Category Archives: Reading List

Multi-Level Marketing’s Feminine Mystique: A Reading List

The commodification of female friendship began in the living room, often with a small party or a conversation between neighbors. Then the goods came out: cosmetics, vitamins, jewelry. The multi-level marketing scheme was a suburban phenomenon, a way for homemakers to earn some money among friends. In the 1960s and 70s, Mary Kay, the pink-hued cosmetics company, dominated the market; in the 1980s, it was the Pampered Chef, with its kitchen tools and cookbooks; in the 2010s it’s LuLaRoe, a clothing company with coveted patterned leggings that are sold primarily through social media.

Today, multi-level marketing is booming online, with entire transactions taking place in the comments sections of Facebook posts, and aspiring entrepreneurs dispensing tips on YouTube about unloading their inventory. The products may vary, but the tactics don’t. Products are displayed, promises made. And whether a woman calls herself a consultant, a retailer, a partner, or distributor, there’s always a thinly veiled sense of desperation beneath the pitch.

Women who participate in MLM companies make a hefty up-front investment. To profit, they’ll need to recruit others to invest, and once drawn in it can be difficult to get out. Take a look at any website for an MLM company, and you’ll see sparkling promises of wealth for women. They don’t just sell products; they sell fantasies of empowerment, control, and financial freedom. Thanks to the stories below, it’s easy to understand how and why these companies target women, and what happens when they do.

1. “How a Single Mom Created a Plastic Food-Storage Empire” (Jen Doll, Mental Floss, June 2017)

It’s easy to associate Tupperware with beehive hairdos and grimy leftovers, but the company—pushed to success by social networker Brownie Wise—set the stage for today’s MLM culture. Doll tells the story of how Wise grew the company from a food storage novelty to an unstoppable national phenomenon. Why did hosting home parties as a Tupperware consultant appeal to so many women? For many, it meant a chance to work again, after the loss of employment after World War II.

Most of Wise’s Tupperware recruits fit neatly into the stereotypical role of a proper housewife. But, in reality, they surreptitiously represented a new kind of female empowerment. During World War II, many women had no choice but to enter the workforce. At its end, many of them had no choice but to leave it. Suddenly, selling Tupperware at parties allowed women to straddle both worlds. They were employed, yet they didn’t appear to challenge their husbands’ authority or the status quo. This pioneering entrepreneurial model allowed them to inhabit a workforce outside of the one the hustling salesman inhabited, and, in many cases, to do even better than he did. And that power relied specifically on a network of female friends and neighbors.

The parties weren’t just a way for women to keep occupied—it was a way they could contribute to their family’s bottom line. Most women who worked outside the home had low-paying jobs in fields like light manufacturing, retail, clerical work, and health and education. The money—committed dealers could bring in $100 or more per week—was a revelation. The opportunity for success was so great that the husbands of some Tupperware ladies left their own jobs to work with their wives.

2. “The Pink Pyramid Scheme” (Virginia Sole-Smith, Harper’s, August 2012)

For decades, Mary Kay has sold a two-sided promise to women: You can buy cosmetics for youth, but for actual power, you should sell them. When Sole-Smith became a consultant for the cosmetic brand, then nearly fifty years in business, she witnessed the revival-style tactics used consultants to recruit women. She also saw a flip side of the brand for women who found both friendship and financial peril in their new roles.

Lynne resigned from her directorship soon after, but she stayed on as a consultant. She had over $15,000 in credit card debt and a basement full of unsold products inching closer to their expiration dates. It took three more years to fully extract herself, paint over the pink wall, and get rid of the products. In 2011, her husband filed for divorce, citing as one of the reasons their “different attitudes towards money.” “He meant the whole Mary Kay thing,” Lynne said. “We just never got past it.” But it wasn’t for lack of trying. When her husband first began to talk about leaving, Lynne cleared every last Mary Kay product out of the house, selling much of it at a loss and throwing the rest in the trash. “I didn’t want him to see so much as a bottle of lotion and be reminded,” she said. “I didn’t want to be reminded either.”

But she hasn’t left Mary Kay behind entirely. The consultant who debuted with only two guests at Lynne’s party remains one of her best friends and is her son’s godmother. Lynne’s new career in real estate allows her to apply her sales knowledge, and the commission checks are at least bigger.

“Oh gosh, we were all so happy,” Lynne said as we looked at a picture of women in sequined cocktail dresses and layers of Mary Kay makeup smiling into the camera, their arms slung around one another. “I guess I didn’t know who I would be without Mary Kay to define me.”

3. “How Essential Oils Became the Cure for Our Age of Anxiety,” (Rachel Monroe, The New Yorker, October 2017)

When Monroe embroiled herself in the wild world of MLMs that sell essential oils, she found that it meant more than money for its sellers. Part of the appeal of grassroots-style selling came from consultants’ belief in their products. And when it comes to essential oils, it could feel like a matter of life or death.

Lara distributed a handout that listed various ailments and their oil treatments: eucalyptus for bronchitis, lavender for third-degree burns, cypress for mononucleosis, rosemary for respiratory syncytial virus. Diffusion “kills microorganisms in the air which helps stop the spread of sickness,” the pamphlet read. Oils “repair our bodies at a cellular level so when you are not sure which oils to use, don’t be afraid to use several oils and the body will gain a myriad of benefits.” Lara told the people in the room that doTerra had oils that were “very antiviral” and could knock out bronchitis in twenty-four hours. She shared essential-oil success stories—her migraines gone, her friend’s rheumatoid arthritis reversing, a colleague’s mother’s cancer in remission. A blond woman at the back of the room raised her hand. “Cancer?” she said, sounding both skeptical and hopeful. She explained that her sister-in-law had recently been treated for breast cancer, and was taking a pill to prevent its recurrence, but the side effects were terrible. The blond woman was hoping for a more natural solution.

“There is an oil for that,” Lara said cautiously. “There is some research. It is an option. It would not have those side effects.”

4. “The Truth Behind Rodan + Fields (And Its Takeover of Your Facebook Feed),” (Lauren Lipton, Allure, September 2015)

Women can become involved in MLMs for both friendship and financial gain. But what happens when everyone you know is involved in a sales scheme? After all, there are only so many showcases and special sales a person can attend, and for some, it might feel like an entire friend group has morphed into eager saleswomen. As Lipton learned, not everyone is thrilled about those endless invitations and events.

There’s a fine line between inspiring and annoying, and not all Rodan + Fields consultants tread it well. In fact, if you sell Rodan + Fields and think your friends might be dodging you, they probably are. “This is the suburban scourge,” says Rachael Pavlik, a Houston mother and the blogger behind rachriot.com, who says she goes out of her way to avoid anyone trying to sell her anything. “At first I would buy all of their stuff because I was kind of guilted into it….What is that? That’s not friendship.”

Pavlik is more outspoken than most. Most women we spoke to can’t bring themselves to hurt their friends’ feelings, so they roll their eyes privately, secretly blocking Rodan + Fields consultants who clutter their Facebook feeds and deftly fending off clumsy come-ons. One East Coast mother says she’s been approached multiple times by everyone from the woman who does her brows to childhood acquaintances she hasn’t seen for decades. Last year, an old high-school friend asked her to lunch — for reasons that soon became all too clear: “It wasn’t long into the conversation before I realized that this was a thinly veiled attempt to make me join her team,” she says. “She’s not trying to be friends with me; she’s trying to build her empire.”

5. “Multilevel-Marketing Companies Like LuLaRoe Are Forcing People Into Debt and Psychological Crisis” (Alden Wicker, Quartz, August 2017)

Wicker’s deep dive into the business practices of retailer LuLaRoe finds women grappling with everything from disappointment to financial disaster. On its website, LuLaRoe hypes not a company, but a movement—one that offers retailers a happy ending complete with balance, flexibility, and personal fulfillment. However, Wicker finds that the ending can happen quite differently for most consultants.

When consultants wake up to the fact they’ve been hoodwinked, many don’t warn their friends to stay away. That’s because if you speak out against any of LuLaRoe’s rules or mishaps, the community could publicly shame and harass you for being negative. “I can’t believe you call yourself a Christian,” one retailer wrote to someone trying to sound the alarm. “Where is the Jesus in you? I have to block you due to your constant-gross-delusional-uneducated opinions of LLR.” If you reveal you are struggling to make sales, you might be told to stop playing the victim, that you’re not putting in enough effort, to be more enthusiastic, and, of course, to buy more inventory.

“Success as a retailer results only from successful sales efforts, which require hard work, dedication, diligence, leadership, and perseverance,” says a LuLaRoe spokesperson. “Success will depend upon how effectively these qualities are exercised. As with any business, results will vary. In addition to the factors above, retailer success is influenced by the individual capacity, business experience, expertise, and motivation of the retailer.”

In other words, it’s not the system that’s broken — you’re just not trying hard enough.

Wives, Queens, and Other Comedy Heroes: A Reading List

Honestly, I thought I was handling the Trump presidency okay. At least I wasn’t crying every day. I realize that not crying every day isn’t much of a litmus test. But when Trump codified his transgender military ban, I could no longer deny that I was struggling in other subtle and sinister ways: “I have to sleep more than nine hours a day or I cannot function physically,” or “My finances are shot because I don’t have the will to work and provide for a future that may or may not come to fruition.”

Of course, this is what fascists want for someone like me. They want me fatigued, struggling mentally, and hopeless. They don’t want me alive. Logically then, I should fight really, really, hard to thrive. I am trying, when I sit here to write for the first time in almost two months. I am trying, whenever I bring myself to get out of bed before noon, when I cook for myself. I am trying to imagine a fascism-free future. I am trying to imagine a future where evangelical Christians don’t take time out of serving the poor to disparage and damn the marginalized and their allies. I document the moments I laugh the loudest. I try to be honest with myself and with the people I care for.

Read more…

The Mastery and Magic of Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah

Cashawn Thompson created the hashtag #BlackGirlsAreMagic on Twitter in 2013 to draw attention to the accomplishments and resilience of black women in the public eye like Michelle Obama. With T-shirts, tote bags, videos, and news headlines, #BlackGirlMagic soon went viral. Like “(To Be) Young, Gifted, and Black,” a song written by Nina Simone, and “Black Lives Matter,” the affirmation “Black Girls Are Magic” creates positive associations with blackness and reconstitutes its possibilities. “Say it loud!” James Brown sang in his 1968 song “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” In other words, let us not cower — let us like ourselves.

Affirmations like #BlackGirlMagic are important corrective tools, especially now, with a president in office who weaponizes language to stir up policies that are hurtful for communities of color. Still, I worry that a focus on black women’s extraordinariness obscures the unfairness of what we overcome. I wonder if, along with a litany of archetypes that have lingered in the public imagination, #BlackGirlMagic fortifies an idea that black women can endure anything, that we don’t need protecting.

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The Unknowable Diana, 20 Years On: A Reading List

There are two events that can define a separation of generations: Where were you when Princess Diana got married? Where were you when she died?

I was a tiny toddler sitting on my young mom’s lap for the first, an awkward 17-year-old for the second. San Diego’s Starlight Musical Theatre was in the middle of a production of Singin’ in the Rain and my job was to get costumes onto cast members before they hurtled out onstage.

Somehow I learned she was dead during the performance, in the time before widespread cell phones or internet. News spread fast, through the usual backstage channels, in whispers and passed notes. The busy dressing rooms were oddly quiet. People danced off stage and started crying in the wings. Downstairs, near the costume shop, they used the pay phone to find out details from friends.

The world seemed stunned, half silent. But why? Why did we spend the next few days glued to the television and the radio? Why did we leave flowers and sing songs and feel personally affected by a woman few knew and even fewer ever understood? Who was this bashful princess, anyway? This reading list contains a few answers—but 20 years after her death, the enigmatic Diana is harder to grasp than ever.

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Joss Whedon and the Feminist Pedestal: A Reading List

I don’t remember when Joss Whedon went from being a garden-variety household name to being someone I refer to on a first-name basis. I quote Joss, I verb Joss, I adjective Joss. As a woman who was once a teenage girl who grew up with Buffy, I’ve internalized more than my fair share of lessons from Our Lady of Buffdom. For the better part of twenty years, I’ve known Joss Whedon as the creator of a feminist hero.

For the better part of the same twenty years, Kai Cole knew Joss Whedon as her partner and husband. He was just Joss to her, too — far more intimately Joss than to any of his first-name-basis-ing fans.

This weekend, Cole wrote about her divorce with Joss in a post on The Wrap. She writes about how, on their honeymoon in England in 1995, she encouraged him to turn his script for Buffy the Vampire Slayer — which had just been misinterpreted as a film — into a television show. Joss apparently hadn’t wanted to work in television anymore. I repeat: As of 1995, Joss Whedon “didn’t want to work in television anymore.”

Yet on March 10, 1997 — two years after their honeymoon — Buffy aired on The WB.

According to Cole’s post, Joss had his first affair on the set of Buffy, and continued to have affairs in secret for fifteen years. I believe Cole. I believe that when she quotes Joss in her post, she is quoting him verbatim. I’ve quoted him verbatim, too.

(Or have I? I wonder, knowing more now than I did then about writers rooms, whether every line I attribute to episodes credited as “Written by Joss Whedon” were, in fact, written by Joss Whedon. Every time Jane Espenson tweets credit for specific lines to specific writers on Once Upon a Time — or retroactively to Buffy quotes — I wonder. Every time I watch UnREAL, a show co-created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Marti Noxon that sends up how often women are discredited in television, I wonder. I don’t doubt that Joss was responsible for the vast majority of what I’d call classic Joss dialogue. I’ll just never know which lines weren’t actually his.)

After I saw Joss Whedon trending and read Cole’s post, I scrolled through other longtime fans’ and non-fans’ reactions on Twitter. Many were not surprised. I texted friends about my own lack of surprise, punctuated with single-tear emojis: “I almost can’t even call it disappointed. As though it would be actually inhuman to expect something else.”

Cole quotes a letter Joss wrote to her when their marriage was falling apart, when he was “done with” lying to her about the truth of his affairs. He invokes the inhuman in his confession, too — or, as is so often the case with Joss, the superhuman: “When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.”

Was it superhuman for Cole to expect her husband to resist that kind of power? Would Joss have been running Buffy, if he hadn’t married Cole? “I was a powerful influence on the career choices Joss made during the 20 years we were together,” Cole writes. “I kept him grounded, and helped him find the quickest way to the success he so deeply craved. I loved him. And in return, he lied to me.”

As Marianne Eloise notes below in Dazed, it remains to be seen whether Cole’s letter will impact Joss’s career, most notably as director of the upcoming Batgirl. In the meantime, his fans are left to resolve tense, charged questions, none of which have easy answers: How do we come to personal decisions about whether or not we can separate the art from the artist? Will consequences come in the form of a public fall from feminist grace, or cost Joss professional opportunities he’s been enjoying for decades as a self-proclaimed feminist artist? Do feminists, male or female, need to be perfect to count?

In “Lie to Me” — Season 2 Episode 7, “Written by Joss Whedon” — Angel asks Buffy if she loves him. Buffy answers, “I love you. I don’t know if I trust you.” For fans and collaborators who are working through hard questions about love and the loss of trust this week, here is some guided reading on feminism, fandom, and fidelity for Whedonverse enthusiasts:
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How We Got to Here: A Charlottesville Reading List

This weekend’s events in Charlottesville will resonate long after the crowd was dispersed, long after the cable news trucks leave, long after the school year begins—new students are scheduled to arrive on the University of Virginia campus on Friday. The confrontation — and the resulting deaths of three people, two national guard pilots who were killed in an accident, and counter-protestor Heather Heyer, who was killed in a deliberate act of domestic terrorism — is neither the beginning nor the end of an ongoing resurgence of white supremacy. What was once discussed in closed online forums is now on the streets, armed—as Virginia Governor Terry Mcauliffe described —with more firepower than the Virginia National Guard. “Emboldened” is the word that’s been used by politicians and the media to describe the relationship between white nationalists and Donald Trump’s rhetoric. “Blame” is what the word should be.

Here is our reading list of features from the past two years that trace the disturbing path of how we got to Charlottesville. Read more…

More Than a Riot Going On: A ‘Detroit’-Inspired Reading List

Reactions to Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film Detroit have been polarized, and the considerable backlash may have caused its opening weekend box office to suffer. Bigelow’s films are known for their tightly-choreographed combat scenes and their fictionalization of brutal historical events. In Detroit, Bigelow takes on the story of the Algiers Motel incident, where three young black men—Carl Cooper, Fred Temple, and Aubrey Pollard—were tortured and killed by police officers in the motel’s annex. In the early morning hours of July 26, 1967, a few days into the unrest that would eventually become known as the Detroit rebellion, the three young men, along with many others, took refuge at the motel amid a city-wide curfew. Police forces received reports of sniper fire and raided the Algiers, finding a group of black men socializing with white women. There were interrogations, humiliations, assaults, and eventually murder. No gun was ever found on the grounds of the Algiers, and the police involved were found not guilty on all charges associated with the incident.

Conversation about the film has touched on questions about who has the authority to tell what stories. Bigelow is a white woman from the West Coast who said she knew herself not to be the “ideal person” to make the movie. But she and former journalist Mark Boal, the film’s screenwriter, worked with black academics, historians, and eyewitnesses to ensure a certain level of accuracy in the story. Jelani Cobb, a historian and staff writer at The New Yorker, Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., head of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard were among those reportedly consulted.

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Failed Promises: A ‘Bachelorette’ Reading List

The Bachelorette came to an end on Monday when Rachel Lindsay, the first black Bachelorette, broke up with Peter and chose Bryan. Seven million viewers collectively released the most exasperated sigh they could muster in an already-exhausting year. Lost love is as horrible to experience on a television screen as it is in real life. 

As a first-time viewer, Rachel Lindsay drew me in with her easy smile, fiery confidence, and honest vulnerability. It felt powerful; a woman of color commanding both the camera and a palette of men eager to woo her. Watching the show was like vicariously living what I thought my twenties would be like: fun, flirty, and carefree. Her dark skin was a desired luxury in Bachelorette paradise. Rachel played the rejecter, not the rejected, and she didn’t have to gloss over her race with her suitors or the viewers. 

Before I could slip fully into this idealized universe, the rosé-tinted veil parted. Instead of the other, better world I’d hoped for, the past nine weeks brought unnamed racial tensions masked as entertainment, a hazy divide between reality and reality television, and millions of regular viewers questioning the morality of the network. 

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Longreads Goes to the Movies: A Reading List

It’s 10:45 p.m., and I’m about to indulge in one of my strangest habits: watching a horror movie, alone, late at night. My cat is nearby, but he sleeps through this particular ritual. There are rules; the lights stay on. I don’t watch movies about home invasions or slasher flicks. Minimal gore, please. I love demon possessions, haunted houses, and paranormal investigations. Tonight, for instance, I’m watching the American version of The Ring for the first time. I perch my laptop on the edge, reach for the soft pretzel I picked up on the way home and press play. The scenes so far are tinged green; it is always raining. There’s an ill-fated Amber Tamblyn, gone in five minutes. There’s Adam Brody, harbinger of death and teen angst. My cat stretches, body bisecting the coffee table. The ceiling fan burns bright, blades in orbit.

What are your movie habits? What films do you return to, over and over? Here are five stories about A League of Their Own, High Fidelity, the films of John Hughes, Ghost in the Shell and, the criticism of Roger Ebert.

1. “‘A League of Their Own’ Stands the Test of Time.” (ESPNW Staff, ESPN, June 2017)

An oral history celebrating the 25th anniversary of the greatest baseball movie ever made, A League of Their Own, a film based on the real-life adventures of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

2. “I Grew Up in a John Hughes Movie.” (Jason Diamond, BuzzFeed, August 2014)

Jason Diamond wrote this beautiful essay two years before his memoir Searching for John Hughes debuted, and it made me want to watch and re-watch all of his films. Diamond’s childhood in the Chicago suburb of Skokie mirrored the neighborhood in Hughes’ iconic teen-centric films, Shermer, Illinois.

3. “Roger Ebert’s Zero-Star Movies.” (Will Sloan, Hazlitt, February 2017)

I finally accepted the fact I wanted to (maybe, possibly) be a Serious Writer the same summer I read Chris Jones’ iconic profile of Roger Ebert in Esquire. Ebert has held a small but significant piece of my heart ever since. At Hazlitt, Will Sloan explores the movies Ebert hated most, where he wonders, “What does it mean when the most famous and widely read American film critic regards a movie as ‘artistically inept and morally repugnant’?”

4. “All Shell, No Ghost.” (Eric Chang, Vogue, April 2017)

On hacking as “a method of seeing,” the parallel histories of Eastern and Western cyberpunk storytelling, and the laziness inherent in whitewashed films.

5. “‘High Fidelity’ Captured the Snob’s–and the Soundtrack’s–Waning Powers.” (Sean O’Neal, The A.V. Club, March 2017)

My first movie soundtrack was PhenomenonI’ve still never seen the movie, but I know every word to Eric Clapton’s lead single, “Change the World.” I can still hear Clapton crooning “and our love would ruuuuuuuule…” I thought Bryan Ferry’s “Dance With Life (The Brilliant Life)” was unspeakably beautiful (still do, honestly). My family listened to the CD on repeat. According to MovieTunes, this soundtrack was “the cutting edge of a collaborative art-form whose time has come.” The exuberance of 1996 stands in stark contrast to 2000—what a difference four years makes!—as you can see in Sean O’Neal’s take on the jaded and vaguely anachronistic High Fidelity and its accompanying soundtrack.

A Transgender-Military Reading List

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced, via Twitter, a ban on transgender people serving in the United States military.

His tweeted justification was that “our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military [sic] would entail.”

It was, several Twitter users noted, an odd way to mark the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman signing an executive order that ended racial discrimination in the military. There are currently thousands of transgender people serving in the nation’s all-volunteer military.

As BuzzFeed News noted, a policy instated last year ensures transgender people the right to serve in the military, and have the medical costs of their transition covered. Trump’s tweet alone can’t undo that, and the Pentagon does not appear to have any new policies in the works that would. In fact, military officials weren’t given notice of the new ban before Trump tweeted about it:

At the Pentagon, the first of the three tweets raised fears that the president was getting ready to announce strikes on North Korea or some other military action. Many said they were left in suspense for nine minutes, the time between the first and second tweet. Only after the second tweet did military officials receive the news the president was announcing a personnel change on Twitter.

Trump’s tweets appeared to come out of nowhere, though hints of attempts to unravel Obama-era protections for transgender service members have been seen in recent weeks.

The policy enacted last year included efforts to recruit more transgender military members, which Trump’s Department of Defense has been delaying, BuzzFeed News reported last month. Foreign Policy published a story on Tuesday reporting that Vice President Mike Pence has been pushing Republican members of Congress to tack amendments onto a Pentagon spending bill that would rescind financial coverage of transition procedures for transgender military members. Similar legislation failed to pass earlier this month.

Pence, for what it’s worth, has long hated diversity in the military. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski dug up a 1990s op-ed by Pence that amounts to a screed against the Disney movie “Mulan,” which he believed was pushing the liberal agenda of including women in the military.

According to Politico, Trump’s tweets on Wednesday were part of negotiations to secure funding for his much-discussed border wall with Mexico, a key campaign promise. Though Trump repeatedly vowed to strong-arm Mexico into paying for it, it appears it will be paid for with the rights of transgender patriots, instead.

Trump’s tweets apparently took even the Republicans he was trying to please by surprise, however. They only wanted to prohibit Pentagon funds from being used for gender reassignment surgery and medication, not wholesale ban transgender people from service. As Politico reported:

“This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,” said one senior House Republican aide. The source said that while GOP leaders asked the White House for help, they weren’t expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump’s far-reaching directive.

Jonathan Swan at Axios tweeted that it was a strategic move to influence midterm elections.

As STATnews and The Atlantic noted, estimated costs of covering transition services for transgender service members are minimal — “little more than a rounding error in the military’s $47.8 billion annual health care budget,” according to the author of a New England Journal of Medicine study in 2015.

The New England study found that there are 12,800 transgender services members eligible for medical care, and fewer than 200 would require transition care. A June 2016 RAND study, commissioned by the Department of Defense, found between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender active-duty service members, out of 1.3 million total. The New England study found an overall estimated cost of $4.2 million to $5.6 million, while the RAND study found providing care to transgender service members would increase military healthcare expense by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million each year — an uptick of between 0.04 and 0.13 percent.

As far as Trump’s claims that transgender service members create “disruption,” RAND found that fewer than 0.1 percent of military members would seek treatments that could delay deployment.

Trans Military Service Member

Army Sergeant Shane Ortega, the first openly transgender person in the U.S. military, works out with gymnastic rings at a park on March 26, 2015 in Mililani, Hawaii. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

For comparison, James Hamblin at The Atlantic noted military bands cost $437 million of the DoD’s estimated total $640 billion budget, and that the increase to care for transgender soldiers amounts to one tenth of the annual $84 million that the military spends on medication for erectile dysfunction. (It’s easy to mock treatment for erectile dysfunction, but important to keep in mind that it’s a common side effect of post-traumatic stress disorder.)

As Hamblin wrote:

The diseases that do seem to disproportionately afflict transgender people are mental-health issues. The pathology behind this is abetted by societal marginalization of exactly the sort that Trump’s language propagated today—portraying transgender people as a burden to The Mission, with a focus on “medical costs” as an apparent euphemism for gender-reassignment surgeries.

For now, the military is taking no action without further instruction from the president.

Some on Twitter noted that the response from both former military officials and Republicans is an indication of how far the struggle for transgender rights has come in the past few years alone. Orrin Hatch, the 83-year-old longest-serving U.S. Senator, was one of the first to speak out against the ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union is already moving to block any potential ban stemming from the President’s tweets.

Here is a reading list on transgender people serving in the United States Armed Forces.

1. “The Military Is An Imperialist Tool, But The Ban on Trans Folks is Dehumanizing As Fuck” (L’Lerrét Jazelle Ailith, Wear Your Voice, July 2017)

One of the only pieces by a trans writer published in the wake of Trump’s tweets, Ailith’s post at Wear Your Voice also talks more broadly about the plight of transgender Americans under Trump.

Much like the debate on which bathroom trans people should be able to use, this issue of trans involvement in the military is less about the actual military itself and more about denying us our right to occupy space, make decisions, navigate authentically, and live within our full dignity as human beings.

But the President’s tweets from this morning are also a distraction. They are a distraction from the multiplicity of ways that the system has failed to protect trans people. Especially Black and Brown trans folks.

2. ‘”Did I just get fired… via tweet?” Transgender troops in Colorado react to Trump announcement” (Jennifer Brown, The Denver Post, July 2017)

Brown followed up with transgender troops featured in her 2015 Denver Post story on trans people in the military before they could serve openly.

“Did I just get fired … via tweet?” Staff Sgt. Patricia King asked on her Facebook page Wednesday shortly after President Donald Trump used Twitter to announce that transgender people can no longer serve in the military.

“This is a concerning turn of events,” said King, who lived for 16 years as a male soldier before transitioning to female while stationed at Fort Carson south of Colorado Springs in 2015. “Please keep trans service members in your prayers and call your representatives.”

3. “A Soldier’s Story” (Jennifer Brown, The Denver Post, October 2015)

At the time of Brown’s story, King was one of an estimated 15,500 transgender service members living dual lives.

For now, Trish must play the role of male soldier while on duty. It is only after work, at her home in Colorado Springs, that she lives “genuinely.”

Splitting her life in two is a torment.

Trans Military Service Member

Army Sergeant Shane Ortega, the first openly transgender person to serve in the Army, shaves at home at Wheeler Army Airfield on March 26, 2015 in Wahiawa, Hawaii. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

4. “What It Feels Like Being a Trans Person Serving In The Armed Forces” (Jess Ruliffson, BuzzFeed Reader, October 2016)

Ruliffson illustrates her interview with former Senior Airman Jordan Blisk, an Air Force Reserves member who joined the military as a young girl because her family couldn’t afford college. “When I started getting called ‘sir,’ I was scared by how right it felt,” Blisk told her.

5. “Transgender, in War and in Love” (Fiona Dawson, New York Times Op-Docs, June 2015)

This short film shares the story of a transgender military couple who at the time could not serve openly as their true selves. The producer, Fiona Dawson, also created “TransMilitary,” a platform for transgender service members.

6. “Transgender airman: ‘I would like to see them try to kick me out of my military'” (Stephen Losey, Air Force Times, July 2017)

After Trump’s tweets, one of the transgender service men in the Times Op-Doc told Air Force Times, “You are not going to deny me my right to serve my country when I am fully qualified and able and willing to give my life.” He was one of several people interviewed by the publication.

A Marine military police officer who is a transgender man (he asked that his name not be used), pointed out that he’s served honorably through two deployments. He’s never endangered his comrades, he said, or made anyone else “conform to my world view.” All he asked for, he said, was the same respect he gave others.

“I have never described myself as trans; I’m a mother—-ing Marine,” the corporal said. “That‘s all that matters. Don’t tarnish my title with your bigotry and fear of the unknown.”

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US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announces that the military will lift its ban on transgender troops during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, June 30, 2016. ‘This is the right thing to do for our people and for the force,’ Carter said. (Photo Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

7. “Trump’s Pick to Lead the Army Believes Being Transgender is a Disease” (Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post, April 2017)

When Trump announced he wanted to nominate Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green as Army secretary, Terkel highlight Green’s recent comments to the Chattanooga Tea Party.

Green replied that many service members are younger and are more than fine serving alongside openly gay men and women, which have been allowed in the military since President Barack Obama signed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010. He said that although most millennials are comfortable with people who are transgender, it is a “disease.”

8. “Trans Soldier Shane Ortega on Trump’s Military Ban, How to Save America” (Raven Brajdic, Rolling Stone, July 2017)

Shane Ortega, the first openly transgender soldier in the U.S. Army, tells Rolling Stone his thoughts on Trump’s tweets.

This is so much more than people needing jobs, or serving, or war. This is about who is considered a valid human being, and who is not a valid human being. And who gets to decide. Right now, we’re seeing that Donald Trump gets to decide.

I knew what gender I was before I joined. These new recruits will know what gender they are before they join. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. These people still chose to take bullets for you.

9. “Transgender in the military: A Pentagon in transition weighs its policy” (Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, April 2015)

Ortega was first profiled in 2015, before the Obama administration allowed transgender people to serve openly in the military.

He holds a man’s military travel passport, based on the new Social Security card he received when he changed his name. But he is still identified as female in the military’s official computer system. He must wear a woman’s “dress blues” for official occasions.

Looking for clarity, his commanders have formally asked the Army a simple question: Can Ortega serve openly as a man?

“Administratively I shouldn’t exist,” said Ortega, 28. “But I do exist, so that’s still the problem.”

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Transgender former US Air Force member Vanessa Sheridan poses for a photo after talking with reporters in Chicago, Illinois on July 26, 2017, after Trump’s tweets. (Photo Credit: DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

10. “Kristin Beck: A Navy SEAL in Transition” (Devin Friedman, GQ Magazine, November 2015)

A SEAL on the unit that took out Osama bin Laden earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, among about 50 other ribbons and medals. Friedman’s piece is so eminently readable and compelling, it’s hard to pull just one quote.

It’s a weird thing to say, but talking about transgender people has become a trend. Which is a good thing. “Visibility is good,” as Kristin says. But trends are also reductive and facile and sometimes dehumanizing while letting everyone off the hook. It’s like using the hashtag Black Lives Matter and thinking—well, we took care of racial injustice, let’s go have brunch. A trend usually fails to make a connection between people like Kristin Beck and the rest of us. Kristin Beck’s story isn’t just about the relatively small number of people who are born with the traits of a gender they don’t identify with. Aren’t most of us hiding some part of ourselves? Would we not, most of us, be terrified at having to walk out into the world with that part of ourselves on the outside? Are we not, often, made up of impulses and identities that seem like they can’t exist together? What Kristin Beck is asking is: What happens if you feel like a Navy SEAL and a woman in a red dress accepting a bouquet of flowers from an admirer at an airport? Are any of us really just one thing? Aren’t we all made up of a bunch of conflicting identities (masculine and feminine, liar and self-righteous, etc.) that we’ll never be able to make fit together? And how do we bear life, knowing we are so many things that can never be reconciled?