The impact of gender-affirming care
Countless studies have revealed that gender-affirming care saves lives. Transgender and gender-diverse individuals with access to said care are proven to have a significantly decreased risk of suicide, psychological events, and substance abuse.
Despite these findings, only seven states in the United States prohibit health care discrimination based on gender identity.
For transgender and gender-diverse youth, the numbers are even grimmer. Fifteen states are working to ban gender-affirming care for people under the age of 18, which would leave 58,200 more U.S. citizens lacking valuable health care.
Although some states like Colorado mandate that insurance companies cover gender-affirming care, many barriers remain.
“Health insurance coverage doesn't equal access to care, and doesn't necessarily equal good care,” Kirkley.
According to Kirkley, even the best insurance in the world doesn’t guarantee adequate health care, because there is always a risk of encountering a dysphoric environment.
And it’s not just the transgender community who suffers from this lack of care. Kirkley noted, “If we know that gender-affirming care saves lives, improves mental health, improves quality of life, that's what we're all going for. We all want to be happy. We all want to be healthy. And so I think if we can do that in any way for any community, transgender community or otherwise, we're all better off.”
A ‘lightbulb’ moment
Kirkley co-founded Plume with Dr. Matthew Wetschler, a close friend she met in medical school. Kirkley was in the process of coming out as a transgender woman herself. Between her personal experience in seeking medical care and her time volunteering at public clinics, the lack of access to gender-affirming services had become very clear.
While brainstorming with Wetschler, the two found a valuable overlap — Kirkley’s passion for gender-affirming care, and Wetschler’s penchant for expanding access to medical necessities through apps. Thus Plume was born, and its mission to “transform healthcare for every trans life.”
Plume provides patients around the country with access to a range of gender-affirming care such as hormone therapy, testing, and letters of support for gender-related surgeries, all through a lens of both clinical and cultural competency.
Patients can access their care team from the safety and comfort of home and rely on confidential, supportive services from qualified doctors - many of whom are fellow members of the transgender community.
The name “Plume” came to the cofounders as a representation of both an individual and a community.
Kirkley explained further, “So you have plume as a feather, something that, you know, can be very ornate when we think about nature and animals and individuality and expression. But then you have plumage, which is a collection of all those feathers. And where the community aspect comes in. Yes, each one of those feathers is individual and it's beautiful in and of itself. But when they all come together they make something even more beautiful.”
Kirkley and Wetschler began Plume three years ago with a sign on a therapist’s door in Colorado Springs supplemented by a Facebook post saying “stop by.” Since then, Plume has expanded to 42 states and has served around 16,000 patients.
“It’s truly a ‘pinch me’ moment,” said Kirkley.