Ellie Krug on How to Open Vulnerability and Compassion

A recent conversation at Mixed Blood theater, for its “Zealous Hellions” series, featured Ellie Krug, a frequent guest in Minnesota Women’s Press conversations, who is now one of fewer than a dozen trans people in the country serving on a local school board. After serving most of her adult life as a trial attorney in Iowa, largely representing railroad and trucking companies, Krug transitioned at age 52. She relocated to Minnesota, worked in Minneapolis, and moved during the pandemic to a house in a somewhat conservative suburb. She wanted to be semi-retired, with a dog, living near farm fields that reminded her of childhood in Iowa. Neighbors encouraged her to run for Carver County school board in 2022, and she won in a crowded field of candidates.

Here is some of the conversation she had at Mixed Blood, hosted by Hal Sansone, a trans performer who has co-organized the Trans Voices Cabaret.

Ellie Krug (right) speaking with Hal Sansone at Mixed Blood Theatre

Ellie Krug offers Gray Area Thinking workshops that enable people to shift in order to become more welcoming to difference. One of the workshop modules involves an exercise about:

1) the identity that my parents stressed for me growing up,

2) the identity that provides me with the most privilege,

3) the identities that others use against me,

4) the identity I struggle with the most.

She places signs on walls listing different identities that people tend to have: education, religious or spiritual affiliation, skin color, LGBTQ status, socio-economic class, as well as characteristics like alone, afraid, not good enough, compassionate. She asks people to stand next to the label that means the most to them for each of the four prompts. For each module, Krug asks people to volunteer to share whey they are standing next to that sign.

“You might not think people would be willing to do that, but they do,” she says. “People get brave, and then other people get brave because somebody else is brave. By the time we get to the fourth prompt — ‘the identity I struggle with’— people have already been sharing about things you might never have guessed about this person. [It reminds us that] we don’t know everything about people simply by looking at them. And 25 to 50 percent of people are standing next to the sign “not good enough.’”

Krug offers the workshops in community centers and with businesses. Many times, she says, some of the higher-level leaders in a group are standing at that sign. It helps people recognize that many people struggle with confidence. “It breaks down the barriers that we have. It opens this vulnerability and I see light bulbs go off.”

Then she offers one more prompt: “The identity I want to be known for.”

Whether or not she is speaking in a politically “red” city, or a “blue” city, rural or urban, big or small states, Krug says the majority of people indicate they want to be known for being compassionate. The second most popular identity is about “family” — which for some, she says, is based about a compassionate family of affinity, not necessarily genetics. “We all realize that we care about each other far more than anybody tends to think we do.”

Outside of the experience in that room, Krug says, is often “the opposite of vulnerability. ‘I’m not going to tolerate you. You can’t exist.’ Fear underlies so much. Maybe in this workshop, people become less fearful. If you give them the space to simply share, everybody wants to be seen. Everybody wants to feel that they have value. Compassion can take such sting out of fear. It’s not easy, and there is nervousness, but it’s hard to argue with somebody and to diminish them if that person is saying, ‘I care about you.’”

Krug has given roughly 800 workshops so far — including in Texas — and in less than a handful has she had issues with someone in the group.

“Almost everybody that I encounter is willing to come along — if you give them the time, if you don’t lecture to them, and if you give them space to understand about interconnectedness, compassion, [our] commonalities. In many spaces, I am the first transgender person they’ve ever met. For me, that’s a great responsibility, so I’m always trying to set the right tone to let people know that I’m really just like them.”

She shared the story of a military veteran who moved to her neighborhood. During a tornado threat, Krug — who has a basement in her place in Carver County — quickly invited neighbors who did not have a basement to come to her place. This man and his wife were among them. He was touched that he opened up her home like that. After passing through the storm, sharing stories and wine, when the neighbors were returning to their homes, he leaned down to give Krug a kiss on the cheek and said “Ellie, you’re all right.” She says that moment reinforced for her that that path of compassion and simple kindness is the right path for her.

Krug went to Hastings, Minnesota, after an ad was placed in the local newspaper from churches indicating they accept everyone except transgender people. More than 100 people came to hear her talk. “I started the talk by saying, ‘I’m not here to yell at you. I’m not here to shame you. I’m no one special. I am simply attempting to survive the human condition.’”

Because she always needs to be invited into the spaces where she speaks, she acknowledges that the people in the room are attempting to understand each other better. “if we had 10 hours, we could go through the room sharing our stories. Everyone would laugh. Everyone would cry. But at the end, everyone would feel closer.”

Ellie Krug is on the steering committee for the April 13 event hosted by Minnesota Women’s Press and Changemakers Alliance


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