WASHINGTON - Transitioning from Christopher Beck to Kristin Beck wasn't a choice for the former Navy SEAL -- it was an imperative.
"I was born this way," she says in an interview with WTOP.
Beck gained national notoriety after releasing a new book, "Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL's Journey to Coming Out Transgender."
Beck has since appeared on CNN, become a national spokeswoman for transgender issues and will emcee an upcoming fashion show and fundraising event in Falls Church.
Beck says her lifelong journey to womanhood has been fraught with setbacks, discrimination and fear. She has been forced to conceal her true self since grade school, when first becoming aware of being different than other boys, she says.
The Florida native, raised in a conservative household, found creative ways of exploring her feminine side without the outside world guessing her true motives.
Around Valentine's Day, while most men were out shopping for presents for their wives or girlfriends, Beck would head to Victoria's Secret for a little retail therapy, she told CNN's Anderson Cooper.
She would then "purge" her new purchases before anyone suspected why she was buying lingerie.
But when it came to choosing a profession in the late 1980s, Beck picked "the toughest of the tough."
She fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, received the military's highest honors -- the Bronze Star and Purple Heart -- and was a member of the Navy SEAL team that eventually brought down Osama bin Laden.
After retiring in 2011, just months before bin Laden was killed, Beck decided "enough was enough."
Keeping this kind of secret "destroys you, it destroys families, it destroys a lot because of that isolation, that constant hiding of what would make you happy," she says. "You lash out, you become angry sometimes. You're very depressed."
Since stepping out onto the national stage, Beck has received thousands of emails and letters from people facing similar challenges. Many of the correspondences are heart-wrenching, she says.
In a recent email, someone asked Beck if she has considered suicide:
"Dear Kristin, I hope things are going well for you. Have you ever thought about taking your own life?" the email reads.
"I get that feeling over and over again. I think that is just the feeling of guilt and maybe shame. I really don't know. I get to feeling so sad and hurting inside. How do you deal with it?"
The author goes on to say that his "time has past," that feeling happy as a whole person is no longer an option for him. The only time he feels complete is while dressing up in the morning in women's clothes to do housecleaning.
"But I can't do that all day like I wish i could," the writer laments.
After reading the entire email, Beck says she didn't hesitate in responding. She knew exactly what to say:
"I think everyone has dark thoughts once in a while. I think we get them more often than most because of the prejudice, pressure, guilt and everything else we feel. It is very difficult and sad to be human, but it is also very awesome and happy," she responded.
Now that Beck has become a de facto spokeswoman for the transgender community, she wants to use her influence to spread a message of hope and acceptance. Beck is even considering running for office in her native Florida.
"When it comes down to it, we are human beings and we deserve respect just like any other American would want," she says.
Beck will be serving as mistress of ceremonies July 20 at NovaSalud's Extravaganza for Life "transfashion" show. The event will feature food, music and fashion from three local designers. Tickets start at $15. Premium tables are between $175 and $300.
Ellin Kao, co-founder of NovaSalud, says the event aims at breaking stigma and discrimination against the trans community.
Follow @WTOP on Twitter.
© 2013 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.