Want to Transition? There’s an App for That – VICE UK

Posted: February 26, 2020 at 4:46 pm

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

In plain white text atop a blue-to-pink gradient, Solace greets new users with a dictionary definition of its name: comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness. Its a fitting name for an app that aims to give trans people more information about various aspects of transitiona one-stop resource for people who know they are trans, but dont know how to be trans.

After entering some basic informationtheir name, their pronouns, and their location by statethe user is presented with some common transition goals, as Solace terms them. These include all of the major transition milestones like beginning hormone replacement therapy and updating the name and gender marker on ones passport, as well as seemingly mundane (but surprisingly difficult) tasks like buying the right bra.

The goal, according to Solace co-founder Robbi Katherine Anthony, is to help users make their transitions as easy as possiblesomething she wished she could be able to say about her own.

Transition is beautiful, but its also incredibly hard, Anthony told VICE.

Born in New Mexico, the 27-year-old software developer now lives in Spokane, Washington. She came up with the idea and designs Solace with fellow developer Patrick McHugh, and turned to Crowdbotics, a software company in Berkeley, to build out the app. As Solaces only full-time employees, Anthony and McHugh run an extraordinarily lean operation, bouncing between Anthonys home, her 1998 blue Honda CR-V, and whatever coworking space they might be working in on a given day. Its fly or die every single day here, said Anthony. But shes committed to making something that she hopes makes transition a little less confusing, a tool she would have appreciated if it had existed all those years ago.

My transition has been rough, she told VICE. But Ill be damned if I dont do everything in my power to help others avoid that.

Solace co-founders Patrick McHugh (L) and Robbi Katherine Anthony (R). Photo courtesy of Robbi Katherine Anthony.

Anthony said that one of the biggest hurdles she faced in the early stages of her transition was finding out how to transition in the first place. She blamed a lot of this inaccessibility on gatekeeping, a term that, in a trans context, often refers to the many ways in which a health care professional can refuse gender-affirming care to a trans patientsay, a doctor who wont prescribe hormones, or surgeon who wont operate on a woman he doesnt find attractive or cis-passing enough for his standards. Anthony told VICE that she experienced this kind of medical gatekeeping firsthand, but she also used the term to describe her experiences with other trans people.

Certain people in the community become gatekeepers of information, Anthony said. Transition is a model of oral tradition, but if you have to meet people in order to transition, that inherently limits transition to people who can access that network. Some people physically cannot do that or dont want to. That information is also highly anecdotal, which she said is a problem because it ignores how one persons circumstances are not analogous to another persons.

Solace disrupts that model, she continued. If the process could be reduced from finding the right gatekeepers to having a compendium that allows you to proceed on your own terms, I think it would be healthier.

I asked Anthony if creating Solace, an app designed to circumvent community gatekeepers, might turn her into the very trans community gatekeeper she set out to circumvent.

Thats a really fair question, Anthony said. Gatekeeping, in its most nefarious forms, requires folks to do some interaction in order to get information. Whether its being approved by a moderator to join a group, seeking out a time or space or venue based on terms dictated by someone else, or being forced to curry favor with someone for them to share informationthats gatekeeping in my book.

Solace, which launched in December 2019, is quite unlike any of the other trans-specific apps available through Apples App Store. Searching for trans or transgender on my iPhone turns up an endless scroll of dating apps for cis men trying to meet trans women and crossdressers with nearly illegibile, knockoff brand names like Tinded, Sinder, and Transdr. Theyre mostly godawful, Anthony said. Fetishizing trans people... transsexual dating dot this, and stuff. There are a few practical options that actually seem to have been designed with a trans user in mind, like audio recording apps to practice voice modification, crowdsourced safe restroom finders, and a selfie-driven transition tracker. But nothing is quite as comprehensive as Solace, which contains more than 180,000 words of text, according to Anthonys estimate.

The app gives users the ability to curate a custom checklist of transition tasks, which are divided into three categories: legal (updating your birth certificate, what you can do about workplace discrimination); lifestyle (coming out to your family, connecting with other trans people); and medical (facial feminization surgery, laser hair removal, family planning). Every item is comprehensive, containing lots of actionable information about the task at hand. The coming out to family entry, for example, includes both tips on what to do (write a coming out letter to each and every family member, ask to be called by your name and pronouns, be ready to explain what transgender means) along with general advice (make sure you are sober when you come out, be prepared to lose your housing or financial support).

Many of the resources are tailored to the users gender identity and location, as non-discrimination laws and the legal hoops one has to hop through in order to change the name and gender marker on their state-issued documents vary by state. For example, the page for updating your birth certificate in Arizona correctly notes that youll need an affidavit, a certified copy of a court order, a photo copy of a valid government-issued ID, a signed letter from your physician verifying that youve undergone a sex change operation, and a small fee. The page for Washington is significantly shorter, as the Evergreen State doesnt require surgery or a fee.

Solace is free to download and the creators have no intention of selling user data to third parties. We will never charge a penny, Anthony said. Were currently donor supported. We tap into foundation support, sometimes as grants. Were structured as a nonprofit. This community faces a disproportionate amount of poverty, so putting a paywall on this thing felt counterintuitive to what we were trying to do. And data-mining, she paused. Our stomachs turn at the thought of it.

Anthony declined to share how many people have downloaded Solace since launch, though she said she and McHugh are currently halfway to reaching their 2020 user goal. The app has had a number of updates since its December launch, like the addition of more detailed information regarding Medicaid coverage for trans care in different parts of the country. Anthony said that she also plans to integrate a news aggregator with articles about a variety of trans topics, implement dynamic pronouns within the apps copyto match the pronouns the user enters, and launch a mode for parents and guardians of trans kids.

Listening to Anthony talk, I couldnt help but think about how different my experience with transitioning has been. Its not that I havent had to seek out other trans people to find out who they see for laser hair removal or whether progesterones really worth the hype; Ive had to do all of those things. The difference is that I view them as positives rather than negatives. Ive found a lot of value in talking to other trans people about their experiences and sifting through their anecdotal experiences to figure out what might be right for me. Im deeply grateful for all the friendships Ive made and communities Ive joined after putting myself in uncomfortable, new social situations. I asked Anthony if she was concerned that an app like Solace might lead trans people away from their local communities. Its a byproduct were aware of, she said, but I wouldnt say that its a goal of ours.

Our entire ethos is about providing this community with agency, and part of agency is allowing people to access information on their own terms, she said.

Solace might not be of that much use to me, an extrovert in a major city whos already in community with other trans people (and my questions at this point of my transition are more existential than they are practicalless about how do I do this or how do I do that, and more about what do I do now). But it could be useful to people who dont know any trans people, or live in a part of the country with no visible local community, and might be particularly helpful for early transitioners or trans people who havent come out yet and are still trying to figure out where to begin.

Regardless of who makes use of Solaces many comprehensive resources, Anthony was clear about one thing: she doesnt want anyone to rely on the app forever. The ultimate sign of Solaces success is that the user deletes the app because they dont need it anymore, she said.

Follow Harron Walker on Twitter .

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Want to Transition? There's an App for That - VICE UK

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