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  • Transgender Explained

    • Posted on Nov 08, 2015
    Here's this morning's (11-8) Courier column.   I really had never understood what "transgender" means until I met Ellen Krug and read her book Getting to Ellen. I found it utterly engaging and clear, and can't recommend it highly enough.  

    Ask a roomful of people what “transgender” means, and you’ll get mostly blank stares.People might know “transgender” as the “T” in “LGBT” for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people, but haven’t the faintest notion what it actually means.  

    As a child I had heard of Christine Jorgensen, the American GI who underwent gender transformation in the early 1950s.  For weeks her “case” caused consternation worldwide, since she underwent experimental sex-change surgery in Denmark.  She may as well have arrived from another planet.    

     Of course we all know that Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn, who declared “For all practical purposes, I am a woman.” She’s currently the most well-known transgender woman ever, the most successful at publicizing her journey.   
    “Normal” men and women find gender changing freaky, downright bizarre.

    Yet it happens, and we’re small-minded to condemn the Caitlyn Jenners of the world for their choices.  To transgendered people, it’s life and death.  And when you listen to what they’re saying, they’re right.  

     As the bard declares, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophies.  Open-minded curiosity is a better attitude.   

     So I’ve felt curious about “transgender,” but mostly ignorant.  
    Then I heard Ellen Krug, whose 2013 memoir “Getting to Ellen” details her long transformation from male to female.  “Ellie” spoke on a panel at a writer’s conference at the Marion Public Library I attended last month, and we spoke briefly afterwards.  

    She was funny, engaging, articulate, and passionate about her journey.  

     She made so much sense speaking as a woman on the panel that I bought and read “Getting to Ellen.” 

     For anyone who’s curious, or who has struggled with the real and profound issue of gender identity, Krug’s book offers the perfect introduction. 

     Krug writes conversationally, with wit, energy, and such personal honesty that I felt only admiration. It’s full disclosure on every page. 

     As a seven-year-old boy he learned graphically that boys and girls were different.  He felt different too.  He found himself drawn to females, not by attraction, but by identification.  Ed, the intelligent seven-year-old, knew that he wanted to be a girl.  
    Those who believe that Ed Krug made a choice to become female need to read “Getting to Ellen.”   She in fact had no real choice.   

     Instead, Ed Krug chose only to deny and avoid his sense of being female. For  decades.  

     Born in 1956 in New Jersey, his family relocated to Cedar Rapids when he was 11. A very bright guy, he eventually graduated from Boston College Law School, then became a high-powered lawyer known as “Killer Krug.”  He succeeded at outwitting, outthinking, and outprosecuting other lawyers, and became a respected and feared attorney.  

     Oh yes, along the way he married Lydia, his childhood sweetheart.  They adopted two children and lived happily, but not ever after. 

     After five years in Boston, Ed and Lydia Krug moved back to Cedar Rapids.  Ed joined another law firm and continued his successes.  Yet he felt nothing but angst.  

     Depressed, even suicidal, numbing himself with alcohol, Krug realized that he couldn’t go on living a false life.  He tried dressing up as a woman and even “passed” as female at times.  But it didn’t change anything.     

     That word “authentic” comes up as a critical life goal in “Getting to Ellen.”  Living a false life offers nothing but psychological hell.     

     Gradually, with massive fortitude and perseverance, Krug began admitting that he could not live inauthentically.  Finally, after divorcing Lydia and undergoing serious medical procedures, she became Ellen in 2009, and completed the surgery in 2010.  

     Though she regrets the years of pain and indecision and hurt, she hasn’t for a moment regretted becoming herself.   

     We can only cheer.   


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  • Wise Conservatives Needed

    • Posted on Sep 27, 2015
    Here's this morning's (9-27) Courier column.  It's about how little wisdom we see on the national political scene, particularly among the GOP candidates for President.  With the Pope's visit, we're seeing a huge split among conservatives--instead of changing their minds about climate change, etc. they reject the Pope, as do Catholics, amazingly enough. 

    Do adults ever change their minds?  I'm beginning to believe that very few ever do.  Where are the wise conservatives who can, in fact, change their minds.   

    Wisdom—the “better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln so memorably put it—is never in long supply.  We all need more from everyone.  

     It’s the ability to take the high road, the long view, to accept the things you cannot change, to radiate gratitude and kindness, to empathize more than criticize, to recognize that we’re all in this together.   

     On the current scene, Pope Francis best exemplifies wisdom, and Catholics rightly and mostly support him for what he’s doing for their Church.  He’s energizing and challenging, a transformative figure.  

     He’s still a conservative, understand.  He supports the basic tenets of Catholicism, yet wisely challenges aspects of them. 
    Conservatives believe in tradition, authority, sanctity, and loyalty as core values.  Pope Francis has exhibited all of these in his speeches and behavior.   Yet he also insists that authority can go too far. 

     “Who am I to judge?” he said in reference to gay priests.  He’s also been following the humble path of all genuine spiritual leaders, literally washing the feet of poor and homeless people.   That startles everyone.   

     The polar opposite of the Pope, would be—duh—Donald Trump.  He’s the role model for fools and folly, for ignorance and ego.  He currently leads the Republican field.  Wise conservatives must feel mortified.   

     I’m among the first to admit that any working government needs a balance of conservatives with their insistence on tradition, etc. and liberals, whose core values 
    of equality, justice, diversity, and change inevitably clash with conservatives’ values.     Ideally, somewhere between those two a balance emerges.  Too much of either ideology leads to indefensible policies and unsustainable practices. 

     That’s where we need wisdom.  And that’s where the current crop of GOP contenders fall short.  Perilously, frighteningly, shockingly short, with Trump leading the pack to the bottom.  

    He’s probably the most foolish human being in the western hemisphere, a fool’s fool.  Worse, he’s probably a phony fool, putting on a bully mask to garner support.  
    In contrast, wise conservative leaders, from Pope Francis to Eisenhower to (at times) Reagan, the elder Bush, and Colin Powell all deserve respect and credit for upholding conservative principles, but doing it wisely.   

     Where is such wisdom in the current GOP field?  They use Obama as a scapegoat for all the world’s ills, they lie about his background and record, they cannot give him any credit or gratitude for his accomplishments.  That would include lowering the deficit, expanding health care coverage, growing attention to climate change (which the Pope supports), serious use of negotiations to resolve conflicts (Cuba and Iran) and so on.  

     Wisdom begins with giving credit where credit is due.  That sets the stage for focusing on where real disagreements lie.  Then the work starts, and everyone benefits.    
    A reverse case in point, now generating massive controversy, is the GOP’s Planned Parenthood defunding.  Carly Fiorina’s impassioned address at the GOP debate could have begun with her admitting that abortions cannot legally be funded by the government, and that abortion services amount to just 3 percent of women’s health services that Planned Parenthood provides.  

     Then she might have asserted that those videos were in fact disturbing, and she would support an investigation to determine if the group was selling “body parts,”
    which is flat-out illegal.   

     That approach would have boosted her wisdom credentials. Instead, she took the fool’s low road, referring to stock video footage not related to Planned Parenthood, and made a blatant attempt to smear the organization.  

     GOP lawmakers continue on this path with threatening to defund the entire federal government over a non-issue that whips up their base. 

    Where are the leaders who would side with the Pope and other wise conservatives to stop this foolishness? 

     We need them, now.   

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