Kristin Beck at Danny’s Bar, June, 2019
Kristin Beck saw them coming. Twenty of them. “Navy SEALs. Leather jackets. Motorcycles. I knew what this was going to be about. ‘If you don’t leave, we’re going to beat the shit out of you.’”
Kristin Beck, once known as Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator, Navy SEAL Chris Beck, was wearing a Bronze Star medal with the “V” for valor in combat and a Purple Heart recognizing her injuries in combat from bullets and bombs. But she was in San Diego (on her Ducati) for this memorial service, because it was for a SEAL friend Mike Martin, who had died.
Kristin Beck at the funeral in question
The name change, of course, had made Beck famous in a way many of her SEAL colleagues didn’t appreciate. “From Conan to Barbie,” Beck says, of how many view her transition from man to woman. The title art of a documentary about her (Lady Valor) features a row of upright bullets surrounding a bullet-shaped lipstick dispenser. Because that’s it. He is now a she. And to some members of the SEAL fraternity, that doesn’t make them look good.
“What’s it going to be?” Beck recalls the SEAL confronting her saying, while his 20 buddies hovered. Beck had intended to be part of the motorcycle cortège for his comrade in arms out to Miramar National Cemetery. The family were waiting.
“I’m here to pay respects to my friend,” Beck says she told the group. “Now you 20 brave men are going to beat me up, a single person. I’ve served with some of you. You do this and you cause a scene in front of his family? Where’s your humanity man? He said something like ‘You’re leaving,’” which, reluctantly, Beck did. “There was the family to think of. So there wasn’t a brawl. I let them kick me out.”
I had met Beck the night before this incident, in Danny’s Bar, one of Coronado’s favorite Navy Seal hangouts. She was there with two friends from the Greek Special Forces. One of them had also transitioned to a woman. It was noisy but comradely. Beck was showing pictures from Afghanistan days when he (then) took part in missions dressed in local garb, bearded, somewhere in North Waziristan.
Chris Beck, Afghanistan, 2008
Was she aware of feelings against her new identity? “Of course. Believe me, I have been living with insults and death threats ever since I transitioned. And I didn’t even start the process (of transitioning into a woman) until well after I had retired from the Navy. Even now, I’ll get maybe 100 emails in a day. Around six of those will be death threats.... I’m not doing this transition like they accuse me of, for kicks, or as a sexual fantasy. This is not fun. It is very dangerous. And for the sake of peace at Miramar, I never got to say goodbye to my friend. Except I did stand at the entrance and yell it to him as he rolled by.”
So why did Beck take this toughest road of all — to become a Navy SEAL — when from the start, as a kid, she felt she should be a girl? “My dad wanted me to do manly things, so I went all the way. SEALs were the biggest bad-asses around.... But I was always lonely, apart, because I was not being my true self. I felt I had no value, no worth. I lived on a farm. At school I wrestled, boxed, played football, and I was good at things. But I felt alone, because inside, I couldn’t be myself. I lived in a basement. At 15, I bought a motorcycle and went to live in the woods.”
Chris Beck in 2011, year he retired from Navy
After transition, Beck agreed to work on a book about it with Dr. Anne Speckhard, a professor from Georgetown University Medical Center psychiatry department. The resulting book was called Warrior Princess. “I hate that book! After two months, I stopped cooperating. She made the rest up.”
Beck says claims in the book that the beatings his daddy meted out were what turned him into a transgender candidate are untrue. “In other words, she was claiming it was nurture, not nature. Not so. I have been me since I was born.”
Beck also ran for Congress, as a Democrat in Maryland’s 5th District, in 2016. “Never again. You have to be a good liar. And you have to be one or the other — Republicans love the Bible and the flag. Democrats love the peace sign. Me, I love a peaceful flag.”
Kristin Beck, complete with SEAL insignia and medals
She can’t talk too much about the combat and traumas of her long career for fear it will awaken her PTSD. But she has been active in creating a foundation (Mindful Valor Foundation) to help other people with trauma issues. “The VA pumps drugs into you. They deal with the symptoms. That doesn’t help the causes.”
So her foundation looks at approaches such as yoga and meditation. “Relationships, gratitude for friends, these are the things that have saved people through the ages, since way before drugs,” she says.
The most important thing? “Forgive yourself, and others.... It might be for that time in combat when you made a split-second decision that turned out wrong. And the same goes when it comes to forgiving others. You have to let go.”
So has she let go, when it comes to 20 SEALs who kicked her out of her friend’s funeral? “I still don’t understand. In this country, our basic premise is liberty... but, yes, I forgive them. It’s time to move on.”