Skirting The Issues: Bittersweet

Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida
Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida

Last month included a college graduation weekend—something that I often wondered would ever come. Lily, the younger of two daughters. Intentionally and stubbornly an under-achiever in high school. Thirtieth from the bottom of her 483-strong student class. Couldn’t be forced to study even if world peace depended on it.

And now, a college graduate with a 3.3 GPA.

In a word, it was Sweet!

Way to go, Lily, rocking me and everyone else who knows you!

Other than celebrating Lily’s accomplishment, the weekend meant something else: being in the presence of my ex-wife. As I’ve written before, Lydia and I started out as high school sweethearts-turned-soul mates. We went from small city Iowa to Boston for my law school and our first jobs and then back to small city Iowa. We bought an old house and turned it into heaven on earth. Two daughters and a very successful trial law practice later, we had everything that anyone could ever dream of.

Except for one thing. We didn’t have me, the real me, a woman.

When that woman could no longer hide below the surface, when she needed to breathe fresh air, everything ended. Sadly. Some would say horribly.

We’re talking many emotional casualties, some mortally wounded by my transitioning from man to woman.

Only, there’s one thing that didn’t end: my love for Lydia. That torch never went out.

Thus on the evening following Lily’s graduation, I found myself sitting across from Lydia at a nice restaurant in the company of others, watching, staring, listening, missing, remembering, hurting. She had flown in from her new hometown and was as beautiful as ever. As always, Lydia was witty, engaging, and smartass. Just like the old days, everyone wanted to hang with her. It was a privilege I had taken for granted for so many years before.

In another word, it was Bittersweet.

At least on the surface, Lydia is long past our divorce. She’s pleasant to me, even cheerful. I’m sure it helps that she remarried to a hunk of a man who’s entirely devoid of gender identity issues.

I’m happy for her. Back at our wedding in 1982—by then I’d been secretly dressing in women’s clothes on and off for fifteen years—she certainly didn’t intend to marry someone with gender problems. No, she wanted me as a dude for a spouse, and planned for it to stay that way until death did us part.

Perfectly understandable.

For the longest time, I had thought that I could actually choose—that I could consciously pick to be a man, a master of my masculine universe, and ignore the voice in my head that kept shouting, “You need to have your own life as the real you! As the woman you are!”

Seventeen years of therapy and eight therapists later, I now understand that I was pretty naïve.

Gender—just like sexuality—isn’t something that we “choose.” They’re teaching that now in hundreds of high schools in America.

Yet, accepting those realities doesn’t temper another reality: love.

By the time my gender identity issues surfaced for good, Lydia and I had been together for more than three decades—thirty-two years to be exact.

“How can you leave me?” she’d ask over and over as we struggled to figure out things. “I love you,” she would whisper in a cracking voice, her head on my shoulder with bundled tissues in hand.

“I love you back,” I’d say. “With all my heart.”

It was absolutely true. The issue wasn’t about me not loving Lydia.

Instead, it was about me loving me. I needed to love the real me and accept that unless I let Ellie Krug breathe, someday I might force my body to not breathe at all.

How do you leave the love of your life—the soul mate of soul mates—knowing that you’ll likely be alone for the rest of your life?

My answer: I don’t know. On many days, I can’t believe I had the guts to walk out the front door of heaven on earth for the last time, leaving Lydia sobbing in the doorway.

All of that was ten years ago. In the time since, I’ve been able to soar as a woman, discarding sharp edge testosterone for estrogen’s wonderful life-giving softness. I’m an incredibly better person as a woman than I ever was as a man. I continue to amaze myself over how one decision—to be true to myself—ripples in so many positive ways.

And yet, I miss Lydia every day.

Hence the trade-off between love of another and love of self.

The hole in my heart—once the size of planet Mars—has certainly grown smaller as I put distance and time between Lydia and me. I suspect it will never close entirely.

As we head toward this year’s Pride, let Debbie Downer, err Ellie Krug, share this bit of hard-earned wisdom: this thing we call “life,” isn’t a thing at all. It’s a collection of lives, identities and emotions. Just as we can’t choose who we are, we can’t choose whom we’ll love or the moments that will matter.

It all just happens.

Be mindful of the moments. They don’t last.

Happy Pride 2014!


Ellie Krug is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change. She welcomes your comments at [email protected]

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