“I’m never going to one of these f***ing support groups again.” It was 2014, and I had just come home after two hours of huddling in a church basement with other transgender people like me. I’d recently come out, and I was desperately seeking resources and information in terms of how to move forward.
The support group I had attended wasn’t atypical. It consisted of individuals going in a circle and sharing their experiences. On rare occasions, someone would speak about a specific challenge they were going through and shed light on how they were overcoming it—or trying to. On a really good night, someone might share which therapist was least likely to make your life hell as you collected letters deeming you “not crazy,” a draconian but necessary step for many of the legal and medical aspects of transition.
Transgender individuals are often referred to these groups under the premise that they can help you navigate transition. But for me it felt like those peer groups were getting in the way of finding the necessary information to progress because they were making literally life-saving information more clandestine and less accessible. To learn the steps I needed to take for transition, I had no choice but to constantly appease these groups’ gatekeepers to find certain pieces of information—even if I hated the group and found its members cruel. During that time, my progress stalled. I was stuck in transition, and the inability to move forward laid the foundation for what would culminate in a failed suicide attempt.
I found it frustrating that the best solutions our community could come up with were cobbling together highly anecdotal experiences or participating in a brutal gauntlet of trial and error. There should have been an app or some type of technology that’d walk me through this process. Already, smart watches were gaining the ability to track calories and fitness, and Wikipedia had become more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica. Every day, there were new products and apps to solve new problems. Information was free and technology was getting further and further intertwined with healthcare. But not for my community.
One night, as my business partner and I were nursing a drink at our local watering hole, I mused how people assume that when you come out as transgender you’re presented with some sort of instruction manual, but that never happens. Then we realized we could build it.
Challenges lay ahead. Most investors can’t name a single transgender CEO, and even the most well-meaning of allies typically see this community as too niche to invest into. There are transgender innovators out there, but they lack equal access to the resources and connections that many of their cisgender counterparts take for granted.
But I had my conviction: I knew that technology has a way of leveling gatekeepers. If information is freely available, then people can choose for themselves how to act on that knowledge rather than first having to play by someone else’s rules.
Transitioning isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience, and some are more vocal about it than others. Transgender people face extraordinary challenges due to how the rest of the world—including lawmakers, medical providers, and our own neighbors—treats us. But to learn how to navigate these external realities, we are subjected to scrutiny, comparison, and unsolicited advice from our own community.
I understand the fear of some of our detractors, that the makers of technologies could become gatekeepers themselves or that technology is inherently depersonalizing. But this has not come to pass, and, more important, such critiques gloss over how the current state of play has failed the transgender community.
There simply isn’t an argument I’ve heard that can explain how meeting at odd hours in a church basement could possibly be more equitable or accessible than an app that can be downloaded in seconds from anywhere in the country.
We’re close to seeing the day when someone can navigate the vast majority, if not all, of their transition from the palm of their hand. With technology, we can deliver more help to individuals without the need for the old gatekeepers. We can provide people with a pathway for individual and effective care on their own terms.
Creating those pathways remains the most critical effort behind making life better for transgender individuals.
Robbi Katherine Anthony (RKA) is the CEO and founder of Euphoria.LGBT, a public benefit corporation developing a suite of mobile technology to provide solutions to the greatest pains faced by the transgender community.