In every Navy SEAL is a memoir, it seems lately. Retired SEAL Kristin Beck's new memoir, published on Tuesday and titled Warrior Princess, is a bit different, though. In it, Beck describes how, over the course of her 20 year military career, including thirteen deployments over the globe, she slowly became more and more aware that was she meant to live life as a woman — a vexing and often tormenting realization for a long-time member of an elite all-male unit that went on to capture and kill Osama bin Laden. Beck, who identified as a man (and went by the name Chris) while in the Navy, explains that she decided to undergo hormonal therapy some time after retiring in early 2011, and eventually came out to colleagues by posting a picture of herself dressed as a woman on LinkedIn earlier this year:
That night Kris put up a new photo to her LinkedIn profile — the one taken by Christy of Kris standing in front of the American flag. This time Kris wrote, "I am now taking off all my disguises and letting the world know my true identity as a woman." Kris also changed her name on her profile page to Kristin Beck.
To Beck's surprise, her former SEAL buddies were supportive, even ecstatic:
Soon, the responses from SEALs stationed all around the world suddenly started pouring in: "Brother, I am with you ... being a SEAL is hard, this looks harder. Peace" * "I can't say I understand the decision but I respect the courage. Peace and happiness be upon you...Jim" * " ... I just wanted to drop you a note and tell you that Kris has all the support and respect from me that Chris had ... and quite possibly more. While I'm definitely surprised, I'm also in amazement at the strength you possess and the courage necessary to combat the strangers and 'friends' that I'm guessing have reared their ugly heads prior to and since your announcement. ..."
According to the book's author biography, Beck worked in the private sector as a military consultant before being tapped by the Secretary of Defense to develop technology used by active-duty soldiers. Beck's openness about her post-SEAL life makes her something of an anomaly among SEAL memoirists, who tend to write behind pseudonyms, especially when discussing classified military intelligence. By contrast, Beck includes dozens of pictures from her deployments and her life at home, pre- and post-transition, in Warrior Princess.
Having retired a few months before SEALs dispatched Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Beck's memoir is also something of a welcome relief from the proliferating genre of Navy SEAL memoirs, particularly those centered on the details of the bin Laden raid. On Monday, Vanity Fair investigated the well-documented disagreements between two members of SEAL Team Six (one of whom was recently profiled, but not named, in Esquire) about who, exactly, killed bin Laden. "It usually takes years for a full account to emerge, for details to be unclassified, and for many participants to feel comfortable talking about it," Mark Bowden concludes after siding with Esquire's version of events.
At the same time, Warrior Princess is still poised to have an effect on military policy. Even after the long-sought repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which barred gay servicemembers from discussing their sexuality, transgender individuals remain banned from entering military service. (Co-writer Anne Speckhard writes that Beck "didn't feel he was gay. But he also didn't feel he was a man, so he didn't really know how to negotiate a sexual relationship whilst in a man's body. He was lost—with no maps, no compass, and no guide.") So perhaps this memoir, which documents the secret torment of one of the U.S. military's most effective and loyal agents, will lay the groundwork for even greater inclusion in the armed forces.