I was barely eight years old–a human tabula rasa–when I first saw what made girls different from boys.
Thus reads the first sentence of my book, Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change.
It’s been a long time coming. I’m not entirely done, either—it will be February, 2013, before the memoir is on Amazon. Much of the process has been equivalent to herding cats.
For one, I’m not a trained writer. In fact, it’s way worse than that. As many of my readers know, I was a lawyer, schooled in legal writing, the kind of prose that begins with, “May it please the Court.”
Horrible stuff, actually. Far too linear and plastic.
I walked into the Loft Literary Center in January, 2009 and announced, “I want to write my story.” I eyed twenty genetic women and one wispy man. The man didn’t last, but every woman stuck it out through a four month memoir course.
I wrote my first words—a short piece about my father’s death. It was wordy and unfocused, yet there was something about it that my classmates liked. “It’s a powerful story even if the writing leaves something to be desired,” one woman said with a smile.
I went back to my computer. With a revision in hand, I said, “I know this probably isn’t good enough.”
The class instructor answered, “You have to own it, Ellen.”
It was perfect advice. From then on, I owned whatever I wrote. My goal: write as a human for other humans.
I wanted to work with an actual print publication. I approached an Iowa LGBT monthly and offered to write about experiencing life from a transgender person’s perspective. I submitted a first proposed column. It was crap. Arthur, the editor, pushed me to do better.
I returned with words etched from my heart.
“Now that’s better,” Arthur responded.
In February, 2010, the Iowa monthly published my very first column, “Listen to Yourself: You May Hear Something Important.”
I took a sabbatical from my law career. I wrote in between surgeries that changed my body to match my female spirit.
I wrote so much that I burned out a Dell laptop.
I contacted Lavender Magazine and asked if it wanted a columnist with a different take on life. Thirteen months ago, Skirting the Issues debuted.
I pushed on with my book. I hired an editor. “It’s a great story,” she reported, “but, you’ve got a long way to go in your writing.” She had published an acclaimed memoir, and I listened.
Luckily, I found a writing group with writers who were better than me. That was key, of course—you never learn from a writer who isn’t as good as you. It rubbed off. Eventually, I wrote at least B-grade.
For me, the lawyer, that was pretty damn good.
I overhauled the manuscript. Then I revised it a million times.
A friend asked, “Aren’t you done with that thing yet?”
I started to give talks about my life story. Invariably, people came up to me. “When will your book be out?” many asked.
“I’m working on it,” was my constant reply.
Even without ever seeing a draft of my memoir, a college professor emailed that she wanted to use the book as a classroom text.
I thought, Those poor kids.
There are a few—particularly certain family members and friends—who wonder why I’d want to splash my life across 300 pages. Some have lives intertwined with mine. We’re talking fear and embarrassment here.
Throw in that there are already a number of books that tell the “transgender story,” and one may wonder why I’d go to the trouble. Is it all ego?
I’d like to think not.
Another writer who has seen much of my book says this: I see your story as universal. It tells how it’s possible for each of us to make one small decision after another. Eventually, we’re led to the place where we declare a major change based on our choice to embrace an integrity that makes it impossible to do anything but live our own truth.
“Live our own truth?” If you ask me, that’s a pretty good review for any memoir.
Maybe more than one person will see the book that way.
I can only hope.
Ellie Krug welcomes your comments. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org