Robyn Kanner is the co-founder and designer of MyTransHealth, a site dedicated to helping trans and gender-nonconforming people get access to quality and culturally competent healthcare. The platform was founded by four trans people—Kade Clark, Annika Backstrom, Amelia Gapin, and Kanner—for trans people. MyTransHealth allows users to select their identity, location, and access needs from drop-down menus that yield results for providers that have met MyTransHealth criteria. Providers are expected to have documented clinical training in treating the trans community, nondiscrimination policies in place that include gender identity, compliance with World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care, gender-affirming intake paperwork, and facilities with gender-neutral bathrooms available.
Kanner lives in Seattle, where she is an Art Director at Amazon. We caught up online from separate coasts to talk about MyTransHealth’s latest iteration, which is expanding to 14 more cities and launching this month. She mentions several times in our chat that she doesn’t want to be a bummer; first referencing her strategy as a designer, then as an antidote to the frequent framing of conversations about trans and gender-nonconforming people. “Is the sky blue?” she responds, when asked if she’s been faced with discrimination in the tech industry. Rather than being flip, she’s flipping the script: She wants to hear more happy stories. She’s working to make that a reality.
THORA SIEMSEN: MyTransHealth’s purview includes Chicago, Dallas, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. Which 14 cities are included in the expansion?
ROBYN KANNER: Los Angeles, California; Boston, Massachusetts; Phoenix, Arizona; Portland, Oregon; Denver, Colorado; Charlotte, North Carolina; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Ashburn, Virginia; Omaha, Nebraska; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; and Kansas City, Missouri.
What was the process for selecting the latest cities?
We took a look at the top 20-ish locations where people were coming through our site, and picked 14 that spread across the country as to avoid just being coastal.
Coming through from the side of people navigating the site or providers?
People navigating. [We] just picked the locations people were visiting from most. We also didn’t really build a scalable system the first time around, and this second iteration makes adding new locations super easy so we can expand faster.
So this second iteration will be many people’s introduction to MyTransHealth, that’s great. How would you describe navigating the site to a first-time user?
Simple and delightful. I was doing two things that really impacted how I designed the experience the first time: volunteering at a suicide hotline and cam-girling. The suicide hotline showed me that I needed to bring delight into the experience as much as possible. I didn’t want to bum you out. Cam-girling showed me that I needed the design to get out of the way. No distractions, just the right information.
Both of those platforms focus on service and survival.
For trans and gender nonconforming teenagers reading this, what would you want them to know about their rights to accessible medical, mental health, crisis, and legal services?
That’s a great question. I don’t want to bum trans and gender nonconforming teenagers out, but this world was, in large part, not designed with you in mind, which means you need to learn how to be very stubborn about your needs. You know who you are. If a doctor is being a gatekeeper, go to Planned Parenthood. If a doctor thinks your broken leg is because you’re on hormones, they’re probably wrong. Get a second opinion.
That reminds me of the #transhealthfail hashtag that [MyTransHealth] started on social media to provide a platform for trans and gender nonconforming people to speak out about bad healthcare experiences. Did any data from this hashtag inform your vetting standards for healthcare providers?
Oh, for sure. We were crawling that hashtag hard. The thing is, because MyTransHealth is created by trans people, we’re able to see things cis people can’t, and we can make decisions for that. It also means that we’re very subjective to our own experiences. That hashtag gave us a macro vision with experiences we never considered. It helped us think objectively. Not to tangent too hard, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we learned this narrative to fight.
When I was in high school in the early the ’00s, there wasn’t much for trans representation, right? Like, it just didn’t exist, and I grew up in rural Maine. I saw this ad for a movie based on Gwen Araujo, which came out in like 2006. Anyway, I snuck away and watched that movie, and Gwen’s story is horrible. She’s trans and is outed and is murdered. In that movie, and her life, there are so many moments of her being like, “HEY I AM TRANS IS ANYONE LISTENING” and no one has language. She has to sneak off to San Francisco to see a consultant to get help. There Gwen is, stubborn as hell, but that’s the reality. Sure, we’re more visible, but that one piece that is so prevalent in Gwen’s narrative is still deeply ingrained in us.
I can recall similar internalization, from seeing films like Boys Don’t Cry and Two Spirits. I taught SafeZone trainings in college, and it’s almost like we had to provide these narratives to incentivize learning how to make classrooms and offices more inclusive.
Yup, but it could never be a happy story, and that’s such a problem.
Going back to how Gwen had to go to San Francisco, or this idea of access being bound to a metropolis: How is MyTransHealth a resource for people beyond the cities in your service scope?
The answer has so many levels. From when we grow up, we’re pushed into urban environments. When you call a suicide hotline and say you need help you hear, “When can you leave to an urban environment?” It’s always in us, so when MyTransHealth was kicking off we hit urban areas. Honestly, it was just to kind of see if it would work, because we didn’t know. With this next iteration, if you select Omaha, we show you greater Omaha. So even if it’s on the outskirts, you’ll see something. As far as scaling that, it’s complex. We research, call, vet every provider, so it just takes time to hit everywhere. We were really cognizant to not just be in popular East and West Coast cities. Moreover, Kade [Clark] is working on a post that we’ll publish soon that just talks about best practices when asking questions, so if we’re not in the location, you can have a guide to at least ask the right questions.
“It’s always in us” is such a good way to speak to that narration that we’re sort of given.
Right! These moments in our lives, they’re deep inside of us. Just because you get access or whatever, you’re still left with these moments [that] formed your identity. For better or worse, it’s the “Nevada” curse. Nevada being Imogen Binnie’s book.
I love Imogen, and read her MRR column every month.
I’m going to start. Any other recommendations for Rookie readers?
I read a lot of zines. I’m reading this one called Hard As Fuck by Elly Ryland. Everything Nia King does is great. Laura Jane Grace’s book [Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout] is great. There’s this zine called Hey Lady by Jake Feldman, and I read it all of the time. I don’t know them, but I found it in a Left Bank Books in Seattle, and I look all over for them now. Spider Teeth by Ellie June Navidson is also great. The subheading is, “Wherein our protagonist flies to Thailand to get a brand new cunt.” Which has to be the best subheading ever?
Possibly of all time?
So iconic. I’m also reading Larissa Pham’s book at the moment. She’s not trans, but as far as cis people, she’s a good one.
She’s one of my best friends!
Oh shit! She’s really great. I designed MyTransHealth out of an attic in Portland, and she and I met for coffee when I was miserable in Portland.
She’s a good person to meet up with when you need support. Also for Rookie readers to read.
Yes, totally. A lot of her writing and its connection to power and men really resonate with me. After cam-girling, men feel so hollow. Her work was good to read.
What are some ways you see the links between seeking out trans culture and community online and finding resources like MyTransHealth?
Well, trans communities have historically formed in back channels across networks. Those conversations will happen relatively naturally. It’s part of our upbringing to share knowledge, because it’s so scarce. Especially now, it can be difficult to tell the difference between articles/projects published by cis people designed to make them feel better about themselves, or get clicks, versus trans people legit showing up for each other.
That’s why it’s important for us to share about books that helped us as part of this conversation about healthcare! They’re good for our mental health.
Let’s talk about policy. Does local law impact trans teens’ healthcare access, in terms of what might be available from state to state, or from city to city?
State-to-state, yes. City-to-city, less likely. School district to school district, maybe, as we’re seeing with Gavin Grimm.
What are some ways of staying in conversation with providers?
We follow the news. We’re going to be in Charlotte this time around, which means we asked them extra questions around, “Hey, what do you do if trans lives are illegal?” and their answer needed to be, “We’re going to help them regardless” or they weren’t going up, you know?
How can patients reach you?
Our email is right on the site and [email protected] goes to everyone on the team. Someone is constantly reading it.
Do trans teens have any different issues to consider than adults might when accessing healthcare?
It’s all dependent on situation. Trans teens often have adult gatekeepers, whereas adults generally can do as they please. Of course, this comes with a cost. They’re very different. Trans people who are white will have a radically different experience than those of color. Look at the lists—it ain’t white trans girls being murdered at an unsettling rate. There’s a lot of intersections here. ♦