Skirting The Issues: Silver Lining
As we slowly make our way out of pandemic-induced hell, I’d like to share about the best thing to happen to me during this last year of misery: how my siblings and I reconnected and became much closer.
I have a younger brother, Mark, and an even younger sister, Kathy; altogether, there’s four years between oldest and youngest. As with any family, we share genetic code and lived experiences relative to growing up in the Krug household. And like with many families, that includes some shared trauma.
For example, we collectively endured my high-functioning, but often missing alcoholic father and enabling mother. Later, when we were barely in our thirties, we dealt with the aftermath of my father’s suicide. Less than five years later, we buried my mother after she died of lung-metastasized-to-brain cancer.
I don’t share this personal information to engender sympathy. Instead, it’s important background to understanding something else: the added baggage my sibs took on when I, the oldest of the bunch, transitioned genders in my early fifties.
Not surprisingly, my bother and sister reacted differently to me coming out as Ellie.
My brother, who’s always been the softest and most empathetic of the Krug kids (he was the only one who coaxed my drunken father to bed), was my confidant early on. He started calling me “Sis” even when I still presented as male, something that warmed my heart and helped build my confidence to believe that transitioning, even later in life, might actually work.
The only wrinkle with Mark came when he saw me in public as Ellie for the first time. We met on the patio of a Minneapolis coffee shop in early summer. I walked up wearing a V-neck top and skirt, with make-up awkwardly applied. Because my hair hadn’t yet grown out, I wore a high-end brunette wig.
As I nervously approached, Mark stood up with outstretched arms. That was quite wonderful; what wasn’t so good was his assessment: “You look like Mom.”
Ugh. I don’t think he could have come up with a worse non-compliment.
Still, notwithstanding Mark’s knack for sticking foot-in-mouth, he’s been a rock on whom I’ve depended during my long and continuing “gender journey,” even to this day.
My sister Kathy had a special place in my life—on her wedding night, I promised that if I ever had a daughter, I’d name her after Kathy. Three years later, true to my word, my then-wife and I did exactly that with our first daughter.
Unfortunately, Kathy had a much more difficult time with my gender transition. While I never for a second doubted her undying love, she pulled back for several years. What had been an incredibly close relationship became frosty, mainly because she grieved the loss of her big brother.
“You were my protector,” she confessed, deadpan, at one of our much less frequent breakfasts. “Now, I feel like I’ve lost that security and it’s just a big adjustment for me.”
I understood exactly what she meant, but still, it was difficult to experience out mutual pulling apart. We went months without speaking; it didn’t help that I moved from Cedar Rapids to Minneapolis. I knew that she was hurting but at the time, other than wait with my heart open, there wasn’t much I could do.
Gradually, Kathy came back; still, though, the relationship wasn’t what it had been. I think we both wanted to bridge that final gap, but neither of us seemed to know how.
Then the pandemic arrived. Thankfully. (I know, that’s not something most would opine.)
Beginning last May, we started biweekly hour-long “Krug Kids” Zoom sessions. Initially, it was a bit awkward—after all, the three of us rarely ever got together sans other family members. However, it didn’t take long for us to fall into a rhythm with each taking turns on checking in about what had happened since our last Zoom meeting.
Now we alternate between whining about all the crap (sorry, I can’t get into details) and laughing our heads off, with a healthy dose of mutual support over relationships, isolation, and whatever else.
Frankly, I’m at a loss to find the right words to describe how nourishing the Zoom visits have been. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt closer to Mark and Kathy; indeed, I just teared up as I typed those words.
Perhaps the best marker of how things had changed between Kathy and me came in the form of a totally unexpected notecard she mailed to me last summer. On the front of the card was a drawing of two women holding wine glasses with their backs to the viewer. One woman had her arm around the waist of the other. The caption below: “Always got your back, *itch.”
Inside the card were kind, loving, supportive words that would melt any human heart. Sorry, now the tears are flowing, and I have to end this.
Silver lining. You betcha, *itch!
Ellen (Ellie) Krug, the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change, speaks and trains on diversity and inclusion topics; visit www.elliekrug.com where you can also sign-up for her monthly 9000+ recipient e-newsletter, The Ripple. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].