A transgender former Navy SEAL Kristin Beck has published a memoir titled "Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender." The book tells the story of her life as a Navy SEAL and her decision to come out after retirement.
Transgender people identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. In Beck's case, although she was born a man, she identifies as a woman.
Beck was a member of the elite special unit SEAL Team Six that killed Osama bin Laden. She retired in 2011 as a senior chief petty officer shortly before the May 2011 special mission in which bin Laden was killed. During her 20 years of service, she was deployed 13 times, earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a tour in Seal Team Six.
But throughout the time she served in the military, she concealed her transgender identity, keeping it a closely guarded secret for 20 years because transgender people are not allowed to serve openly in the US military. After she retired, she confronted the fact that she had never felt comfortable living as a man, and decided it was time for her to "go for it, to make [her] body match [her] identity, or at least start by dressing like a woman in [her] regular life."
According to Beck, she began her transition toward what she described as "working toward my own peace as a woman."
The introduction to her book on Amazon, reads:
Chris Beck played high school football. He bought a motorcycle, much to his mother’s dismay, at age 17. He grew up to become a U.S. Navy SEAL, serving our country for twenty years on thirteen deployments, including seven combat deployments, and ultimately earned a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. To everyone who saw him, he was a hero. A warrior. A man. But underneath his burly beard, Chris had a secret... He was transgender, and the woman inside needed to get out.
In the book, she tells the story of her life and transition with the hope that it will help other people caught in an identity conflict make the right decision. In the preface of her book, she explained that she wrote the book "to reach out to all of the younger generation and encourage you to live your life fully and to treat each other with compassion, be good to each other, especially in your own backyard (where it be high school or your community)."
One of her former SEAL mates, Brandon Webb, writes on the SOFREP website: "While Chris was always a little different I had no idea what was lying under the surface, as I'm sure a lot of people will have the same experience."
ABC News reports that the co-author of her book, Anne Speckhard, said: "Chris really wanted to be a girl and felt that she was a girl and consolidated that identity very early on in childhood."
According to Speckhard, circumstances forced Beck to conceal her gender identity struggles. Beck had wanted to live "as the woman he felt himself to be for a very long time, but while he was serving as a SEAL he couldn't do it."
"Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender," by Kristin Beck, transgender Navy SEAL
The book says: "For years Chris had turned off his sexuality like a light switch and lived as a warrior, consumed with the battle -- living basically asexual. For Chris the other SEALs were brothers and in the man's man warrior lifestyle, even if he had wanted to entertain sexual thoughts, there really was never any time to be thinking too much about sexuality."
Once Beck had made up her mind to come out after retirement, she announced her decision to friends online, saying, "No more disguises."
According to The Atlantic Wire, she was surprised when her former SEAL mates came out in support of her move:
Soon, the responses from SEALs stationed all around the world suddenly started pouring in: "Brother, I am with you... being a SEAL is hard, this looks harder. Peace"
[Another said]: "I can't say I understand the decision but I respect the courage. Peace and happiness be upon you...Jim"
"... I just wanted to drop you a note and tell you that Kris has all the support and respect from me that Chris had... and quite possibly more. While I'm definitely surprised, I'm also in amazement at the strength you possess and the courage necessary to combat the strangers and 'friends' that I'm guessing have reared their ugly heads prior to and since your announcement..."
Beck is now undergoing hormone therapy as part of the process for sexual reassignment surgery. She wears her hair long, wears make-up and women's clothes, according to Speckhard, co-author of her book.
She has also founded a non-profit organization called Healing Grounds, which describes itself on its website as a "specialized 'community service' focused nursery and gardens for returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans."
The organization provides support for returning service personnel by helping them to start gardens. According to Beck: "I am a combat wounded disabled veteran living in St Petersburg [Florida]; my house had a desolate back yard. A friend who previously ran a nursery helped me landscape part of my backyard and later build a small fishpond. The work brought me great peace... I no longer feel anger, resentment or depression; I feel peace. I want to give this option of a 'peace garden' to my veteran brothers and sisters."
Transgender rights in the US military
Although the US military has repealed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, and now allows gays and lesbians to serve openly, transgender men and women still cannot. Beck's story will challenge the rationale behind the continuation of the policy. The case will be strengthened by the fact that Beck, a transgender person, served meritoriously in the most elite formation of the US military.
ABC News comments on the circumstances of military discipline that appears to suggest the need for the discriminatory policy:
The truth is that the armed forces like neat, easy categories -- it's naturally hard to get millions of uniformed service members organized for battle, or anything else -- and so commanders don't deal well with individuals whose answer to "sex" on a checkbox form reads like a Facebook relationship-status update: "It's complicated." Then there are the ethical and personal hang-ups of critics who think anyone outside of typical gender norms is mentally ill or morally depraved. As The Atlantic put it last year, when discussing the status of transgenders, "[M]any military members are afraid of what they don't understand.
But Beck's case could force reconsideration of the prejudices.
According to ABC News, a 2011 survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, estimated that 20 percent of all transgender Americans serve in the military. This is the highest rate for any category of the country's population.
ABC News also reports that recently, the Navy took the unprecedented step to change a transgender veteran's sex on her records.