At the tender age of twelve, Lana Patel came out as a transgender woman to her family and their reaction was less than kind. In fact, it was traumatizing. Their reaction set Patel up for a decade of constant embarrassment, fear, and sadness, as her family’s inability to accept her identity led to a variety of painful circumstances. Forced to leave her parents and live with her grandparents in Florida, Patel would go on to endure countless visits back to her childhood home where her family would try and force her to act and look like a boy, her birth sex. After a decade of grief and frustration, she felt completely lost and was scrambling to find ways to become her authentic self. While she had one close friend who saw her without the lens of discrimination and sought to help her, Patel felt she often had nowhere to turn and lacked the resources to live as her complete self. Patel spent years battling suicidal thoughts.
Lana’s life story is not an unfamiliar one for the trans community here in the United States. Having to navigate harmful bias and discrimination entrenched in every system, from education to healthcare, it’s not surprising that many transgender people find themselves alone, isolated, and often, suicidal. Losing family and friends, risking their health and fearful for their lives in today’s America, the trans community struggles to be accepted in many different spaces and places. Adding to this is the anxiety that once ‘out’, it almost immediately shortens one’s life expectancy to 36 years old. This is barely old enough to run for President in the United States and, the average age that most Americas start building their lives: owning a home, building a family, and excelling in their careers. Shocking to many, black trans women have an even lower life expectancy based on a greater susceptibility to violence and racist depredations on their civil rights and personal liberties.
As a solution to the many barriers faced by trans Americans, Robbi Katherine Anthony (who prefers her initials RKA) launched an app in December of 2019 to bring support and resources to her community. The app she created, Solace, provides information and resources to guide transgender people through whatever process of gender transition they desire.Â Drawing on her own experiences, RKA, like Lana, acknowledges just how important transition has been to her life. â€œBy having the agency to progress through my transition, my life has begun. Gender dysphoria is an insidious disease in that it seizes on the inability to move forward. I wanted to build something that counteracted that which could help people continue their journey,â€ says RKA.
â€œPeople often wonder how to help this community, and the answer is deceptively simple. Let people have control over their lives and move forward in accordance with what they know is true. In a sense, thatâ€™s what everyone, trans or cis, wants, yet current society seemingly shuns my community for fulfilling that same desire.â€
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Seeing the impact already created by Solace in the trans community, RKA and her business partner, Patrick McHugh, are working to launch a new app, Bliss, and are actively seeking venture funding. But this time around, RKA is finding her experience in raising capital is different from her experience with other start-ups. Now having been in the process of transition for six years and visibly out as a trans-entrepreneur in fintech, the phone calls aren’t being returned with the same frequency when she was raising funding before she was out. â€œIâ€™ve been an entrepreneur for over a decade. Before, I could get meetings with investors with relative ease. Now, strictly based on my appearance and existence, I generally donâ€™t get taken seriously.â€ RKA said the difference is quite vast, with literally less than of half her former contacts picking up the phone to discuss Bliss. â€œNow that Iâ€™m out, in many ways, the Venture Capital world sees me as ineffectual.â€
Trans-tech is a budding industry with an enormous opportunity, RKA claims. â€œOur estimates place the average cost of transition at $150,000 per person. Multiply that by an estimated population of 1.4 million transgender people, weâ€™re taking about a market in excess of $200B. That is significant. Thatâ€™s larger than the entire film industry.â€
Transition is expensive. There are countless stories accounting for the full cost of transition, which can be inaccessible for some or result in the delay of transition for others. But remarkably, individuals in this community find ways to move forward, despite hardships and discrimination. It makes sense, as these individuals are literally investing in themselves. Theyâ€™re investing in the bodies that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. To every trans American, no cost is too high.
As America evolves, it’s important that we consider our own privileges when we give, save, spend, and invest. Investors must look at the opportunity as much as the impact. To young trans men and women across the country, it makes a difference to see themselves represented in fields they admire, and it is a matter of justice that they have dignified access to resources and community. Too many trans people in America have gone, and continue to go, without equal access to resources and interactions that their cis counterparts take for granted.
As we admire and applaud trans celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox and Elliot Page, it is important we think about the individual actions we can each take to uplift the entire trans community across our nation. Trans leaders are currently creating innovations to help our communities and doing so with minimal support. One can only imagine what these individuals could build if given equal access and means to what other entrepreneurs can receive. For a community that is centered around the process of innovating on their personal selves via transition, it makes sense that theyâ€™d look to innovate elsewhere. For now, entrepreneurs like RKA try to press on hoping that the other institutions of entrepreneurship will eventually see her for what she truly is. An entrepreneur.