Trans Liberation? There's No App for That

Jes Skolnik
·5-min read
Photo credit: DESIGN BY INGRID FRAHM
Photo credit: DESIGN BY INGRID FRAHM
Photo credit: Design by Ingrid Frahm
Photo credit: Design by Ingrid Frahm

It’s almost certain that the small team at Euphoria.LGBT, a company that makes a suite of apps marketed to the transgender community called Solace, Bliss, and Clarity, didn’t expect the pushback they received when they announced a new round of venture capital funding, apparently raised by big players including Chelsea Clinton and LGBTQ+ investment firm Gaingels. The news was announced via an article on startup news site Built in Austin. And a tweet celebrating the news by Euphoria’s social media team quickly went viral, with hundreds of comments and retweets largely from trans people, who were not excited. I was one of them.

The suite of apps covers a few perceived needs that the trans community might have. Solace provides “information and resources to guide transgender people through whatever process of gender transition they desire.” It also features a paid “set of premium services” called Solace Plus, which as of writing this story appears to be a monthly subscription envelope containing a gift card depending on which gender you are; examples include makeup for women, a shave club for men, and, inexplicably, Starbucks for nonbinary people. The service may offer other things, but it is impossible to know without signing up for it. Bliss, which appears to be on the verge of launching, is an LGBTQ+-focused savings app, and Clarity is a “self tracker to help measure gender identity, gender expression, and attraction.”

The problem is that none of us, the targeted consumers, asked for these apps. Solace comes closest to fulfilling a real need—one does need information and resources to help with transitioning, whatever that means to the individual—but all that information already exists, or can be picked up by forming relationships with other trans people, either offline or on message boards going back to the early days of the Web, on Discord servers, and on resource pages curated by trans people and grassroots groups.

Though trans people do face higher unemployment and poverty rates than cis people overall, the reasons largely involve discrimination in housing, health care, education, and employment, as well as discrimination from blood family members. It’s unlikely that the advice to be found in a financial planning app, like not buying that latte, will solve such deep systemic problems or will make up for the exorbitant costs we are forced to pay out of pocket for gender-affirming surgeries, even with “good” health insurance. And a self-tracker, a.k.a. a specialized journal, only collates enormous amounts of personal information that can be tied to consumer profiles. Though Euphoria tweeted that it isn’t data mining, it also said in the same tweet that it isn’t requiring subscriptions. The Euphoria suite of apps is brand new; what happens when its VC backers demand ever higher returns on their investment?

Euphoria.LGBT isn’t the first company attempting to market transition-related services directly to trans people that has received a largely negative response from the community—not even the first one this year. GenderFck, a life coaching service for trans people, received such an excoriation on Twitter and Instagram this winter and spring that it produced several nesting public statements attempting to clarify its business practices and positions, and redressing some of the critiques; the website previously contained language about how one might pay for the coaching services, which included asking friends and family for money, and selling personal possessions.

To understand our deep antipathy toward services such as these, it pays to know a little bit of American trans history and about the battle between assimilation and liberation within that movement. Writing for WHYY in Philadelphia on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the gay rights movement (July 4, 2015), Cei Bell puts it succinctly. “The transgender movement, the ‘T’ in LGBT, happened in spite of, not because of, the gay rights movement.” Bell’s article is a solid introductory overview to the ways trans people have been consistently marginalized by the larger gay rights movement and written out of significant histories of that movement, despite our constant presence—to be a little flip about it, we were just too scary and challenging to straight people. (To participate in the Annual Reminders demonstrations in the summer of 1965, dated by most historians as the start of the gay rights movement, Bell pointed out that women had to wear skirts or dresses, and men had to wear pants, specifically as a counter to heterosexual narratives of gayness as deviance.) If you Google “the silent T,” you’ll find a good number of articles dating back decades with trans people and/or our cis queer allies demanding that if we are to be included under the rainbow umbrella—where we have always been—we should receive genuine solidarity.

TIME declared in 2014 that we’d reached the “transgender tipping point,” the point at which society begins to arc toward the acceptance of trans people, but the reality is much less rosy. In 2018, Kai Cheng Thom wrote for them, “Four years after the so-called transgender tipping point, however, not much seems to have changed for the majority of trans people today. There is a strange disjunct between the social transformation that appears to have taken place in the media and the ongoing reality of violence, deprivation, and discrimination that trans people continue to experience.” Today, there is a stunning number of anti-trans bills going through state legislative processes across America; if anything, the backlash to trans “visibility” has only grown, including international reach for transphobic lobbying groups like the LGB Alliance.

Thom went on to make clear the difference between representation, hollow gestures, and genuine liberation. “To achieve trans liberation, we must turn our gaze to ending neoliberalism,” she wrote, a precept I fully agree with. There can be no trans justice without broader economic justice, and there can be no broader economic justice without understanding the many, many ways power attempts to divide and sanction us based on our demographics.

Euphoria.LGBT and GenderFck may be owned by trans people, but in attempting a grab for our dollars, capitalizing off our identities, and further boxing us into institutionalized narratives, they do us very, very wrong, right along with specious attempts at corporate pandering like a cookie declaring that we exist and a rebranded Mr. Potato Head. Those of us who have always depended on principles of genuine mutual aid to survive because we had no other choice, we refuse.

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