By Jess Grant
Americans pride themselves on having a keen nose for economic opportunity. Entrepreneurship – the Art of the Deal – lies at the heart of America’s mythic self-image. Peter Minuit’s purchase of Manhattan from the Lenape for $24 worth of beads is a foundational story of our colonial culture, suggesting as it does that Europeans simply bought America from the Indians in a lopsided but peaceful exchange (rather than seizing it in a genocidal blood bath).
Now there’s a new American gold rush afoot: the gender craze. American capitalists have been quick to seize the opportunity, as investors rush in to capture market-share in a growing industry. This series of profiles will look at some of the gender industry’s leaders, examine their role in promoting gender ideology, and deconstruct their language to show how they cloak schemes of self-enrichment in glowing terms of civil rights and authentic personal expression.
JERRICA KIRKLEY and MATTHEW WETSCHLER (co-founders of Plume)
Jerrica Kirkley MD, a trans-identified man, along with his partner Matthew Wetschler MD, founded Plume in 2019. They “spent every waking hour together for 4 years of medical school before parting ways for residency,” then reunited two years ago to found Plume, a mobile phone-based app that allows trans-identified patients to get the drugs they seek without ever setting foot inside a doctor’s office.
For only $99/month, Plume members get video appointments with a healthcare provider; prescriptions for “gender affirming medications”; ordering, analysis, and cost of all labs; progress monitoring; letters for name or gender marker changes; medical letters of support for surgery; and injection instruction and live injection support. The cost of the medication itself, however, is not covered by the membership fee.
Plume currently offers the service in 33 U.S. states and is “expanding rapidly.” The startup recently began partnering with employers (such as the Trevor Project) to offer its services as an employee benefit and claims to be onboarding as many as 50 patients per month. Per the Affordable Care Act, health plans are required to cover “gender-affirming care,” so this is a promising area of growth.
What drugs does Plume sell? Hormones (testosterone, estradiol, and progesterone); hormone blockers (spironolactone, finasteride, dutasteride); also hair loss and erectile dysfunction meds. There are few barriers to access. Their website says: “We provide care on an informed-consent basis, meaning we explain all the known risks and benefits of therapy and the patient decides if it is right for them. Nobody needs a letter from a behavioral health provider to start care.”
Who is Plume’s market? Tech Crunch estimates there are at least 1.4 million transgender Americans, a group that spends nearly $6 billion a year on medication. Plume is even more inclusive when describing their potential clientele. Testosterone, for instance, “…is commonly prescribed to trans men, and transmasculine, nonbinary, and intersex folks.” The only limit to membership is an age requirement (18-65 years) and residency in an approved state.
Venture capitalists are flocking to Plume. General Catalyst and others backed the company with $2.9 million in June of 2020. Eight months later, they announced another infusion of cash, from a $14 million Series A fund round led by Craft Ventures. Why is Wall Street investing in Plume?
Wetschler explains: “Generation Z is five times more likely than baby boomers to identify as trans. The full visibility of the trans community is yet to be realized. There’s an opportunity to have an ongoing longitudinal relationship and that’s something that’s highly valued.”
What’s an “ongoing longitudinal relationship?” Wetschler is referring to the fact that hormone patients will need to stay on those drugs for the rest of their lives to maintain the cross-sex illusion. Investors know these clients are patients-for-life, ensuring a steady cash flow from a captive (addicted) market.
According to Yahoo Finance, “Covid-19 has accelerated the already hot market for direct-to-consumer health companies using mobile technology, virtual consultations and low-priced generic drugs to target specific communities. Startups Hims and Ro have hit billion-dollar valuations by treating embarrassing male problems like erectile dysfunction and hair loss.” Plume has clearly benefited from this trend.
While it may appear that Plume is getting rich by peddling drugs to vulnerable people in a regulatory vacuum, this is not how they see it. Rather, “Few medical services engage as deeply with people’s self-expression, identity and well-being. (Plume is) the first health technology company built for the transgender community focused on radically increasing access to care, medication and products…supporting a bold, authentic and healthy lifestyle.”
The road to success has not been easy for Jerrica. “In the span of six months I came out as trans, was divorced, lost my house, quite my job, started a company, and lost a lot of friends.” No word here about how his ex-wife felt about his “transition,” though it’s a new twist on an old trope: the wife who helps her husband through medical school, only to be tossed aside when he’s completed his residency.
Jerrica says he’s creating a safe space for trans people to access their meds without suffering the indignities of a transphobic medical system. “Trans people often live in areas where there are not any competent or welcoming medical providers…even if there is a competent provider, patients still face discrimination, misgendering and misnaming by other staff.” As if (the fact of) discrimination and (the feeling of) being misgendered were on a par with one another.
Jerrica was 35 when he came out as transgender. “I never consciously thought I was a girl when I was younger or told my parents that I was. I didn’t routinely express or participate in activities that were thought to be more feminine. But I always had a feeling that something was different about me, at times much stronger than others, but I could never put my finger on it.”
For all we know, that “something different” was Jerrica’s ambition to get rich, not his gender dysphoria. In which case it would appear he’s transitioned to the upper class quite well.
Jess Grant is a songwriter and recording artist from Seattle WA. Jess was introduced to radical feminism by Nikki Craft in 1980, helping the Preying Mantis Women’s Brigade drive the Miss California Pageant out of Santa Cruz, CA. He is also a dues-paying member of North America’s only revolutionary labor union, the IWW. These days, gender critical activism is his primary form of political expression. www.jessgrantsongs.com