It’s been a reunion summer with a big high school 40th and a much smaller get-together with long-lost college friends.
Since everyone I’d see had only known me as a teenage boy or young twentysomething man, accompanying me to each reunion were old travel companions I knew all too well: Anxiety, Nervousness, and a particularly unlikable character named Dread. Complicating things was that I graduated from high school and college in Cedar Rapids, a conservative city in Red State Iowa. All of this was enough to get my heart beating racehorse-fast every time I heard or read the word “reunion.”
Would I be accepted? How many times would I need to explain transitioning genders? Will I hear the “God doesn’t make mistakes” speech?
Even worse — what I fretted about more than anything else — how would I compare to the other women in the class? Will my weight show more than theirs? How will I stack up in the face wrinkle or no-longer-perfect-teeth categories?
Simply put, I feared not being pretty enough.
Our mini-Coe College reunion consisted of just four of us, two other women and one man, reconnecting at a coffee shop in Minneapolis. Since my college years can be measured by the thousands of hours I spent studying in the Coe library, the other three folks were far closer to each other than they were to me. Still, that I was now a woman instead of a dude made no difference at all; that one fact helped to make it a delightful hour-and-a-half of catching up with the promise of connecting again way more frequently.
The high school reunion was a two-night/one-day affair where I also found acceptance and even a small bit of notoriety. Many had read my memoir and understood in advance that the Krug they’d be seeing in 2015 wasn’t at all like the Krug they knew in 1975. I heard “Ellie” and “she” with far greater ease and much more sincerity than I could have hoped. People seemed to sincerely care about the female me way more than they had ever cared about the male me.
Red State or not, the experience was wonderful. Whew!
The only hiccup during the entire high school reunion weekend came when I showed up to dinner quite under-dressed in jeans and a V-neck tee. I had made the mistake of asking one of the organizers (my dear best friend Thap whom I’ve written of before) about the dinner dress code. He nonchalantly answered, “It’ll be very casual; you don’t need to dress up.”
I walked into a dining room filled with women wearing dresses and jewelry and men in sport coats. Panic set in. Ten minutes later, I was back in my hotel room doing a quick switch into a sundress and fashionable sandals.
Note to file: never ever under any circumstance listen to a straight man about the dress code for anything. Always, he’ll have absolutely no clue.
I’ve added that to the long list of lessons they forgot to teach in Living in Your True Gender 101. The pinnacle of the high school reunion came late on the second night in the middle of a long Karaoke stream. It was a slow song, something from the ’70s which I didn’t recall, and quite a few women were on the dance floor with husbands or boyfriends or that former football player they wished they had dated.
For a moment, I felt terribly alone, the last woman standing. I turned and saw Kevin, who had been one of the gang (there were seven or eight of us guys who partied and hung out) back in the day.
I was the one who asked. “Will you dance with me?” Without an iota of hesitation, Kevin answered, “Sure.”
For the next five minutes, we occupied space on a worn wooden dance floor moving slow and wrapped close. It was an unexpected personal reunion with an old pal whom I’m quite sure, like me, couldn’t have imagined such a scenario. Yet, Kevin was a good sport and never flinched a bit.
He was a pretty good dancer, too.
It was an incredible act of generosity that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Thank you, Kevin. You are a sweetheart!
Transitioning genders in midlife, something I call “gender correcting,” isn’t easy. We trans people have to start over in all kinds of ways, which includes risking rejection by those who knew us in a different gender at a different time. Even more, not everyone is as lucky as Ellie Krug; sadly, others who come out as their “true” selves can never go home. For trans people in far too many places in this country and world, the consequences of attending a high school class reunion could be life-threatening.
Happily, I now have two new travel companions, Compassion and Kindness, who seem to show up more and more as I go forward in my new life, the one where I get to be me, the real me.
Consequently, my old travel companions can take a hike.
Ellen (Ellie) Krug is a public speaker and the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].