Ellie Krug has a deep voice. You’ll notice it right away when you hear her speak, and she knows it. She’ll often point it out right away to ease the awkwardness. “My voice doesn’t match my appearance, which I hate quite a bit, but that’s the way it is,” she says.
As a trans woman, her voice is one of the few remaining remnants of her former life as a pitbull attorney, husband to high school sweetheart Lydia, and father of their two adopted daughters.
“Very often, when I begin to speak, I can that see people give me what I call ‘the look,’” she says. “It’s a reaction between their ears telling them one thing and their eyes telling them something else, because I look like a chick but I sound like a dude.”
The blonde, bespectacled Krug now uses her voice, deep though it may be, as a training tool when she travels around the country speaking about her transgender journey and inclusivity.
During these trainings, she checks in with the audience to see if they’ve gotten used to her voice. Often, they have. “That’s the power of human familiarity,” she says. “It allows us, once we have exposure to other humans, to accept people for who they are.”
Krug learned a thing or two herself when she transitioned, a process that concluded with facial feminization and gender confirmation surgeries in 2010. Shifting from a position of privilege as a white, educated, male professional to the marginalized status of a trans, self-employed woman, opened her eyes to the previously invisible people she’d overlooked.
“When I was an ostensibly straight, white dude, I only saw other people like me,” she says. “Now, on this side of the fence, all I see are people of color and people from marginalized communities. I have a much greater sense of how the deck is stacked against people.”
Krug’s life pre-transition wasn’t a cake walk, though. Throughout her life, she was fascinated by the “clean lines” of women’s genitalia and enjoyed wearing women’s lingerie. The secrecy and shame tormented her.
In 1990, her alcoholic father committed suicide. Upon collecting items from his office, then 33-year-old Krug and her brother discovered a paper trail documenting their father’s slew of affairs with men and women.
Krug still didn’t come out. When 9/11 happened, however, Krug sat in church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with Lydia and their daughters, imagining what her last thoughts would be if she had been in one of the airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center. They were: “You coward. You’re going to die without ever getting to be your true self.”
At 52 years old — one year younger than her father was when he committed suicide— Krug knew what she had to do: transition.
Post-transition, Krug moved to Minneapolis in 2010 and became the first executive director for legal non-profit Call For Justice, which matched low-income people with legal help. She also published a memoir, “Getting to Ellen: A Memoir About Love, Honesty, and Gender Change,” in 2013.
While her professional life has thrived since her transition, personally it’s been a struggle.
She and her older daughter were estranged for several years. They’ve since re-established their relationship.
Romantic attachments have remained elusive. “I don’t have love. I’m very alone,” she says. That’s in part because many people she meets are already partnered; those that are single often lack curiosity or a willingness to explore what it means to date a trans woman. She also has a tendency to measure any relationship against her former marriage to her soul mate.
“After you’ve had the kind of love affair that I had with Lydia, it’s really hard to settle,” Krug says.
For a time, she drank the loneliness away, but no more. Now sober three years, Krug says, “it’s a whole lot easier to deal with being alone sober rather than drunk.”
Another motivation to get sober was that she refused to go down the same dark road as her father. “My father had a lot of demons that he refused to deal with,” she says. She wants to live more authentically.
Many of her challenges are similar to that of any single 61-year-old woman: establishing a quality and sustainable love relationship, finding the time to ride her bike and write, maintaining friendships and financial stability.
Some of her challenges are unique to her experience as a trans woman — like being misgendered and fearing for her physical safety, especially in rural areas. “Even though I’m a very friendly person, I don’t strike up conversations at the gas station when I’m 25 miles outside the Twin Cities,” she says. “I keep my head down and do my stuff and try not to engage, not to stand out.”
In Minneapolis, where she lives, she feels accepted and supported professionally. But on a personal level, she admits, “this is a tough city. If you’re not born here, your ability to be integrated, I think, is a challenge. Then throw on top of that trying to date.”
She doesn’t regret transitioning. “Yes, there is loss and some grieving, but not for a second have I ever regretted being me, the real me, Ellie Krug,” she says. “I’ve gotten a do-over. I’m lucky enough to be able to take advantage of it.”