but that’s really only the shell of the story. The core–the essence–of the book is about facing demons and the payoffs that come from being honest with ourselves. Yes, there’s pain. We’re humans after all–part of living life is painful. But there are also great rewards, too.
When I lived in the wrong gender, as a man, I never had any peace. Eventually, my “gender demon” began a near constant shout, “This isn’t right; you need to live as your true self.” My gut–that emotional barometer only we humans have–would pull and tug, reminding me that all was not right, and that things would never be okay until I faced the demon head on.
All of us experience chatter and gut tugs. Maybe the person you’re dating or living with isn’t healthy for you. It could be a job or a boss who is making life hell. Maybe it’s an addiction that’s sapping life’s energy right out of you.
Whatever the reason for chatter and gut tugs, we humans always have at least two choices. We can ignore the messages being sent or we can act on them. Many choose ignorance over action. However, some people do act.
Maybe Getting to Ellen reminds the fence sitters of the hard work they need to do. And, for those who have acted, perhaps my book validates the new course they’ve taken.
Regardless, for any writer, the best possible compliment is to hear that his or her words have made a reader feel. For that, I’m extremely grateful.
Thank you dear gentle readers! I truly appreciate the honor of being allowed to occupy a part of your brains–and maybe your hearts–as you take in my words, my story.
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.