The rights of LGBTQ, specifically trans and gender-diverse people, are under attack, and many of those fights are playing out in the same places they once saw as safe and inclusive. From the overarching vagaries of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill to hyperfocused legislation aimed at access to gender-affirming healthcare, the unfounded pushback endangers these populations physically, mentally and emotionally.
Wrestling with one’s own gender identity can be scary, and the current atmosphere of bills that aim to medically detransition trans youth and growing calls to ban books that discuss gender with more fluidity can enhance that sense of trepidation. But the virtual and online tools where this fight plays out aren’t exclusive to those promoting transphobia.
Discover Me is an app designed specifically for those exploring or questioning their gender identity to travel that path safely. Designed by Arizona State University student Josh Tint, the app allows users to try out different pronouns and names in a safe, personal environment as they delve into their own ideas of personal identity. Pronouns and names can be viewed standalone or in written statements so users can see how their choices fit them when used in everyday examples.
Tint created the app after starting his own gender journey and finding little aid during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Many resources helped explain what different gender identities were, but largely in abstraction or in an academic way that was hard to relate to my personal experiences,” Tint told Paste. “I found myself just scribbling little notes to myself using different names and pronouns to see if they sounded authentic to me. I essentially wanted to create an interactive, discreet experience that would make it convenient for others to quickly and easily try on different identities in a similar way.”
The process Tint describes is common among those questioning their gender and feeds into the idea behind Discover Me well. He describes the app as a “more casual approach” and hopes that it will encourage others “to be more open and honest about their journeys.”
“Many people, even both trans and cisgender, have questioned their gender at some point, yet there is a massive stigma over open discussion of it,” Tint said. “I certainly know that I would have greatly appreciated hearing the experiences of other questioning people. That would have helped me figure out my own identity.”
That doesn’t mean that development isn’t without its hiccups, though. The mechanisms powering the language-based app still have some trouble conjugating sentences using they/them pronouns as those are commonly used as a plural despite their use as singular pronouns dates back centuries. The inclusion of neopronouns also caused some difficulties, but Tint remains committed to working on those issues and making Discover Me as affirming as possible.
And the goal of inclusion and affirmation are what place Discover Me in a heightened place set against the rise of homophobia and transphobia across the nation. Many legislative measures targeting these communities are making their way through legal challenges, and the cultural impact of this baseless fight is already rearing its head. Videos of members of alt-right groups and those that sympathize with them ambushing drag queen storytime events at libraries and queer gatherings continue to pop up, fueled by social media accounts like Libs of TikTo that feed into the virulent homophobia many thought went away in the last 15 years but actually just laid dormant for political climate conditions to circle around.
Tint cites the growing hostility toward trans and gender-diverse youth as an issue that enhances the importance of Discover Me, but also points to its role in helping build out digital spaces for queer youth to support one another.
“As our society increasingly becomes reliant on virtual tools and spaces, I think it’s critical that we have apps like Discover Me that provide for common aspects of the queer experience,” Tint said. “ For LGBTQ youth in environments where they can’t speak to other queer people in person, digital tools are invaluable to help them communicate with other individuals in our community, share our stories and guidance and generally foster acceptance for queer identities.”
The purpose-driven nature of his app caught the eye of tech giant Apple earlier this year when it named Tint as one of its Swift Student Challenge winners. The honor took Tint by surprise. Discover Me was the first full app he built using Apple’s Swift programming language. He barely finished entering it while wrapping up finals week, but the honor went beyond simple recognition and a trip to Apple Park.
“I received some helpful technical feedback from Apple engineers during workshops, including from one of the developers who made the Swift Natural Language Framework used in Discover Me,” Tint elated. “Being able to demo my app for [Apple CEO] Tim Cook, probably the most visible LGBTQ person in tech right now, was far beyond my wildest expectations.”