Former SEAL and transgender woman are just labels to Kristin Beck

Jonathan Kaupanger
July 16, 2018 - 5:58 pm

Photo by J. Kaupanger

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You don’t get to meet an actual warrior princess every day but today Kristin Beck stopped by Connecting Vets to talk about everything from being human to service dogs and even Chelsea Manning.

Beck is a retired Senior Chief Petty Officer who ran for Congress, co-wrote a book, was the focus of a CNN documentary, served in the Navy for 20 years, had 13 deployments, seven of which were to combat zones and earned both the Bronze Star with valor and Purple Heart.  But you might remember her best as the transgender Navy SEAL.

“I don’t want you to think of me as transgender or female or male or any of the above,” says Beck.   

It’s quickly obvious that she’s used to this topic.  Her words are chosen to educate, but in a kind way. 

“I want you to look at me as a human.  I don’t want you to look at me as a transgender person.  I hate that.  If all you do is just look at the color of my skin, or you look at my gender or you look at my sexual orientation and that’s all you concentrate on, you’re missing so much more.”

Beck began transitioning after retiring in 2011.  The media frenzy when she posted a photo as a woman in 2013 was as she puts it, like a hurricane.  She’s managed to stay calm and centered through spirituality, her wife and her farm.  But there’s a very special tool that Beck travels with for even more support and to deal with PTS and what she says are a couple of anger issues;  it’s a Labrador Retriever named Lily.

Lily is Beck’s service dog and she helps by carrying items, reminding Beck to take her medication and as Kristin puts it, “She helps me deal with situations that might otherwise preclude me from leaving the house.”

With such a public profile, Beck is helping society understand that service dogs are in fact working and that people really need to leave them alone. 

Kristin explains, “Someone who lost their legs and is in a wheelchair, you don’t walk up to that person in the wheelchair and start petting their wheelchair.  You don’t start saying, ‘Awww, how old is your wheelchair?  It’s such a cute wheelchair, what’s his name?’”

Photo by J. Kaupanger

Beck would like people to realize that a service dog is her wheelchair.  It’s her way to do things that otherwise she wouldn’t be able to do.  To put it simpler, “Leave my dog alone.”

She tells about being in a bar once with her dog and someone, on the other side of the room, started calling Lily.  While working, Lily, like other working dogs, wears a vest that says that she is working.  Beck asked the person to stop calling the dog.  A few minutes later the guy started it again. 

“So I stood up,” says the former Navy SEAL. “The reason I have this service dog is so that I’m not over there punching you in the face and believe me,” she continued “I have enough training that I’m going to hurt you.”  Beck told the unfortunate dog lover that she has post-traumatic stress, TBI and a couple of anger issues.   

Another good way to get a rise out of Beck is to mention Chelsea Manning.  They have never met and Beck says probably never will.  “She and I have a lot in common, but there are some basic things I totally disagree with,” Kristin says firmly.  “One is loyalty.  One is honestly... and commitment to your promises.  If you sign a four year contract to defend the Constitution, you’re signing a four year contract with the American people!”

It becomes clear that Beck will not trash talk Manning even when pushed.  The harshest thing said was that a true whistleblower would only release a few documents, and only after redaction.  You can feel Beck’s disapproval, but she doesn’t go past that.  She remains kind to the core.

How she stays like that is the million dollar question.  Maybe it’s her life on the farm.  Certainly her wife and family help.  Lily  is obviously useful but talk to Beck for a while and you keep circling back to spirituality and being human.  “God’s image is not color or gender or anything that we’re seeing right here, right now,” says Beck.  “God’s image is that soul.  That spark, that energy!  If you can, see that in me, rather than the labels about gender and all the other things we stick on there.”

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