Chris Beck was a fearless Navy SEAL, one could even say reckless. “Come out motherf—er!” he would shout to the Taliban as he charged into the caves of Afghanistan. But there was a reason for this. He had been suppressing who he wanted to be for years, which sometimes made him run headlong towards a possible death.
Kristin Beck, a transgender retired Navy SEAL who used to be named Chris, made a splash in the media Wednesday after President Donald Trump announced he would bar transgender people from serving in the military.
“Let’s meet face to face and you tell me I’m not worthy,” Beck told Business Insider. “Transgender doesn’t matter. Do your service.”
And she certainly did her service. She was a SEAL for 20 years, completing tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia, among other places, and receiving numerous medals, including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and 27 other medals.
Born in 1966, she grew up on a Pennsylvania farm. Never feeling comfortable in her own body, she would sometimes try on her sister’s dresses, until her father caught him.
“He gave me a good enough scare that it would be a real long time before I ever did it again in front of anybody,” she told the Washington Post in 2015.
She had been feeling like a girl somewhere around the ages of 11 to 16, but tried to suppress it. She went on to play sports, and later attended the Virginia Military Institute before joining the SEALs.
The SEALs were “the toughest of the tough,” she told CNN in 2014. “[I thought] I could totally make it go away if I could be at that top level. … Maybe I could cure myself.”
But that didn’t work. She hid who she really was throughout her military career, even from her brothers in arms.
Not only were transgender people barred from service then, but she also feared what her comrades would think or do. There was a “chance that – if I took [the chance of coming out] – I might be dead today,” she told CNN.
Everything else about her, though, was genuine. “I gave true brotherhood. I did my best, 150% all the time, and I gave strength and honor and my full brotherhood to every military person I ever worked with.”
- Pinterest/Kristin Beck
Still, she said, “no one ever met the real me. No one knew anything,” according to the documentary, “Lady Valor.”
She went on to marry a woman, Shelly, and they had two kids, Max and Henry. “I was just trying to fit in to the stereotype American dream, exactly what my parents and everyone expected of me,” she said in the film.
Throughout their nine year marriage, Beck was deployed “almost constantly,” and the affects of war and post-traumatic stress disorder exacerbated her identity issues.
During her 13 deployments, Beck completed hundreds of missions, carried out “advanced tradecraft captures” and was even the ground force commander for her Afghanistan operations.
She witnessed her own brothers in arms get killed, as well as innocent civilians and her enemies too. But Beck didn’t let PTSD affect her as much as others. By that time, she was skilled at pushing pain to the side.
“While many people have full-blown flashbacks of combat,” Beck wrote in her memoir, “Warrior Princess,” which is written in the third person, “[Beck] would see snapshots of fallen friends and scenes. It was like still photos that appeared in his mind, one after the other … It was the worst at night.”
Beck slowly tried to reveal her true self to her wife, but it didn’t go well.
“She wasn’t totally digging it,” she told CNN. “So she had no idea what she was getting into. Definitely wasn’t the top on her list of things that she wanted, so it hurt.”
Eventually Shelly left Beck and took their two kids. When Beck was on leave for a few days, she would try to visit them, but was always turned away.
“You showed up for two days and then you disappear again!” Shelly once pointed out to Beck. “What do you expect from them?”
While hurt by this, Beck only blamed herself. “I messed them up so bad!” she wrote in her memoir. “I am worthless to them now. How can I go back and fix this? If ever?”
- Pinterest/Kristin Beck
At this point, still in the Navy, she would spend a lot of time alone trying to find herself. She tried going to gay bars, and bonded with many of the men, but still didn’t quite fit in.
She “played with the idea of going home with a guy, but it was too scary and also didn’t fit her sense of self as a “straight girl,” she wrote in her memoir.
In Afghanistan, she was injured numerous times. A Taliban rocket landed close to her arm once, which is still scarred. She damaged her ribs while falling off the roof of a hut, as well as her knees from a rough parachute landing. The disks in her spine were also badly injured from years of strain.
These injuries make it difficult for her to sleep – not to mention the mental trauma, and years of living like an owl going on night raids.
This all came to a breaking point one night when Beck was nearing the end of her service. Unable to sleep, she grabbed a bottle of liquor and began to drink.
“Will I ever be able to be me?” she asked herself as she kept looking at her gun resting on a shelf. “Take it and just get it done with now! You don’t deserve to be alive.”
She picked up the pistol and examined it, but then re-considered. “There’s still so much out there to do,” she thought, and put the gun down.
And she’s certainly done that.
In 2011, she retired from SEAL Team 6 – just a few months before the team took out Osama bin Laden. A few years later, she publicly revealed her true identity by posting a picture of herself in a dress on LinkedIn.
Initially, some of her SEAL brothers thought it was a joke, but many have since supported her transformation and new found happiness.
“I’m here for any team guy – or team girl,” Travis Lively, a former SEAL, said in the “Lady Valor.”
Since her transformation, Beck has made an unsuccessful yet rather impressive 2015 run for Congress, starred in a Netflix documentary, published a memoir, worked as a military consultant, and traveled the country as a public speaker and advocate.
“It took me a long time to get to this point where I’m comfortable living in my own skin,” she told CNN in 2014. “I’m very comfortable living the way I’m living right now, because it’s natural to me now, and I’ve never had that.”
The LGBTQ community made great strides during former President Barack Obama’s tenure. Some even said that Beck’s 2013 memoir “could impact the military’s transgender rules.”
In 2016, the ban on transgender persons to serve openly in the military was lifted. On Wednesday, however, President Donald Trump on Twitter proposed barring them from serving the military in any capacity, reportedly get a border wall funding bill through the House.
“In one word, what would you say America is?” Beck asked rhetorically on CNN Wednesday night. “For me personally, I would say that one word is liberty. And with that one tweet, [Trump’s] taken away my liberty and the liberty of a lot of other people. [Trump’s] taken away from thousands and thousands of people the right to personal liberty. That’s not the American way.”
She also had a message for transgender service members: “I would say to those people who are transgender, out, and serving to just let the dust settle a little bit,” Beck told CNN. “And then we’re going to work through this.”