“Getting to Ellen”: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change

Ellen Krug. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Ellen Krug. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

What are you willing to give up in order to become your most authentic self? Your amazing career? Your perfect marriage to your soul mate? Your financial success? While some may argue that a career, marriage, and financial success are the cornerstones of a wonderful and authentic life, Ed Krug knew that they came at a price: he was unable to explore and love the woman he knew he was. Thus begins the journey of Ed Krug in an effort to get to his true self: Ellen Krug.  Getting to Ellen, a memoir by Lavender columnist Ellen Krug, is a heartfelt examination of Krug’s past and her inspirational path to finding inner strength and loving the beautiful woman she is today.

Krug’s emotional journey opens with an innocent childhood moment that became a profoundly defining experience. Eight-year-old Ed observes as a young neighbor girl pulls down her pants for several inquisitive boys in exchange for a quarter. But Ed’s experience differs from the other boys’; he is amazed at the “glorious combination of clean lines that met at one magnificent place, the center of Christine’s feminine universe.” Young Ed feels a tug of longing and jealousy for those smooth, clean lines that will remain inside him for a lifetime.

As Ed grows up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father, he asserts his masculinity by becoming a sports star in school and then a ruthless lawyer. He marries Lydia, his high school sweetheart—his soul mate—and they begin to build a beautiful and successful life together. But the desire for clean lines is still there, prodding Ed to secretly wear women’s lingerie and clothing. The strong, successful man that the world knows as Ed Krug is stuck living a false life. Only when Ed finally acknowledges the true woman inside does he begin to realize that he must give up everything to become Ellen. Ed’s “Grand Plan” may have been admirable and desirable, but Krug’s true “Grand Plan” took a different course: getting to Ellen. Ellen is “the product of years of denial, compromise, and fear that culminated in no other way but being honest.” Though the journey is painful, Ellen emerges into a beautiful life in Minneapolis, becoming the confident, compassionate, and poised woman the community knows today.

Unlike many memoirists that focus their energy on the main character and settle for a sub-par cast of supporting characters, Krug allows each person in her memoir to shine. The tumultuous depression and alcoholism of Ellen’s father, “Tom Terrific,” isn’t simply utilized as a means to push Ed over the edge. With brutal honesty, Krug unabashedly depicts Tom Terrific as a truly tragic character with nowhere else to turn except to suicide.  Thap, the dear friend that stands with Krug through thick and thin, is not just an idealized depiction of compassion in Krug’s life. Thap’s compassion and love is genuine and pure, and Krug’s high opinion of him is evident.

Most beautiful, however, are Krug’s recreations of her family. Krug’s unending love for Lydia is evident, and the bond between Krug and Lydia is undeniable. Lydia is the light and love in Krug’s life, and Krug excels at capturing Lydia’s beautiful essence through prose. Lydia is an image of the person we are all looking for, the true soul mate whose love allows us to blossom and flourish into our authentic selves. Krug’s two daughters are lovingly portrayed, with one of the memoir’s most touching moments coming through Lily’s recognition and acceptance of her mother. Though a perfect ending for this beautiful family is not possible, Krug’s undying love for the girls of Knollwood is gloriously evident.

Krug doesn’t simply let her memoir rest on the impact of a good story. Her prose is lyrical and effective; her words read like poetry. Each page is full of beautifully constructed insights. Each sentence is a literature-lover’s delight. Though her prose flows effortlessly, there is no doubt that each word was chosen for the particular purpose of creating an aesthetically pleasing experience for the reader.  The remarkable consistency of such quality writing made me mourn the final pages of the book—precisely what great works of literature should do. 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.

What strikes me about this memoir is that Krug does not demand the pity of her readers like so many memoirists unfortunately tend to do.  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. Krug uses the insight she gained through navigating the world as both male and female to add an aspect of relatable humor. Krug looks at her life through a lens of humorous self-awareness, poking fun at the desire we all have for a “Grand Plan.”

Though this memoir focuses on Krug’s transition from male to female, her story isn’t simply about being transgender. Krug believes, “In the process of becoming Ellen, I became human. Far more human.” Krug points out our common experience of facing challenges that don’t go away unless we actively work toward enlightenment. The message that self-awareness and authenticity should be our goal—and that our choices so often hold us back from becoming our authentic selves—is simple, pure, and universally relevant. Getting to Ellen will inspire readers, GLBT and non-GLBT alike, to look inward and strive for authenticity.

Getting to Ellen will be available for purchase by February 14, 2013 on Amazon, ebooks, and select bookstores. Visit www.gettingtoellen.com for details about the first Minneapolis reading.

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