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Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story

by Louise Adams
Thursday Jul 10, 2014
A scene from ’Lady Valor’
A scene from ’Lady Valor’  

Chris Beck was a Navy SEAL from 1990-2011, and served his country in the world's most dangerous spots, such as Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, for 13 tours. He was injured and decorated many times over, including receiving a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. His current deployment is as a transgender woman, becoming the "new person I always knew I was and wished I could be," as chronicled in the comprehensive and compassionate CNN documentary "Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story."

Beck herself, as well as her family and colleagues who accept her change, liken the gender reassignment to a new battle requiring "a whole different type of courage." A friend in her small hometown of Wellsville, NY, tearily remarks, "We're glad Kristin's not going to war anymore, but this is scarier."

Beck travels in a small RV with her rescue dog Bo, who, at a year, is as old as her being out as a woman. "He grew up with me," she says. Plus, "Bo doesn't know the difference between jeans and a dress."

Now retired from the military but still an important tactical consultant, Beck gives "Warrior Princess" motivational and anti-bullying speeches around the country while responding to the many emails she receives, some asking for transition advice, some transmitting death threats.

"Makeup is my new armor," she says, and goes to shooting ranges in high-heeled boots.

In addition to New York, Beck drives to the Virginia Military Institute for her 25th college reunion; to St. Petersburg, FL, where she's building a veterans' retreat called Healing Grounds; and to San Diego, which she considers her home after being stationed there with the Navy for 12 years.

Starting in the third grade, Chris would fake being sick to say at home to dress in his sisters' clothes. Her brother accepts Kristin, saying, "She's the same, just dresses different," but wonders if Chris was so brave during his service because he didn't want to live with his secret life.

"Once a SEAL, always a SEAL. That sister is my brother."

Kristin's dad has been supportive, saying, "You're my kid, and I will never turn my back on you." But her mom and two sisters are less accepting and declined to participate in this project. Mom feels that "It's just a phase, a reaction to the war."

"I don't understand," Beck relayed her mom's message. "Why can't you be normal and just be gay?"

Beck's fellow SEALs have had mixed feelings about her wearing a dress to the Pentagon ("I don't do anything halfway," she says). A typical response is, "I don't understand, but I support you." Some have shunned, shamed and attacked Beck in the media, but one said, "Once a SEAL, always a SEAL. That sister is my brother."

One said that, like expected during missions, he would have appreciated a "heads up" first, but that "this is her choice. This is what we fought to defend."

Beck was inducted into the LGBT Veterans Hall of Honor and shared that, "My birthright is to live a wonderful and happy life. That's all I'm asking for, what I still strive for."

She hopes her story will help end transphobia. "I'm a human being and I deserve dignity and respect," she said. "It would be a sucky world if we were all the same."

"I'm glad I'm different."

For information on screenings, visit http://www.ladyvalorfilm.com

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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