Kristin Beck, a Navy SEAL and Artist Still in the Fight

Kristin Beck, a Navy SEAL and Artist Still in the Fight

Kristin Beck, born Christopher Beck is known to be the first female Navy SEAL. She was first interviewed by Anderson Cooper in June of 2013 and quickly became known throughout the world. Soon after she became a civil rights activist giving speeches nation-wide. Beck is the subject of the upcoming CNN Film, “Lady Valor,” which will premiere on Thursday, September 4th.

Kristin Beck with one of herUS Navy SEAL-inspired paintings. Courtesy, Kristin Beck.

Kristin Beck with one of her US Navy SEAL-inspired paintings. Courtesy, Kristin Beck.

Beck distinguished herself in 20 years of exceptionally meritorious service with Special Operations Forces in the SEAL teams and served on multiple SEAL teams. She conducted special operations with small UAVs, HUMINT, and Direct Action missions in her thirteen deployments. Final tours were with Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) or SEAL Team #6 to head the Special Reconnaissance units and various Task Forces as a source handler and technical operations director. Beck has received the Bronze Star with a “V” for Valor and a Purple Heart during combat operations.

She has prepared and briefed position papers on Special Operations Forces- unique technology for State Department and White House approvals. As a result of these outstanding achievements, Kristin Beck received the coveted NDIA 2010 Special Operations Award. Now a civil rights activist, she gives speeches and lectures at various events around the country. Kristin was a key voice in the Congressional Bill to end discrimination toward the LGBT Community. Beck offers services in consulting, law enforcement training, motivational speeches, innovation collaborations, as well as creating many types of art and original works.

Kevin Williams: How are your art projects coming along? I know you have a show coming up to support a group dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans. Also, what are your future plans for it?

Kristin Beck: I’m working with the 296 Project and we have been having some gallery openings in Washington, D.C. We’ve sold out a few shows and I’m super-excited about that. The organizers can’t believe that it is sold out. I’ve sold a few pieces and have had some of them sell for around five-thousand dollars for a painting.

Kevin Williams: That’s awesome! And so needed.

296 ProjectKristin Beck: It’s been raising some really good money for the cause and with the money that 296 Project is raising… they are going to be able to bring some more art therapists in and give help to more guys who need it. They are going to go the Veterans Administration hospitals around the country, scout for people [they can help] and hand them sketch books, pencils, chalk, everything. So they are going to have a lot of stuff to hand out to veterans and try to motivate them to go into this type of therapy.

Kevin Williams: Well, how did you get interested in becoming an artist or learn how to do it?

Kristin Beck: I went to college at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and after VMI I went to Alfred University, which is world-renowned for ceramic art. I studied art at Alfred and got into painting and making pottery and sculptures. I have some of my painting and sculptures at the gallery at Alfred.

Kevin Williams: Were you interested in art as a kid or did you get interested during your high school years?

Kristin Beck: I did quite a bit of that in high school and I also read some poetry. So on the back of every painting that I create, I write a poem relating the painting itself and about what was going through my head at the time of the painting. My Mom painted so I kind of grew up around it. I figured that it rubbed off from my Mom, but I also got her stubbornness too. I’ll keep continuing down this road of making art. I’d like to have another gallery opening. I’d love to do one in New York City or San Francisco for the 296 Project.

Kevin Williams: Who inspired you as an artist or influenced you as an artist?

Kristin Beck: I like to invent things at my house so Leonardo Da Vinci is definitely an influence. Da Vinci’s sketches are just amazing. You can go look at hundreds of his works and he is so precise and exacting. He is also off-the-charts sometimes, so I take a lot of inspiration from him. I also take inspiration from welding and metal sculptures like David Smith. He was a well-known artist here in America in the 1940s and 50s and was amazing. Then, I’d say Salvador Dali. They are the three artists who I really admire… Da Vinci, Dali and David Smith.

  phoenix by Kristin BeckKevin Williams: Do you have a favorite media form that you like to use?

Kristin Beck: I only have three media forms that I really work in and I do a lot of mixed media so I mix the three of them up. I am a welder and the metal sculptures that I do are pretty far out. I also like ceramic, just clay and pottery. When I do clay, I do Raku because it is so primitive. It is just visceral when you are doing a Raku pot. It is just earthy and powerful and I use a special glaze from the 1980s that I’m not even sure anyone uses any more.

Sometimes I mix in potassium to get some really good blues or I use copper or cobalt or different heavy metals in the glaze, so when it is firing it will really bring out some really cool effects. It is pretty neat. Then acrylic latex for my paintings on canvas. I never really use oils, so the challenge of the acrylics is that it is harder to mix to get a really deep, deep, deep vibrant colors. But I’ve come up with a few ways that I am doing it. Most of my stuff is dark anyway so I don’t really need to worry about too many vibrant colors. (Ha-ha.)

Kristin Beck Art Photo 2

I’m kind of a dark person sometimes. Dark humor, dark art. I have a website that has a gallery with a lot of my art,

Kevin Williams: I know you are having your CNN television premiere this week after having your festival premiere at SXSW. For any independent film, even a CNN film, that is huge. Millions of people will now see this film about your life. What are your feelings regarding that?

Kristin Beck: Everyone is super-excited about it. But… in that cover story in Time Magazine (May 29th, 2014 issue with actress Laverne Cox), they really didn’t tell my side of the story. I was in the military. I’m not going to be a fashion model and be that tall, beautiful woman. Not ever. But I’m still going to ride my Harley and go to the range and shoot machine guns. I’m probably a lot further to the Right than anyone else in the LGBT Community. So I don’t really fit the stereotypes that they want me to fit.

Kevin Williams: Some sectors of the Media seem beholden to stereotypical ideas and images of transgender people cast on Jerry Springer and other TV shows… are you possibly the greatest challenge to those past ideas or beliefs due to your status of being a Navy SEAL and an Artist?

Kristin Beck: I’m not going to toot my own horn or jump around and say, “Look at me. Look at me!” But the fact is that I really am a great challenge to the Media because I don’t fall into the old stereotypes. They don’t work. Because transgender women and transgender men are in every walk of life. But the public sees us as entertainers, actresses, singers and in kind of a Liberal Arts media type of a thing. They see us as hairdressers or doing our nails or clothing or whatever, so when I popped up on their radar they said,” Whoa! A Navy SEAL, the toughest of the tough? That isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing.” So it makes all the stereotypes look kind of silly.

The Media likes to say that we’re all out in left field and that all we are is just actresses and prostitutes. We are a lot more. I was a Navy SEAL. I have a friend, Amanda, who is a nuclear engineer. I have other friends who fly airplanes and helicopters and we do all kinds of things. It is a very drastic step away from the stereotype idea that all transgender people are only actresses and prostitutes. It is shame that those are the only things they think we can be. We are definitely a lot more than that.

Courtesy, Washington Blade Newspaper and Kristin Beck.

Courtesy, Washington Blade & Kristin Beck.

Kevin Williams: So you’re becoming known or your public status has helped push the understanding that there are more types of transgender people than in popular imagination?

Kristin Beck: Well, I hope it brings a little bit of class to the situation. When the media came out, I said no to a lot of appearances on all kinds of shows. The only show I agreed to be on was Anderson Cooper. I try to stay out of the limelight and that is why for the last six months people haven’t really heard a lot about me. I have a job and I just go about my daily business. I don’t want to be a celebrity.

We made the documentary and I’ll probably start laying low again after “Lady Valor” is broadcast on CNN. I’m going to just keep doing my job.

Kevin Williams: How has media attention helped your cause? How has “celebrity” affected what you are doing?

Kristin Beck: Well, I’m not a celebrity except to a small group of people. When they say, “Hey, I saw you on TV,” it doesn’t get to me. I did so much way bigger stuff when I was on the SEAL Teams. I was running $600,000,000 programs as a Manager and making day-to-day decisions. And when I was in combat, I led 30-40 people on huge operations with airplanes, UAVS, gunships and all kinds of stuff going on. Being on a TV show for a little bit is not that big of a deal. There’s a lot of stuff that I am not on television [or in the media for], like the 296 Project. I’m an artist and I gave all my art to this great PTSD and TBI-therapy organization. That is what I do when I am not on camera. My working on PTSD issues with other folks is just about bringing healing to other people.

lady_valor movie posterKevin Williams: How has taking the film “Lady Valor” out onto the film festival circuit been for you?

Kristin Beck: It’s been pretty neat. It’s been pretty much the same thing regarding my going and spreading the message. I look a bit different now without the beard and machine guns! People don’t really recognize me for the most part. I just walk around like an invisible person. So it is kind of cool (at the film festivals).

Kevin Williams: How have the Q&A sessions been after your film screenings?

Kristin Beck: The Q&As were very interesting. I think I surprised a lot of people because I studied philosophy in college and have always been into that. I have been diving really deep into theology, international politics, relations and things like that. So I don’t talk about the same stuff that I think is usually talked about at film festivals. I go into the intellectual side and it kind of throws the audience for a loop.

Kevin Williams: Well, part of that might be that at film festivals, a lot of people hold a stereotype that people in the military are unintelligent dunderheads…

Kristin Beck: It has been really interesting. The Q&As have been really cool. I’ve learned a lot about the film industry and what goes on behind the scenes. I’ll tell you what… filmmaking is a lot harder than people can imagine. I have a lot of respect for people who make films.

Lady Valor art piece. Courtesy, Kristin Beck

Lady Valor art piece. Courtesy, Kristin Beck

Kevin Williams: How long did it take for the “Lady Valor” filmmakers to make this film you are in?

Kristin Beck: We filmed for about five months.

Kevin Williams: Wow! That must have been intense.

Kristin Beck: The full thing, including contracts and everything… six months later we were at the SXSW Film Festival. When I started talking to people, they always ask how long did we do this for? From the first bit of shooting to showing the film at SXSW took about six months.

Kevin Williams: Are you happy with the film and how it turned out?

Kristin Beck: Yes. There are a few things that I’d like to change. When I look at my own life, I said “Oh my God, I can’t believe that I said that!” or “Why was I wearing that? I have something else better to wear.” When you look at your life over a five-month period of time, you look back at some things and say, “That was a really dumb thing to do…” When the cameras are rolling for a while, you just stop filtering and you get used to them. The cameras become part of the wallpaper and you see yourself later in different ways.

To see more of Kristin Beck’s artwork, please visit “Lady Valor” will premiere on CNN on Thursday, September 4th at 9 PM EST and will be rebroadcast multiple times on the network. To get more information on the film, please visit or check out Kristin Beck on Twitter at @TheLadyValor.



1 Comment

  1. Richard wobbe

    Wow! What a story! I was entertaining myself tonight watching YouTubes, and enjoying people being people. I stumbled on a bunch of “stolen valor” videos and watched as men and women pretended to be Navy Seals, Rangers and so on. I saw Keistin Beck’s video and recognized her from Kevin’s interview here! Great interview! Thank you Kristin for your incredible military service, and your work with Vets with ptsd. I’m going over to your website to find your film Lady Valor and see more of your art. Thank you also Kevin.

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