Interview with Ellen Krug - Part 2

Monika: What are the current issues on the transgender advocacy agenda?
Ellen: There are several issues. One relates to enacting state and federal laws that protect gender variant people in employment, housing, and credit. There’s also a huge issue about bullying; most trans teens report being bullied on a regular basis. Bullying, in general, can leave emotional scars that become lifelong problems.
In addition, access to the court system and protection of gender variant individuals who are incarcerated are exceedingly important. For example, I saw a statistic recently that 2-3 gender-variant people are being arrested in the Minneapolis metro area daily; not only does that raise housing issues (e.g. do female-identifying trans people have the right to be placed in female housing), but it also raises the question of whether gender-variant people are being targeted by law enforcement. There simply is much work to do.
Monika: American politics is based on the interaction with different interest groups that wish to pursue their specific goals. How successful is the transgender community in this respect?
Ellen: It’s a work in progress. I believe the Human Rights Campaign understands that it made a mistake to not press for trans rights several years ago when Congress was considering expanding employment discrimination laws to protect gays and lesbians. The trans community, in my view, doesn’t speak with a unified voice, which makes it difficult to effect consistent change.

Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Ellen: For a long time, trans people were considered the “ugly cousin” in the LGBT alphabet. However, just as a society, in general, is becoming more accepting of trans people, so too are gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. One of my favorite readings from my memoir, “Getting to Ellen” was with a group of LGBT people; they were a wonderful audience and they asked great questions. Most importantly, I felt genuinely accepted and liked.
Still, as I said before, the trans community doesn’t speak with a unified voice. Some in the community are quite reactionary—I call them the “burn it down” segment. While I respect their right to express an opinion, I don’t agree that the route to acceptance/inclusion is by eliminating prisons or law enforcement. Certainly, as a society as a whole, we need to evaluate incarceration policies and police targeting of various communities, but I don’t believe that trans people have a monopoly on being marginalized.
My view is that all positive change is incremental. It may be two steps forward, one step backward, two more forward, etc. The key is having positive role models, positive messaging (“we simply want to live as our true selves”), and acting with loving kindness toward others.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Ellen: Yes, yes, and yes. I’m involved in local community organizing; I have been told that I should take a more prominent role politically, but I’m uncertain whether I want my life to be dictated by fundraising and nonstop meetings. I have participated in lobbying. Recently, I testified before the Minnesota Senate relative to expanding state-subsidized health care to cover sex reassignment surgery. (Unfortunately, this change was not enacted.)

With her brother.

Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live until the day when a transgender lady could become the US President?
Ellen: Oh, woman! I’m 56 years old, so no, I don’t think I’ll ever see a transwoman as the U.S. President in my lifetime. However, I do believe the potential exists for transwomen to be elected to the U.S. Senate or House or to a state governorship.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Ellen: Of course I love fashion! In Minnesota, the weather is a bit skewed toward longer winters and shorter summers. Still, I wear skirts or dresses every chance I get—in large part because I could never do that in public when I lived as a man. I am a big fan of Banana Republic clothes. I also love—absolutely love—Athleta dresses. They’re easy to wear, easy to clean, and just plain fun!
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Ellen: I’m not a big fan of beauty pageants in general. I think they marginalize women and make them objects for men to covet and women to be jealous about. The same goes for transwomen beauty pageants.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Ellen: Love. Wow. I was so incredibly lucky as a man to have Lydia in my life. We were together for 32 years (going back to high school) before everything fell apart. I miss her every day. I would really like to love and be loved again. The problem is that I’m incredibly picky about who I become involved with.
The key requirement is that we be able to giggle together; I’ve not found many people who are my kind of giggler. I just don’t know if love will ever happen to me again. Most of the time I’m okay with that since now, I have someone whom I didn’t have before—I have me, Ellie Krug.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Ellen: What a great question!
As I said before, I feel that I’ve lived two separate lives. My life as a man included finding my soul mate, learning how to be a good trial lawyer, and then building a law firm that was quite successful. Of course, I wasn’t living an authentic life at the time and everything eventually had to change.

With Thap.

My second life as a woman is barely four years old. I am still learning many things about how gender roles differ and about how to make my way through the world as a woman, let alone a transwoman.
I would like to complete my non-profit work which was work I could never do when I had a law firm and obligations to employees, clients, and the like.
On a larger scale, I would like to continue my work at what I call “growing human-to-human contact.” I believe that many of our problems directly relate to how we have become separated from each other—through multiple screens per day, through the grind of schedules, and by living segregated lives where we never see or interact with people who are different from us.
As humans, we have so many commonalities—we all want to love and be loved; we cherish our children and want to be cherished back; we want peace in our lives, and we all have personal demons.
I’d like to travel around the world talking about the importance of “going into the gray,” the uncomfortable place where we force ourselves to reach out to one another and give of ourselves. Many wonderful things can ripple from getting to know each other as human beings. So, in a perfect world, I’m a speaker who touches people. That would be my way of changing the world, one person at a time. I think my story makes that at least possible.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Ellen: Yes, I am incredibly happy! All of the compartments that I lived with previously as a man are gone, gone, gone! I’m now living as one unified person, and the freedom of having that is quite wonderful, and something that I could never have fully understood before transitioning.
I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to live the life I have now, and I have much gratitude for how kind people have been to me. Very few people get a “do-over,” like mine, and I never forget that it was luck, self-honesty, and the love of others that got me here.
Monika: Ellen, thank you for the interview! Thank you so very much
Ellen: Monika! Great questions! I appreciate the opportunity to be heard!

All the photos: courtesy of Ellen Krug.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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