When Robyn Kanner was 19 and living in Portland, Maine, she decided to transition from male, her sex at birth, to female.
But she was unable to find a therapist who would prescribe her the hormones she wanted to help change her body. Kanner decided to begin her transition without hormones and found it made her life hell — her appearance didn't match her gender. People treated her horribly; she struggled to find and hold work. Depressed and without other options, she put her transition on hold until 2013, when she finally found a doctor willing to prescribe hormones.
This experience pushed Kanner to work with two other people who are transgender, Kade Clark and Amelia Gapin, to found MyTransHealth. The site, which launched yesterday, connects transgender people to a network of more than 450 doctors, counselors, lawyers, and crisis professionals in New York, San Francisco, Miami, Dallas, Chicago, and Seattle who have experience working with, and support, the trans community.
One in five trans people in the US have been denied health care
"If this would have existed and launched in the area I was living in at [age 19], my life would have been drastically different than it is now," said Kanner, who is MyTransHealth's co-founder and chief design officer. "I would have been able to get access [to care] much earlier and much easier."
Many people who are transgender in the US struggle to get access to health services without discrimination, abuse, or denial. While not all trans people seek hormones or surgeries, those who do often find it can be hard to get the necessary referrals many insurers require, if they cover transition care at all.
Regardless of whether they choose hormones or surgeries, transgender people often struggle to find basic health care providers who are respectful of their gender and knowledgeable on transgender issues. In 2010, a study found that almost one-third of trans people delayed seeing the doctor for fear of discrimination, while one in five trans people were refused medical care. In that same year, the Affordable Care Act made it illegal for any medical facility that receives federal funding to discriminate against a patient based on his or her sex. Nevertheless, discrimination has been slow to die.
To be listed on MyTransHealth, providers must prove their experience working with transgender patients, and abide by standards for transgender care established by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health and Informed Consent for Access to Trans Health. Their offices must also offer gender-neutral bathrooms and paperwork. While each provider was screened according to these standards, Kanner noted that MyTransHealth also looks for a degree of empathy and comfort dealing with trans people from the doctors, lawyers, and counselors they include on the site.
MyTransHealth launched on a $33,000 Kickstarter campaign
Users enter the site by selecting a gender (intersex, non-binary, transgender, trans man, trans woman, or write-in), then entering their location, and finally selecting between medical, mental health, legal, and crisis services. They are then directed to a list of resources, and can click on an individual clinic or provider for information like specific services provided, languages spoken, contact information, and links to social media.
The three co-founders, Kanner, Clark, and Gapin, began working on the site in September 2014. Just over half a year later, in July 2015, they launched a Kickstarter campaign, which raised more than $33,000 from approximately 850 backers in one month. With that money, they focused on recruiting doctors and building the website. All three have full-time jobs, and they built MyTransHealth on the side as a nonprofit.
Although the site launched one day ago, Kanner said the response has been "relatively positive," and that they are eager to see what feedback they get from users.
"For right now we figured we'd get a public beta out so we can at least start gathering information, figuring out how people are using the site and figuring out how we can design it to be a more pleasurable experience for them, and then we can dive in."
The three have a clear vision of what they will dive into next. First, they hope to expand MyTransHealth to rural areas, especially places known to discriminate against trans people, like North Carolina. Kanner, who transitioned in rural Maine, knows firsthand that trans-friendly medical care can be especially hard to come by outside of urban areas. Second, they feel it will be important to build a community portion, where users can review and recommend providers. As it is now, many trans and gender-nonconforming people find medical care by word of mouth, and this would be a natural extension of that network.
But the team would rather wait to launch these features until they have enough data and information build them well.
"There's so many things that we want to do," Kanner said. "Everything is just one piece at a time."