TRACE Your Transition

by | Mar 1, 2024 | 0 comments

The TRACE app features both a social media network and documenting capabilities to capture transition milestones e.g. haircuts, coming out, or surgical anniversaries. It has just over 11,500 users, with the majority being in the United States but many others in places like Australia, Canada, Germany, India, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. TRACE is compatible for iOS and Android users.

“I’m the proudest of the product when we get messages from the community that we have been able to facilitate through the app and people tell us that we’ve saved their life and changed their life forever by creating this community,” said Greene who is both TRACE’s Chief Technology Officer and a Co-Founder.

Greene’s journey from Epic Systems employee to tech entrepreneur has been quite fortuitous; not only had he never built a mobile app, but the opportunity at TRACE grew out of an Instagram direct message with Aydian Dowling (he/him), a transgender advocate and social media influencer.

“We weren’t friends beforehand, but with working together and doing something like starting a company, you get very close. That’s also been a really great benefit—his friendship in all of this as well,” said Dowling.

Beta Beginnings 

After childhood, Greene moved to Minnesota to attend St. Olaf’s College where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Hispanic Studies in 2013. After graduation, he returned to Wisconsin to work in Quality Assurance for Epic. Soon after he realized, “I didn’t want to test the software, I wanted to build it. I’ve always been someone that loves building things and fixing things in my house. I never realized until I was older, that is essentially what a software developer is.”

Upon overcoming his misled fear that computer science would involve “complex math,” Greene enrolled in night classes at UW-Madison to receive a Computer Sciences Capstone Certificate. Finally, in August of 2019, Greene swapped into a Software Developer role at Epic.

Despite having just completed a major career shift, three months later his life took another turn as Greene realized his transgender identity while on a trip to Italy. This self-discovery led Greene to want to find others like himself and participate in transgender culture. “Our community does not have a place where they are supported online in any traditional social media aspects,” he explained.

Transitioning to TRACE 

As a result of realizing his trans identity, he took to Instagram where he one day stumbled upon the user account of his soon-to-be TRACE Co-Founder and CEO, Aydian Dowling. Dowling was in the process of just starting the company and had recently had another engineer and developer quit, but he was determined to get his idea off the ground.

“Overall, now more than ever the community needs a place where we can gather without fear of judgment, and fear of ridicule, and have a true community. You know, all these social networks and social communities—they always use this word ‘community,’ but a community is a place where you should feel safe and free—[and] more than 50% of all trans people, we don’t feel that,” he explained.

Desperate, Dowling posted a few times, “Anybody know how to build apps?” on his Instagram story. Despite being total strangers, Greene wrote Dowling, “I’ve never made an app before, but I bet I could do it!” Soon after, they had a virtual meeting along with the app’s third Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer, Elizabeth Rhodes (she/her).

“We really hit it off,” said Dowling. “He came to the first meeting with all of these ideas before we had even officially met. So, that was a clear sign that this was going to be a good relationship.”

Despite still working his day job at Epic, Greene did “a very basic launching pad” of the app on a trial basis to prove he could build a beta mobile app. He officially joined TRACE in November of 2021 and convinced his co-founders to incorporate the app in Wisconsin because of “the general blossoming tech hub that Madison is.”

Building a Business 

In 2022 TRACE became a member of the Gener8tor (Madison Accelerator’s annual cohort) which provided TRACE $100,000 in funding as well as 12 weeks of training. Additional funding has come through the LGBTQ-run investment firm the Gaingels, the nonprofit Hopelab, as well as one private angel investor. In 2023, TRACE also received mentorship in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s Eidos LGBTQ+ Health Initiative. TRACE itself was also a presenting sponsor of the 2023 Milwaukee PrideFest.

“[I’m] just really proud of the work that [Greene,] myself, and Elizabeth have been doing over these years and excited to continue to see it grow,” explained Dowling. Now, TRACE is launching an update that will allow voice tracking reminders to help those who go on hormone replacement therapy and want to document any vocal changes they experience.

“A lot of use on social media is following the breadcrumbs trail to find your community,” said 40-year-old Asher Marino (he/him), a TRACE user and Massachusetts resident. “I’ve had [teenagers on TRACE] reach out and say, ‘I’d never seen a transadult.’ I was like, ‘Honestly, me neither,’ [but] now I know transadults!”

The March update will also restructure how TRACE features other reminders and include rewards if users hit a certain number of goals e.g. taking their medication on time, photographing themselves over time, or whatever other reminder the user may want. These new features will be behind a paywall, but Greene insists the app will always have a free version.

“A lot of media is about promoting, and I just wanted to share,” continued Marino. “Embracing the aspects of masculinity that I always felt inside but also having that softness, is really the trans[masc] experience. It has been great to share with others…There’s a different vibe, there’s less vanity…it’s more about just getting support for the process, and it’s exciting to be finally feeling your own skin for once. Sometimes it can feel superficial on other platforms.”

Question & Answer

What was the biggest challenge for you? 

The biggest challenge is never having written a mobile app before. I had only done enterprise software—really large company software. So, going into the mobile space and just having to learn everything and being a one-person developer shop is obviously very, very difficult. It comes with lots of challenges—every day trying to learn new things.

Do you have any competitors out there? 

There’s nothing that exists for trans and nonbinary individuals.

Any advice for queers trying to break into the tech space? 

Make sure to align yourself with organizations that are queer friendly because we have found through our funding and just through other organizations in general, that tech organizations are generally pretty queer friendly, and certain individuals (like certain investors) are not queer friendly.

I don’t actually think it’s that hard to find organizations that are queer friendly—there’s just not a lot of representation. You are going to have to be okay with breaking down barriers, depending on what field you’re going into, and just believing in what you’re doing and sticking your neck out for it. You’re going to have to remind people that we matter, and our community matters, over, and over, and over again, because they will have little to no understanding of our community.

If you’re marketing something for the queer community, people are going to hammer you with saying, “There’s not actually that many trans people in the U.S.,” (as an example) when that’s clearly not the case. You’re going to have to do a lot of education around whatever product you’re doing and whatever market space you’re going into.

Is it important to you to continue to work in queer spaces? 

Yes, I definitely want it to be a part of my work. The goal would be that TRACE works out and to be able to continue to provide a space for our people as our country continues to try and tear us down more and more and more.

There are lots of ways that different industries are overlooking queer and trans people, and being able to bring that mindset is crucial. It’s important to have people think about things slightly differently, even if it isn’t typically considered a queer company. Even things like travel companies or book selling companies can have a huge queer component to them, and bringing that awareness will always be a thing that I will advocate for.

Has TRACE impacted your personal life? 

I have gone from not having many trans friends in Madison, to then through the tagging feature (where you can tag locations and have channels of Reddit-style threads of general topics), I found three great transguys who are new close friends of mine through the app.

How do you feel about living in Wisconsin as a queer person? 

I always grew up in a relatively queer-safe environment in the “bubble” of Madison, even before I knew I was queer. I’ve just seen over the last 10 years living here as an adult, just an extreme amount of acceptance. So many buildings and businesses now have single stall restrooms, and they don’t even have to be educated on why that’s important.

So, as a queer person and a transperson in Madison, I feel generally safe going in 90% of establishments in the city, which I think you cannot say about most places. Outside of Madison I definitely do not feel as comfortable, but within Madison I have felt a large amount of security in being openly queer. I understand that I am a white, cis-passing, able-bodied man and know I have extreme privilege. So that needs to be taken into account for this question. n

Note: The author and Greene are friends who met through TRACE.

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