Kristin Beck, born Christopher Beck, is a retired Navy SEAL who took part in 13 deployments, including seven combat deployments. Beck was a member of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, a special counter-terrorism unit better known as SEAL Team Six, and received multiple military awards and decorations, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Beck is the author of Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender which details her life and transition.
I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Kristin Beck for a number of reasons. As a veteran myself I respect the sacrifices she made during the service to her country. As a parent I can relate to her concerns and fears about her children. And as a transgender woman I understand the struggles she has endured throughout her life because she is trans. And I have a great deal of admiration for her decision to be so open about her life and the resulting progress from her willingness to share her journey and all the effort she has put forth to make a difference in the trans community, particularly for trans people in the military, which is a topic that rarely gets any attention.
Everyone’s journey through life and their transition is unique and special, and I’ve been fortunate to hear a lot of stories, whether it be through a friendship, reading a book or watching a show, and I have to admit there are times when I get very emotional hearing these stories, especially because so often there are things which I relate to. But few have touched me as deeply as Kristin’s story.
Her experiences growing up were a lot like mine; trying fit into the stereotypical American dream and live the kind of life a male was supposed to live, while at the same time struggling with the gender issues. One moment playing sports with a passionate desire to excel, while other times pretending to be sick in order to stay home from school to have the chance to dress up in your sister’s clothes. So many conflicting thoughts and emotions, and trying to make sense of things. But I believe she would agree that the hardest part was pretending to be someone you’re not, along with the realization that no one knows the real you. That is a heavy burden to bear. And trying to explain to other people what it’s like to be transgender is difficult since we don’t fully understand it ourselves.
It is estimated that 13% of the American population have served in the military. That percentage is roughly double for transgender people, which is quite an eye-opening piece of information. The obvious thought is that it’s because transgender people are trying to prove their masculinity by serving; after all, what is more macho than being a soldier. But whatever the reason, the transgender community has had a strong presence in the military, defending the rights and freedoms that so many people take for granted. Yet when a true American hero like Kristin comes out as being trans, these very same people are quick to bombard her with death threats and messages of hate, saying things like she is a disgrace to the military or that she should kill herself. Are transgender people not entitled to the same freedoms and rights as everyone else?
As mentioned earlier, Kristen took part in 13 deployments, including seven combat deployments. Many of these she volunteered for. There is no questioning her dedication and commitment, both to her country and to her fellow soldiers, but there were other factors that led to her volunteering for deployments. The heartbreaking reality is that living as Chris made her so unhappy and she disliked herself so much that part of her wanted Chris to die an honorable death, and combat provided that opportunity. Again, not being able to live an authentic life and to accept yourself can prove to be almost unbearable.
Another subject which really moved me was when she talked about her sons and the pain she feels that they don’t have a closer relationship and her fears that she is the cause of unhappiness in their lives. There is already a huge amount of guilt that we as trans people put upon ourselves, but it many ways it’s easier to deal with the pain we cause ourselves than to deal with the pain we cause to other people, especially our children. There is no worse feeling as a parent than to worry that you have let your children down or failed them as a parent. And to believe that we have harmed our own children because of our gender issues is like rubbing salt into an open wound. It was heartbreaking to watch when Kristin’s ex-wife told her that her sons didn’t want to talk with her on Christmas; you could just see how much that hurt her.
But through it all Kristin is moving forward with her life, and most importantly, she likes herself and feels that she is now a better person. Isn’t that what it’s all about, being able to like yourself and feel good about who you are? Even more impressive is that she has made a conscious decision to be a role model and reach out to other transgender people who may not have anyone else to look up to.
After her memoir Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender came out she received a great deal of publicity, and then CNN aired the documentary Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story, in September of 2014, and since then there has been no looking back.
She has been very active making public speaking appearances on behalf of transgender issues, trying to promote diversity and acceptance, especially regarding transgender people serving in the military. Many people don’t realize that when the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy was repealed in September of 2011 it had no effect on the estimated 15,000 transgender people serving in the United States military because the outdated regulations prohibiting military service on the basis of “transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism and other paraphilias,” are still in place, meaning that transgender troops in the United States may not serve openly. Meanwhile, 18 other countries, including The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden, allow transgender people to serve openly.
In February Kristin announced her candidacy to challenge Rep. Steny Hoyer for Maryland’s 5th Congressional District. I think she speaks for all of us when she stated “For the last two or three years I have been watching Congress very closely, and the reality is that the whole process has broken down and our representatives have simply dug in their heels.” Simply put, Kristin just wants to bring our country together. I think we could all learn a lot from Kristin Beck.