Transgender Navy SEAL speaks out in moving memoir

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Picking up a new book for the first time may seem intimidating, especially if it has a well-built, muscular, heavily-bearded man dressed in a military uniform on the front cover of it. However, “Warrior Princess,” a biography by Kristin Beck and Anne Speckhard, is not a book to be judged by its cover.

At first glance, the book is formatted much differently than other biographies. “Warrior Princess” is a chronicle of short stories collected to follow Chris Beck’s transition to Kristin Beck, a male-to-female transition.

Chris had been a U.S. Navy SEAL, one of the most demanding positions within the military. While in the military he faced 13 different deployments, seven of them in high-combat zones. He fought honorably throughout his time in the Navy SEALs, facing many different injuries and the loss of many men he fought beside while in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

During his 20 years in the military, he was married twice and had two children, all the while suppressing his desire to be a woman. His marriage to Shelly, his first wife, brought him his two children, Max and Henry. The marriage failed after Chris was deployed almost constantly for nine years while simultaneously dealing both with his underlying gender identity conflict and the ramifications of war, including post-traumatic stress disorder. His second marriage to his ex-wife Samantha lasted only a few years.

The rest of the book describes Chris’ transition into Kristin and her experience of coming out as a woman to all of her colleagues at the Department of Defense, as well as all of the people she had met while in the SEALs. The transition was mostly welcomed with words of encouragement. The major consensus at the DOD was that her skill set and intelligence did not change — she was still the same person with the same capabilities and intellect, just a different way of presenting herself after her transition into her new body.

Overall, the book was very strong. It tells the story of Chris’ abusive family and sheds some light on the perils of war, such as being down range in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the after-effects of dealing with PTSD. The conclusion brings insight to gender identity, especially for Kristin, who had been dealing with this for more than 30 years. She had suppressed it deep down inside her throughout every event in her life — through deployment, being state-side, interactions with her family and day-to-day life.

Toward the end of the book, Kristin talks about the perils young transgender children face. “I don’t deserve the disrespect and ridicule they throw at me. People don’t point at wheelchairs and laugh. But they laugh at me,” she wrote. “I feel like Quasimodo. I feel extremely sorry for kids growing up with this issue — girls and boys. The suicide rate among transgender kids is off the charts; it’s about 50 percent! It’s a shame and I want to reach out to all of them. They shouldn’t be bullied; they are people and deserve happiness.”

Kristin is concerned about the young transgender people in the United States because of the discrimination they face. According to a February 2011 report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, transgender youth in K-12 schools experience enormous rates of abuse from their classmates — 78 percent reported that they were harassed, 35 percent reported they were physically assaulted and 12 percent reported sexual violence. This harassment was actually severe enough to lead 15 percent of the transgender youth involved in the study to leave school. Meanwhile, the same study reports that, of the students who experienced harassment or violence in school, 51 percent attempted suicide.

Chris hid his female identity completely when he was young, even though he began wanting to be a woman when he was 10 years old. Chris was raised in a family that rejected any notions of gender identity or sexual orientation outside of heterosexuality.

Kristin also had to hide her identity while she was in the SEALs. She suppressed all thoughts of wanting to be a woman through the constant pressure of multiple back-to-back deployments and the constant training leading up to deployments. While she was with the SEALs, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was still in place. The policy meant that LGBT service members could remain in the military, but only if they remained closeted. While Kristin was serving, she hid her identity to uphold the policy. Even though the thoughts of wanting to be a woman would often creep into her mind, she would suppress them, continue to face war zones and drink.

This book addresses the extremely important issues that transgender individuals face in day-to-day society and to an event greater extent within the armed forces. “Warrior Princess” sheds light on the chronicled stories of one person, but the empathy and understanding coming from this book is important for anyone facing gender identity. Even more than that, it’s important for others who aren’t transgender. It’s important to see the struggles, the battles and the happiness that comes from transitioning from one gender to another. I rate this book 4.5 stars out of 5.

Jakki Thompson is a junior in journalism and mass communications and American ethnic studies. Please send comments to edge@kstatecollegian.com.

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