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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity SGD Kristin Beck interview: Transgender former US Navy SEAL

Kristin Beck interview: Transgender former US Navy SEAL

Kristin-MAIN-300x450For 20 years, Kristin (then Christopher) Beck served in the United States’ Navy’s Sea, Air, Land Teams – an elite squad trained to operate in extreme environments and tasked with fighting terrorism. In 2013, after retiring from the SEALs, Beck revealed her long-held gender identity issues and transitioned to live as female. On the eve of the debut screening on CNN of a documentary about her life, Beck spoke with Katrina Fox about vulnerability and courage, war and peace, and whether women and trans people should be allowed to be SEALs.

27 August 2014

This interview was conducted via Skype during the evening Kristin Beck was driving from New York to Washington DC to take part in a discussion following the screenings of Lady Valor, a CNN-produced film about her life.

Key points (edited) from the interview:

On vulnerability and courage:

Every time you see action movies you only see the times when people are courageous. They edit out the rest. CNN filmed my life and eventually you forget about the cameras and live your life. All of us, including SEALs, are humans. We have strengths and weaknesses and it’s not always like the movies; there’s not always a happy ending. Sometimes you have hard times and I’m glad I’m on the other side of that and have the support of family and friends.

Being vulnerable is to be courageous. It’s like when you have a big party at your house and you clean it up and make it pretty but we all do have flaws and you have to show those flaws otherwise you come across as plastic. I’m not plastic. I’m a regular person just like everyone else.

As a SEAL there is no vulnerability. When I’m in uniform I am Superman. When I’m in my SEAL team and we’re going in [on a mission], I have to believe I am bullet-proof and can take care of anything that goes wrong. You can’t go in thinking you’re weak or you will lose every time. So we work very hard and practice all the time and try to be perfect. It’s our job to be invincible.

Now I’m able to start living my regular life. Now my job is to be a human being and show who we are and bring a connection.

Kristin-headshot-300On learnings from time as a SEAL that are useful today:

Things I learned as a SEAL that I use now in my current life is I know people don’t always mean to be bad to each other. It’s not always on purpose so sometimes you need a thick skin and to give people a break and make up for each other if we see one of us is doing wrong.

I try to fix everyone around me. If you have a weak link and everyone pitches in, you can get them out of rough spots. I do that with my family and friends. We help each other out. It’s about team work. If someone picks on me, maybe they don’t understand, so I explain to them that what they said is hurtful and give them a chance to fix it.

There are a lot of bullies out there. As an adult I experience bullies. You’re going to experience it. Tell the bully how it feels. Don’t get wrapped up in the bully, and don’t give yourself a hard time. Get through the rough times. It will get better.

On family:

You see in the film my father learns a lot and I give him time to grow. If it took me 40-plus years to get where I am and suddenly spring this secret on everyone, you have to give them time to catch up.

My dad was shocked, then he gets used to [my transition] and starts to understand. I published an open letter to my dad on the PFLAG website because lot of parents struggle with the issue of their kids being transgender. I wanted them to see you get past it.

My family has caught up and we’re a happy family again. My mother has come around now.

On war:

What happens in warfare is a tragedy. Any nation that has to resort to violence and war, it’s a shame and I see it as a failure of our politicians that we have to do that. We shouldn’t have to subject 19 and 20-year-olds to battle and killing each other.

We need to start being better about our policies and how nations are to each other. It’s too bad I had to be part of that but if other nations come to free nations such as the US and our allies including Canada and Australia, aggressively, I’d go to war for anyone of those at the drop of a hat.

We’re doing it for the right things, for freedom and liberty, so I never regret anything I did as a SEAL. I was fighting for the right cause and things happened. I hope our politicians will continue to work hard to prevent war and do everything in our power to stop it but if we have to go to war, I’ll go.

Kristin-beard-300On anti-war activism:

I’d rather be pro peace not anti war. Sometimes anti-war activists don’t understand there’s a lot of bad people in the world.

We’re probably not going to get rid of all war for a very long time. If you look at any kid’s playground and in the sandbox there are kids kicking sand on the other kids and won’t stop if it wasn’t for the adult going in and separating them and stopping the bullying – and this is kids aged three and five.

That’s what happens with nations. Sometimes bad things happen and we have to go to war. We have to separate the bad from the good and if it takes war, so be it. I’m pro peace. I see people being beheaded. In the middle east I saw atrocities and we have stop that.

I want peace to happen but sometimes we have to make it happen. If you’re bad, I’m going to find you and make you stop.

On women being allowed to join the SEALs:

There are a lot of women out there who can do the job. But are they in the military right now? Or do they want to join? If you look at the numbers is it worth it right now because we don’t have the programs?

I want women to do it but it doesn’t make sense to force it to happen. The current qualifications for SEALS include having to run a seven-minute mile, do 25 pull-ups and 80 push ups in two minutes. How many women can do that right now? We are equal but physically we’re not all the same.

There’s lot of men who can’t make the SEAL standards. There are not many women who can do 25 pull-ups. You have to find those women and have them meet the current qualifications. I don’t want to lower the standards as they’re there for good reasons.

The numbers don’t match up at the moment, so we need more women joining the military and becoming air-borne qualified then we can ramp it up. It’s like I can’t get my doctorate without having my high school grad degree. So let’s open up the other programs to women first.

If women did get in, we have to figure out how it would work. Men and women shop together, they’re in the police force – we do a lot of thing together. We have to figure it out.

On trans women as SEALS:

[When asked if she could have transitioned as a SEAL, would she and could she have stayed on as a SEAL and would she want to]:

I don’t know. Let’s take that one a step at a time. There’s still a lot of stigma associated. There are even issues that need to be worked through with lesbians and gay people in the US military. The Australian armed forces are doing a great job and the US can take a lot of lessons in regards to implementation of policies. I hope I’m invited to the Pentagon again to help work out these issues.

I’m working with the Military Freedom Coalition to bring awareness. We’re getting the facts because I want facts, not myths or emotion.

If I see something wrong, a civil right wrong, I try to fix it. Imagine if everyone did that. If I see litter on the ground, I pick it up. If everyone did that and we took care of each other, we’d be living in a beautiful world. We have to help each other out.

The film Lady Valor screens on CNN on 4 September. For more information on the film, visit LadyValorfilm.com.

Kristin Beck’s website is at Ladyvalor.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Katrina Fox is editor-in-chief at The Scavenger. She is the co-editor of the books Finding the Real Me: True Tales of Sex and Gender Diversity and Trans People in Love.

Images: Courtesy of CNN and Kristin Beck.

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