Think you know what a real man is? A strong, macho, GI Joe kind of all-American m-a-n man? Certainly they are in all the places and professions you’d imagine – tinker, tailor, soldier, spy – but let’s look for a moment at the “soldier” assignation. Or, more accurately in this case, sailor. Nothing could be more macho than a military man and no military man could be more vaunted, respected or fitting of the stereotype of MAN than a special ops Navy SEAL. This story is about one such man: a 20-year veteran who was a member of the elite SEAL Team 6 (the same one that took out Osama bin Laden), who came out as transgender and began the transition in 2011 to evolve from male to female, from Chris Beck to, now, Kristen Beck.
While gender transition can be fraught with emotional and societal challenges for anyone in any field, for a Navy SEAL, one of the most entrenched categories of the male identity, the conflict of dealing with gender issues while bound by both military culture and policy were particularly excruciating. Though the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ended official discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military, it did not end the ban on transgender service members, which means transgender men or women are at risk of discharge if their status is discovered. For Beck, that meant hiding not only the external trappings of her femininity (panty hose were tucked way back in the drawer), but keeping any indication of her true gender from public view. And as a SEAL, that meant maintaining a look and performance that was in keeping with the “macho” man she was… and she did.
In her new memoir published just this week, Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender, Beck talks about the struggles of living with a dual gender, as well as the ultimate decision to retire and start facing the reality of who she was. It was shortly before her team took on the bin Laden mission in 2011 that Beck retired and began hormonal therapy as the initial step in her transition.
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