Kristin Beck has had a rather exciting life. A Navy veteran of 20 years, she served on 13 deployments and received both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for her service. When she retired, her journeys didn’t stop. Kristin, you see, was a veteran not just of the Navy, but of the SEALs, with her most recent term of service on SEAL Team 6, which raided Osama bin Laden’s compound only months after Kristin left the military.
The SEALs are an all-male unit, and Kristin lived among them as Chris Beck throughout her military service. As a transgender servicemember, she couldn’t be out to the rest of her team under the terms of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — and she had to comply with the ban on transgender servicemembers, which still hasn’t been lifted. For 20 years, she lived as someone else because she passionately wanted to serve the country she loved with the SEALs, one of the most elite and challenging military units.
Once she was back in civilian life, she started quietly living as a woman, ultimately pursuing hormone therapy in preparation for gender confirmation surgery. And she came out equally quietly at first; when she put her profile up on professional networking site LinkedIn, she listed her gender as female, and provided a picture of herself as a woman. Some of her friends and colleagues were confused, others thought it was a joke, but she assured them that no, this was who she was, and who she was going to be in the future.
Now she’s come out with a memoir, “Warrior Princess,” about her experiences in the military and with transition. She’s far from the first transgender servicemember to come out after military service — others have been discharged from the military for refusing to remain in the closet. But she might just be one of the highest-profile, in part because of her association with the SEALs, which many people think of as the most masculine, testosterone-fueled units in the Navy.
She’s also not content to stop with coming out, writing a memoir, and calling it a day. Kristin is also a passionate LGBQT advocate, and part of her advocacy work includes putting pressure on the military to lobby for an end to the ban on transgender service members. She knows that of which she speaks, after 20 years of forced closeting, and she’s ready to go to bat for transgender people in the military now, as well as those considering military service.
As she accesses transition services through the VA, her situation points out a very strange set of circumstances within the military. Come out while on active duty and you get a dishonorable discharge, with all the penalties that entails. Come out in retirement, and access transition services provided by the government, something few civilians have access to.
While many people celebrated the end of DADT, a highly discriminatory policy that should have been repealed long ago, few people at the time paid attention to the fact that the ban on trans servicemembers remained intact. If you are transgender and you serve in the military, you must do so under the gender assigned at birth, and you cannot come out or seek transition services, or you risk discharge. Kristin Beck is one among many people pushing for a change to this policy, and her visibility as well as insistence on being heard means that she may actually be able to pull it off, especially with support.
Which she’s getting, both from former SEAL Team members and other military personnel as well as the transgender community. With the end of DADT paving the way, could we be seeing an opening for transgender servicemembers?
Photo credit: Kristin Beck