Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story
I live in Brooklyn, which has a thriving rainbow community. The longer I live here, and the more fabulous people I meet, the harder it is for me to watch the news or listen to political debates. Because the U.S. culture wars rage on – but those “issues” that politicians are discussing with such vigor? Those issues are actually people. And not just abstract people – those people are my friends, neighbors, and co-workers. I go to church with those people and sit next to them on the subway.
The 2014 documentary Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story touches on one such person. It presents Kristin Beck’s life journey in a quiet and intimate way. First, there was “Chris” Beck, a determined and even reckless U.S. Navy SEAL who served in Afghanistan and Iraq from 1990-2011, including voluntary deployments, and who earned a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and two Defense Meritorious Service Medals. But in Lady Valor, Beck explains that she always kept part of herself hidden away from family, friends, and fellow SEALs.
Then one day, two years after retiring from SEALs, she showed up to work at the Pentagon dressed in women’s clothing and began her journey of coming out as transgender. In this documentary, she explains that pivotal step, tells us about her past in light of her newly embraced identity, and shares the struggles she knows still lie ahead.
The film’s directors are established documentarians – not so much specialists in telling trans stories, but in telling all kinds of stories that inspire and shed light on human experiences. Lady Valor isn’t about an interesting person who happens to be trans; “being trans” is definitely the spotlight issue at hand.
As Beck said in an interview with Diplomatic Courier, “The film Lady Valor was made for that purpose – to open people’s minds, to let them see who we are. There is a very high suicide rate amongst LGBT youth. Many of them are bullied and confused. Hopefully, this film can help to get rid of some of the ignorance and some of the bullying that goes on. Hopefully, we can help some of these kids to not kill themselves over something that isn’t quite as drastic as they think it is. And maybe this film can help us all grow and live beautiful lives together, male and female, black and white, Christian and Muslim – grow together as part of the human race. That was the biggest reason behind making this film.”
Lady Valor is an extension of her other work: advocating for the transgender community, specifically those in the military like she was. Whether it’s working in politics, in government, or behind-the-scenes projects like this documentary, Beck is committed to her goals of raising awareness, teaching about acceptance, and building safe spaces for her community.
Lady Valor is a quiet documentary. It goes back and forth between reflective chats with Beck in her RV as she travels around the country, and interviews with family members, friends, co-workers, and fellow SEALs. Beck comes across as peaceful and determined, almost serene, about her transition and her choice to do it publicly. She knows that she’s picked the harder path, “harder than some of the [SEAL] missions I went on,” she admits. But it’s striking to compare the Kristin Beck of today to the picture of the depressed, angry, violent, and secretive Chris Beck which everyone paints of her life up until coming out.
On the other hand, many people close to her are struggling in ways to wrap their minds around the change. Her brothers and father tend to refer to her by he/him pronouns when giving interviews, and are frank about how bewildered they feel about her journey. “I never saw a girl in him,” insisted her brother; and her father confessed, “I never saw this coming.”
It touched my heart to see their pain and confusion. It’s understandable that a father might be hurt or confused when faced with the reality that such a fundamental part of his child’s identity was never what he believed it to be. Still, it’s obvious from the film that Beck’s family is working toward full support and love, in spite of their confusion or disagreement.
Beck said that “My favorite scene was when I was in my RV. One of my legs is pretty bad and it’s hard for me to take off my boot. My father helps me take off my boot, and he’s kind of laughing. He looks up at the camera with that laugh and a smile, as father to daughter. It’s the smile of a parent’s love for their kid. I just wanted to stop it on that frame."
Beck has been in the news again in past weeks as part of the backlash from President Donald Trump’s tweets about reinstating the recently-reversed ban of transgender members of the U.S. military. As many others have, Beck claimed that the expense of covering trans health care is “negligible” compared to the overall military budget. And what’s more, in her opinion it’s not a viable concern for unit camaraderie either.
"A very professional unit with great leadership wouldn't have a problem," Beck told Business Insider. "I can have a Muslim serving right beside Jerry Falwell, and we're not going to have a problem. It's a leadership issue, not a transgender issue."
Probably the most moving part of the film for me was when Beck admitted to the cameras, “I don’t really know what transgender is either."
How huge. How vulnerable. Sometimes our true selves don’t jive with the labels society gives us.
Lady Valor isn’t quite an example of innovative moviemaking by-and-for transgender folk. But if Kristin Beck’s story sounds like something that would encourage, educate and speak to you, definitely check it out. This is exactly what she hoped the documentary would achieve. As Beck says, “if my story can save one life or educate a bully to curb their ignorance then I have done what I intended.”