Tag Archives: Donald Trump

My Journey to the Heart of the FOIA Request

Spenser Mestel | Longreads | September 2017 | 21 minutes (5,400 words)

On July 2, 1972, Angela Davis was sitting in the Plateau Seven restaurant in Santa Clara County, California, a few blocks from the courthouse where she’d spent the previous 13 weeks on trial for criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder. The jury had just started deliberating, and Davis was eating with Rodney Barnette, a friend and former Black Panther. While the two talked, a local reporter emerged from the courthouse pressroom with news for Davis’s family and the activists gathered there: Four black men had hijacked a Western Airlines 727 jetliner carrying 98 passengers and were en route from Seattle to San Francisco. (Later it was confirmed there were only two hijackers, one man and one woman.) Not only were the hijackers demanding $500,000 and four parachutes, but they also wanted these items delivered by Davis, who was to stand on the runway of San Francisco International Airport in a white dress.

When the news reached the restaurant, several patrons around Davis and Barnette suddenly surrounded the pair’s table; these were in fact FBI agents dressed in civilian clothes. Almost a year earlier, Davis had been charged in California with aiding and abetting a murder. Though she hadn’t been at the scene, authorities alleged that guns she’d purchased were used to kill a superior-court judge. The Black Panthers relied on sympathetic Vietnam veterans, like Rodney Barnette, to acquire arms and train new members to use them. Barnette, however, had left the Panthers four years earlier following a suspicious interaction. At a meeting, a stranger claiming to be part of the “Panther Underground” had called Barnette into a back office and told him to beat members who arrived late. Barnette objected. (“We can’t do that to our own people,” he said an interview later. “How could we differentiate the police beating people, and us beating people?”) The man suggested he leave the group.

“I always thought he was some FBI agent,” Barnette would tell an interviewer in 2017. “Some agent provocateur or informant that all of a sudden appeared to try to split the party up.” This unnerving feeling of suspicion persisted even after Barnette left the Panthers. The FBI continued to interview his family members in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles, where Barnette had moved and gotten a job as a letter carrier. Despite stellar evaluations from his superiors, in 1969 Barnette was fired from the Postal Service, after less than a year on the job, for living with a woman he wasn’t married to, which qualified at the time as “conduct unbecoming a government employee.”

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Ta-Nehisi Coates Takes on the Trump Presidency

In the spring of 1963, James Baldwin was interviewed for the documentary, Take this Hammer, which followed the local African-American community in San Francisco. Seated, wearing a crisp collared shirt, an ascot tie, and smoking a cigarette, the author spoke about the creation of a class of pariahs in America.

Well, I know this. Anyone’s who’s tried to live knows this: That what you say about anyone else reveals you. What I think of you as being is dictated by my own necessities, my own psychology, my own fears and desires. I’m not describing you when I talk about you, I’m describing me. Now, here in this country, we’ve got something called a nigger. We have invented the nigger. I didn’t invent him. White people invented him. I’ve always known. I had to know by the time I was 17 years old, what you were describing was not me, and what you were afraid of was not me, it has to be… Something you were afraid of, you invested me with…

In an excerpt at The Atlantic from his upcoming book about the Obama administration and its legacy, We Were Eight Years in PowerTa-Nehisi Coates riffs on Baldwin’s analysis to construct an incisive look at the foundations of Donald Trump’s political ascent.

For Trump, it almost seems that the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted him personally. The insult intensified when Obama and Seth Meyers publicly humiliated him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. But the bloody heirloom ensures the last laugh. Replacing Obama is not enough—Trump has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness. “Race is an idea, not a fact,” the historian Nell Irvin Painter has written, and essential to the construct of a “white race” is the idea of not being a nigger. Before Barack Obama, niggers could be manufactured out of Sister Souljahs, Willie Hortons, and Dusky Sallys. But Donald Trump arrived in the wake of something more potent—an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white. Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president.

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A Long, Dark Night of the Soul at Donald Trump’s Childhood Home

The house in eastern Queens where Donald Trump spent his first four years of life is now an Airbnb, but a night costs more than a bed at the Trump-owned Plaza Hotel, and the $816 doesn’t get you a fraction of that lavish experience. For Newsweek,  Alexander Nazaryan spent a night at the house, exploring the land of Trump’s birth and searching the environment for insights into what shaped him. He finds decor that’s the “raison d’être of Donald Trump, which is the endless veneration of Donald Trump.” Nazaryan shows how Trump likes to frame himself as an outsider from Queens who made his money in Manhattan — but how he is in fact a provincial creature with daddy’s money, born into the genteel suburbs of Long Island.

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The Trump Whisperer: A Conversation with Washington Post Reporter David Fahrenthold

Cody Delistraty | Longreads | September 2017 | 8 minutes (2193 words)

 

Before David Fahrenthold won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for covering Trump’s candidacy, he spoke to the then-candidate on the phone last May. Trump called Fahrenthold “a nasty guy.”

One of Fahrenthold’s most impressive journalistic pursuits came after that conversation, when he began to investigate Trump’s charitable giving. Trump had long made loud claims about his charitable donations, but Fahrenthold discovered that although Trump claimed to have donated millions of dollars spread among 400 charities, very few of those charities had any record of Trump’s supposed contributions.

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The Collected Crimes of Sheriff Joe Arpaio

As Texans braced for a storm that would deliver flooding unlike anything the nation’s second-most populous state had ever experienced, President Donald Trump prioritized.

According to Philip Rucker and Ellen Nakashima at The Washington Post, the pardon had been months in the making and was “the culmination of a five-year political friendship with roots in the ‘birther’ movement to undermine President Barack Obama.”

While he was convicted of contempt for ignoring a federal judge’s order that he stop detaining people on suspicion of being undocumented immigrants, the cruelty of “Sheriff Joe,” as he’s known, has been well-documented for years. Here’s a sampling (many from the Phoenix New Times, a local alt-weekly that diligently kept tabs on Arpaio’s stunning behavior): Read more…

You Can’t Embarrass a Dog, or a Trump

At The Baffler, David Roth pulls no punches in his assessment of Donald Trump for anyone still confused by his core beliefs and his approach to politics: he’s an asshole, and the self-centeredness that defines him mean that he’ll never change, and he’ll never care.

There is no room for other people in the world that Trump has made for himself, and this is fundamental to the anxiety of watching him impose his claustrophobic and airless interior world on our own. Is Trump a racist? Yes, because that’s a default setting for stupid people; also, he transparently has no regard for other people at all. Does Trump care about the cheap-looking statue of Stonewall Jackson that some forgotten Dixiecrat placed in a shithole park somewhere he will never visit? Not really, but he so resents the fact that other people expect him to care that he develops a passionate contrary opinion out of spite. Does he even know about . . . Let me stop you there. The answer is no.

The answer is always no, and it will always be no because he does not care.

Is this a screed? Yes, but sometimes reading a well-written screed does a body good. I give Roth bonus points for the piece’s excellent dog-focused introduction, tempered by a demerit for in any way likening the gift to humanity that is the dog to Donald Trump.

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Scaramucci’s Removal Evokes White House Turmoil During the Reagan Years

The first nine days of Anthony Scaramucci’s tenure as the White House’s director of communications was a combination of bluster, bullying, and charm mixed with a bit of crazy. But, then again, that’s the sort of recipe favored by Donald Trump, a president who acts with impetuosity and has little time for strategy.

In the end, Scaramucci was too much even for Trump, and on the tenth day, the former hedge fund executive found himself amongst a long list of White House staffers suddenly on the outs with the president: Citing a wish to give new chief of staff John Kelly a clean slate, Scaramucci stepped down (or was removed, depending on your interpretation of reports) from his position. It’s a week Scaramucci will likely ponder over and over again in the coming months:

Scaramucci’s brief White House stay also set an (unofficial) record for shortest tenure for a communications director, besting the previous mark of eleven days set by John Koehler in 1987. Though Ronald Reagan won the 1984 election in a landslide, thoroughly thrashing Walter Mondale, the end of his second administration was beset by staff upheaval and intense intra-cabinet bickering and back stabbing. Sound familiar?

Reagan had appointed Treasury Secretary Don Regan as his chief of staff in 1985, setting off two years of feuding between Regan and First Lady Nancy Reagan; in his 1988 memoir, Regan portrayed Mrs. Reagan as a puppet master who heavily relied on an astrologer to help guide and influence decision and American policy. Coupled with the Iran-Contra scandal, the executive branch of government seemed paralyzed. Perhaps the most illuminating example of the administration’s disarray during the last 24 months of the 40th president’s time in office was the appointment of Koehler as the new comm director, replacing Pat Buchanan, who resigned in January 1987 (and had his own issues with Regan and was mulling a run for president in 1988).

Mrs. Reagan was Koehler’s advocate within the administration. Largely on the advice of  Charles Wick, head of the US Information Agency, Mrs. Reagan felt Koehler, a German immigrant who served as interpreter for the U.S. Army in World War II and former managing director of the AP’s world services, could best shape the president’s message, and rushed through his appointment. “It was done quickly and without running the usual traps,” a White House official told the Washington Post at the time, which is why no one discovered that Koehler, as a 10-year-old, had served for six mouths in a Nazi youth group in Germany known as Jungvolk.

Regan wasn’t consulted before Koehler was brought aboard, and since Koehler didn’t list his participation in the youth group “on his resume,” the chief of staff said the West Wing had no way of knowing his past activities. Sensing a much-needed opening to possibly decrease the First Lady’s influence, Regan immediately shifted blame to the East Wing—aka Mrs. Reagan—for the hiring. Meanwhile, Koehler reportedly couldn’t understand the uproar: growing up in Dresden, Koehler said his participation was “almost mandatory” and that he left Jungvolk because “[he] was bored.” And, in a bizarre deflection, he told the Los Angeles Times that both his first and second wives were Jewish, adding, “What does that make me? A Zionist or a member of the Stern gang?”

Asked whether his appointment was in jeopardy, he said it would be a “black day in journalism” if he was ousted. And yet, in early March 1987, 11 days after being named the new communications director (and five days after he officially began the job), he was asked to effectively resign, following Regan out the door, who the president had ousted the previous week before (the coincidences are quite eerie). Unsurprisingly, Dutch sided with his wife, telling Regan, “[Nancy is] being blamed for Koehler and she’s seen unfairly.”

Trump consistently refers to the Reagan years as a golden period in American history, that he wants to make America great again like it was in the 1980s. Certainly, the events of this past week show how the 45th president is following in Reagan’s footsteps, though it may not be the path Trump thought he would encounter just seven months into his administration.

The Gossip Columnist Who Became the News

“If you were a woman and wrote about politics and D.C., you were a Washington gossip. If you were a man, you were a columnist,” explained Rona Barrett, the television presenter and celebrity gossip queen of the 1970s and ’80s, in an interview with BuzzFeed’s Anne Helen Petersen last year. Gossip—he said, she said, who was there, who was he with, what did they talk about—is the official currency of the Trump Administration, and any reporter who thinks they are above it is going to lose the newspaper war.

The women who became the great gossip columnists of the late twentieth century knew they weren’t above it—a reporter merely reported what their sources told them, a gossip columnist psychoanalyzed them.

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A Close Reading of Ryan Lizza’s Phone Call from Anthony Scaramucci

The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza got a rare triple-stack headline on his bombshell of a post Thursday chronicling a phone call from new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci that would be unbelievable if anything was unbelievable anymore.

Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon

Interesting. Okay. I guess these are topics relevant to your professional life, Anthony. Continue.

Lizza had tweeted about Scaramucci’s dinner plans and Scaramucci really wanted to know who told Lizza about Scaramucci’s dinner plans, a subject which, if revealed, posed “a major catastrophe for the American country.”

Wait, what?

“What I’m going to do is, I will eliminate everyone in the comms team and we’ll start over,” he said. I laughed, not sure if he really believed that such a threat would convince a journalist to reveal a source. He continued to press me and complain about the staff he’s inherited in his new job. “I ask these guys not to leak anything and they can’t help themselves,” he said. “You’re an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.”

Again, this is about the dinner plans of a man referred to as “The Mooch.”

I asked him why it was so important for the dinner to be kept a secret. Surely, I said, it would become public at some point. “I’ve asked people not to leak things for a period of time and give me a honeymoon period,” he said. “They won’t do it.”

A honeymoon period.

Mooch then becomes convinced Reince Priebus, the Republican Party’s delegate in the Trump White House, is leaking things about him.

He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ ‘Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ”

Here is where we say a little prayer of thanks that this phone call was not wasted on the tongue-biting puritans at the New York Times. Cock-block!

Scaramucci was particularly incensed by a Politico report about his financial-disclosure form, which he viewed as an illegal act of retaliation by Priebus. The reporter said Thursday morning that the document was publicly available and she had obtained it from the Export-Import Bank. Scaramucci didn’t know this at the time, and he insisted to me that Priebus had leaked the document, and that the act was “a felony.”

“I’ve called the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice,” he told me.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

That last line could have been the headline of this piece.

“The swamp will not defeat him,” he said, breaking into the third person.

Oh, my god.

“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist.

OH, MY GOD.

Scaramucci said he had to get going. “Yeah, let me go, though, because I’ve gotta start tweeting some shit to make this guy crazy.”

The sheer magnificence of this story appears to have crashed The New Yorker’s website, but once that’s remedied, you should definitely…

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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.”

US-MILITARY-TRANSGENDER-RIGHTS

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.”

US-POLITICS-MILITARY-TRANSGENDER-RIGHTS-USA

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?