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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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  • Kim Davis, Beliefs, and Truth

    • Posted on Sep 13, 2015
    Here's this morning's Waterloo Courier column.  Kim Davis continues to be a hero to Mike Huckabee and his ilk, but to the rest of us she's a scofflaw who deserves both firing and oblivion.  
    Not everything we believe is true.  Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.  
    True believers remain convinced that their beliefs are not beliefs at all, but Truths.  
    Absolute, unchangeable Truths, usually with the authority of a supernatural being behind them.   

     Kim Davis, the jailed Kentucky county clerk, asserts her belief that her Christian God supports only heterosexual marriage.  For her, that’s not merely a belief but the Truth.  Thus same-sex marriages are not really marriages, but sinful violations of God’s law. 

    Therefore people who don’t share her belief in fact violate her Truth.   
    Once someone is convinced that they have the Truth, they can’t be convinced that their “Truth” is actually a belief that not everyone shares.  

    Truths are not open to question.  Beliefs are. 
    Ms. Davis has plenty of fans and followers.  Fellow Christians who agree that her Apostolic Pentecostal belief is Truth, not neurons firing in their direction. 
    Why did she (or any true believer) shift from belief to Truth? I can only speculate, but many beliefs begin as central tenants of a community of believers.   In her case, the Apostolic Pentecostal sect that Ms. Davis joined in 2013 believes as a sect that certain passages of the Bible are absolute Truths. 

     Once she joined, accepting the group’s beliefs became mandatory.  One cannot join a community of believers unless you profess their beliefs. 

     That’s how many beliefs become Truths, in my experience—joining and identifying with a group’s set of beliefs.  We all do it one way or another, though not necessarily to find eternal Truth.    

     Ideally, none of us should accept beliefs as Truths, no matter how much we need to belong.  That’s what critical thinking means, and students are supposed to learn the process in high school and college.   We’re individuals, after all, and don’t have to convert group beliefs into personal truths without investigating and choosing.        

     Had Ms. Davis investigated the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality, she might have found that the Bible also condemns adultery, divorce, tattoos, pork, certain haircuts, etc. with the same God-given certainty.  As a three-time divorcee, she has already violated God’s written law, and Biblically shouldn’t have been granted church sanction for her second or third marriages. 

     I don’t want to judge Kim Davis harshly for being a hypocrite.  Who among us isn’t? 

     However, I do want to roundly judge and condemn her for not understanding that her Truth is a merely a belief.  No one is compelled to share it.   

     As a government employee, she’s constitutionally forbidden to impose her
    religious beliefs.  

     Ms. Davis tried to get around it by not issuing any marriage licenses for either traditional or same-sex couples, but that simply closed down one of her duties altogether.  Unacceptable.  

    Hence she rightly received a contempt of court citation and jail for refusing to follow the court’s order to issue marriage licenses to everyone.  

     So is this a case of civil disobedience, following in the honored tradition of Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, among others?  Going to jail for following one’s conscience?  

    Technically, it was an act of civil disobedience in that she refused to obey a law because of a personal belief.  But she did so as a government employee breaking her oath of office.  Hence it was insubordination as much as civil disobedience. 
    Moreover, Thoreau, et. al. broke laws to broaden rights and correct injustices in their societies.  In contrast, Davis broke the law in order to limit citizens’ rights and continue injustices against a minority—a major difference that cannot be overlooked.   

    Hence, the loss of her job seems both right and just, as does jail time for noncompliance.    
    Meanwhile, let’s remind ourselves that government officials who think they have the Truth can be dangerous.   


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