It’s the new year, a time to set goals and reflect on hopes for the future.
Which immediately makes me think of both my face and my legacy.
Work with me here, dear Gentle Readers.
The magic of facial feminization surgery—something very few transgender persons can afford, and thus I readily concede my privilege—is that it can make you look not only feminine, but younger.
While the surgery certainly involves bone work to sculpt the face, to another extent, it’s simply a super duper lift and snip to the neck, jaw line, eyes, and brow. When I compare my pre-surgery 2010 photos with pictures from one year post-surgery, there’s a distinctly feminine face in the more recent images.
She’s got a much younger face, too.
Thus, when I reveal my age (I just turned fifty-seven), many people are surprised. “I would’ve guessed you for forty-five,” is a not-uncommon response.
Oh, how that does wonders for my ego. What fifty-something—trans or not—wouldn’t feel ecstatic hearing that?
But the response ignores another agenda item that’s quite pressing for me, something that’s not at all about ego or my rampant self-absorption. Something far more important.
Any compliment about my age-delaying looks disregards that I’m now on the final leg of my career. My last laps. The summit, as some would put it.
I have so much more to accomplish.
Transitioning in 2009 at age fifty-two gave me a do-over, an opportunity to go back and do things right. At least as I see “right.”
My do-over involves showing up as the true me—a woman—who seeks to make a positive difference in the world.
Much of this goes back to my childhood and listening to Bobby, the other murdered Kennedy. I’ve written about him before; simply put, through his example, he inspired me about doing good, effecting meaningful change, and helping those less fortunate.
However, for much of my professional life—living as a man—I got sidetracked by making money and self-denial.
But now, as Ellie Krug, I get the chance to carry out Bobby’s example. Yes, that means I’ve stopped vying for a big time trial lawyer’s income or prestige.
Instead, when I transitioned genders, I decided to transition everything. Translated, this means I now speak up about the things few want to discuss—race and class, gender stereotyping, marginalization of entire ethnic groups, transgender rights, and even the suicide epidemic in our country. I’ve found myself using the words, “compassion” and “authenticity,” more and more often. I talk about loving ourselves and acting with kindness toward others.
I realize this touchy-feely stuff makes many people (particularly stoic Minnesotans) really uncomfortable.
I don’t care. Someone has to say it.
On the practical level, I’ve learned the lessons that come from living paycheck to paycheck—and what that means for so many others—things that were entirely foreign to me as a big badass, money-making, white male-privileged lawyer with a killer voice.
Thank goodness for second chances!
Which brings me back to last laps and the new year, another tock of the clock.
As I look ahead to the rest of my career—maybe ten years more at best assuming my back and memory hold out—I see a burning desire to leave a legacy that speaks well of second chances. There are many people I want to reach, many places I want to appear, where I can say, “Please. We’re all in this together. All that any human wants is to love and be loved. What will it take to make this world better for everyone?”
I know. It sounds as if I’ve become hopelessly idealistic, maybe even terminally naïve. Perhaps my mind is already going south and I just don’t know it.
Still, it’s where I’m headed.
What summarizes my direction best: in November, I spoke at Iowa State University to an overflow crowd on Transgender Day of Remembrance. They were enthusiastic in their applause. It embarrassed me, actually.
At the end of the night, when only four or five people stood in the now-empty cavernous room, a smiling young twenty-something bearded man approached.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’m trans and your words resonated with me. I will remember them forever.”
It was just what I needed to keep pushing forward.
Ellie Krug is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.