The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way industries do business. From DoorDash to Amazon Prime, more and more of our daily lives are being lived virtually, on apps and websites that limit our exposure to the potentially deadly virus spread by our fellow human beings. Health care is no different, with medical and mental health providers offering telehealth visits for routine services. As the invisible hand of the free market makes adjustments for lives lived in quarantine, it leaves no stone unturned as it juggles supply, demand and profit. The era of apps and marketing for the transgender consumer has arrived.
I admit to a degree of cynicism, but it isn’t entirely a bad thing. Trans people are again weathering storms of transphobia and persecution, with pundits platforming any talking head who will take the brave editorial stance of denying the validity and existence of trans people. But market forces have realized there is money to be made, so while trans people may have to endure harassment and degradation in our day-to-day lives, we can rest assured that our existence will be tolerated as long as our consumer habits generate profits for shareholders.
Robbi Katherine Anthony, the creator of Solace, “the first companion app for the transgender experience,” told Forbes, “Our estimates place the average cost of transition at $150,000 per person. Multiply that by an estimated population of 1.4 million transgender people, we’re talking about a market in excess of $200B. That is significant.”
Solace is a free app that helps trans people track legal, medical and other transition-related goals. Solace Plus offers concierge and envelope services. Concierge costs a one-time fee of $25, and can help you find local service providers for all your trans-related needs. Their envelope service is a $25 monthly subscription, and they send you gift cards for “clothing stores, cosmetics companies, and online services relevant to your transition, as well as a personalized letter with a specific goal from Solace which that month’s reward can help you accomplish.”
Solace is just one of many apps marketed to trans people these days. Plume is an app-based Hormone Replacement Therapy provider. Services start at $99 a month, and Plume connects you with a medical professional who will provide HRT labs, prescriptions and other services such as medical letters for people seeking gender-affirming surgery. It does not include the actual cost of medication, which their website notes can run anywhere from $5-$50 a month, depending on insurance. Plume seems pretty pricey to me, but I am an established elder trans. I’ve been on HRT for half a decade, so I just pay my $30 copay every six months to my primary health care provider for labs and monitoring, and pick up my prescriptions each month. Plume could be a good option for someone newly trans and nervous about that first consultation, or for folks who live in areas without trans-friendly providers.
Folx Health is similar to Plume, but offers customized plans, not just for HRT, but also for erectile dysfunction, with plans to offer PrEP, STI testing kits and hair and skin care in the near future. Folx also delivers medications. No awkward interactions with nosy pharmacy techs required.
There are also trans coaching subscription services like GenderFck, offered by therapist Rae McDaniel, who does point out that “While I am a licensed therapist, I’m not your therapist and this is not a therapy program.” GenderFck charges $997 a year, and provides a 10-module course, two monthly coaching sessions, a quarterly book club, a monthly social event and access to an online portal.
These services offer things I, and generations of trans people before me, had to find the hard way, or through the underground whisper network of trans people who knew the cool doc to go to. We didn’t have to pay a monthly fee, but it required a very serious level of personal commitment and some pretty thick skin — and of course, not all the trans people I met in the free support groups in 2015 are still with us today. It’s definitely important to be wary of predatory capitalists trying to squeeze a profit out of a historically poverty-stricken demographic, but at the same time I can empathize with folks who are willing to pay a little more for a smoother transition. I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone who wants to make life easier for trans people, but it’s important to note that these apps are the Tesla of trans services. The ’98 Toyota Corolla of trans services will still get you where you want to go. At the risk of sounding like a bitter curmudgeon, in my day, the only companion app for the transgender experience was Tumblr.