On March 7 during free hour, retired United States Navy SEAL Kristin Beck spoke to a crowd in the Summit Flex Space about her experiences as a transgender woman, with a message of inclusiveness and self-acceptance.
Despite the inclement weather, the event had over 60 attendees. After an introduction by Veterans Club President Ricardo Acuna, Beck began her presentation by showcasing a long list of labels and accomplishments ranging from ordained minister to surfer. Beck then explained to the audience that everyone has a list made up of the facets of their own identity. The diverse list underlined a central theme of the speech, which concerned the complex navigation of identity that every person goes through.
Beck told of her early life growing up on a farm. Her father was a football coach who beat her for wearing dresses. Beck would steal and hide clothing from her sister, to wear in private. When she turned 18, Beck resolved that she would not dress as a woman anymore, but within months she had begun again.
Beck went to college and played sports, trying to suppress who she was. “I wasn’t living my full potential,” Beck said. “I wasn’t living my full life. I wasn’t really me.” She encouraged the members of the audience to live their most authentic selves, noting that the time spent as a college student is a great opportunity to define one’s self. Beck also stressed the importance of listening to diverse viewpoints in developing one’s identity.
Speaking about her 20 years of service, Beck said her focus wasn’t on being “the person that was there to blow the bridges up…I was there to build those bridges.” Beck told a story about a mission in which she grabbed a small child from an impending firefight, using her body to shield him. Beck admitted all of this may run counter to some people’s perception of the military but said she believes that soldiers and law enforcement are truly devoted to serving and protecting.
Beck spent a period of time hiding her identity, presenting as a woman at home, but still not out at work. After a confrontation with her sister, who punched her and called her a “liar” for living this way, Beck walked into the Pentagon the next day wearing a dress.
Living authentically did not always come easily. In 2012, Beck was assaulted in Tampa by four men who knocked her to the ground and kicked her. Beck used this story of violence against her to illustrate the difficulty trans people face, also citing the high murder rates of trans people in America. She expressed her desire for transphobia to end, and that people would be able to see her for all that she is. “I am worthy. I am an American. I am a patriot. I am a human.”
The speech was followed by a question and answer session. One attendee asked Beck whether she would go back in time and change her life if she could. She responded that it was her experiences, good and bad, that shaped her and she would not want to change the person she had become.
Another attendee asked Beck about “living in the gray.” Beck explained “the gray” as being a state outside of a strict gender binary. In an interview with the Knight News, Beck elaborated on this idea. “I am hyper-masculine and I’m hyper-feminine…when you take both of those together it evens out and I become that medium, that gray area.”
When just wearing jeans and a t-shirt, Beck said people often imply that this suggests she is “faking” her gender identity. However, Beck explained “the clothing doesn’t make me male or female,” rather the clothing is primarily for other people to perceive her as a woman, as she knows her own identity. Beck stated that everyone is performing their identities in various ways, from wearing suits to job interviews to wearing biker jackets. “It’s always a performance.”
Veterans Outreach Specialist Dennis Torres credited the various organizations involved with organizing the event, including Student Development and Leadership, Veterans Club, and GLASA. “We wanted something to follow up on our last ‘Celebrating Diversity in Leadership” and felt [this event] was perfect timing given the 25 year anniversary of the first pride parade in Queens.”
Amir Chohan, treasurer of GLASA, similarly noted the role collaboration played in the event’s creation. “It meant a lot to have Kristen come to QC. I’m happy GLASA was able to work with the Veteran’s Club to get her here.”
Chohan also explained the importance of Beck’s visit to QC. “I hope students walked away from the event understanding that diversity should be celebrated, and I hope they see we are not different. Kristen represents a person who is in both the veteran’s community, as well as the LGBT+ community. She’s able to teach us that our differences can bring us together.”