Robyn Kanner and transgender people

Robyn Grace Kanner (born July 9, 1987) is an American marketing executive and graphic designer who has worked on several corporate and political projects. She created a resource project for the trans community and has published several first-person essays.

Background

Kanner grew up in Fairfield, Maine. She initially studied history at a local college before taking art classes at University of Maine at Farmington and University of Minnesota. She then worked as a graphic designer at several companies in Portland, Maine before moving to Boston to do graphic design at Staples and New Balance. After working on user experience design at Amazon, she moved to Brooklyn and did design work for Etsy.

In 2015 Kanner and The Betsy Community Fund crowdfunded $33,000 via Kickstarter for MyTransHealth, a website and app listing gender-friendly resources. The project included co-founders Kade Clark and Amelia Gapin, but at some point Gapin left the project for unstated reasons. Their service provider directory was updated for a couple of years, until around 2018.

After working on the creative for Beto O’ Rourke’s presidential campaign, Kanner worked as a creative advisor on the 2020 Biden campaign. Her work included revising Aimee Brodbeck’s campaign logo to include Kamala Harris as well as various designs within the themes of the campaign and inauguration. In 2021 Kanner founded design firm Studio Gradients and serves as Vice President of Digital at STG.

Writing and media appearances

Kanner has written about her struggles with alcohol and drugs. In 2010 she was arrested in Farmington, Maine for driving under the influence of drugs after crashing into parked cars and a sign. In summer 2018 she got sober, and she has described how running helps her in staying sober.

Kanner has been critical of podcasters Katie Herzog and Jesse Singal for the ways in which they have covered trans issues, especially the ex-transgender movement. She has written about her own struggles with gender identity and has unfortunately embraced the controversial term “detransition” to describe her own gender expression. In fact, Kanner’s reification of the term is one reason Herzog and Singal are so keen to put her forth as a representative of the trans community.

Kanner was one of the people who published responses to Singal’s widely-criticized 2018 Atlantic piece, “When a Child Says She’s Trans.” Below are some key passages:

Singal is eager throughout his piece to stress to his readers that young people who are exploring a trans identity might not be trans. Singal notes, “Some kids are dysphoric from a very young age, but in time become comfortable with their body.” With this, Singal is attempting to provide hope to parents that their child who says they’re trans might not be. He leaves enough doubt for you to consider gatekeeping your child’s identity. This is irresponsible.

Singal goes on to express how investigating that identity could cause harm, if adolescents begin physical transitions: “Some of these interventions are irreversible. People respond differently to cross-sex hormones, but changes in vocal pitch, body hair, and other physical characteristics, such as the development of breast tissue, can become permanent.” Here, it sounds like Singal is essentially trying to scare readers into not letting young trans people be themselves.

He implies that if you are a parent of a child who is exploring a trans identity, then you should be in a state of panic. Moreover, it behooves you, as a parent, to draw a line in the sand, marking just how far you should let your child explore their identity. 

When adults prevent young people from sifting through their identity, it leads to self-harm or worse.

There’s something so glaringly obvious about the people Singal interviewed for his feature on detransitioning. Did you catch it? They’re all alive.

Kanner has also been critical of online shaming campaigns, even posting her phone number so critics could speak with her directly. As part of her commitment to stopping the cycle of online shaming, she has spoken directly with both Singal and Herzog on podcasts despite her criticisms of their work. Podcaster Dylan Marron described Kanner’s response to Herzog’s piece “The Detransitioners” for The Stranger:

In the summer of 2017 journalist Katie Herzog wrote a piece that was widely criticized. Ultimately she found herself at the bottom of a social media pile-on. 3,000 miles east of Katie, a woman named Robyn Kanner joined that pile-on tweeting “ur just trash.” In this episode, taped live in front an audience, Katie and Robyn meet onstage for the first time to discuss what happened between them, and the unlikely twist that brought them closer than they would have ever guessed.

In 2019, Kanner appeared on Singal’s podcast to discuss online shaming, but they did not go into Singal’s work or her criticism of it. Singal claimed, “I think it would be great to have a critic of my work on the subject on my podcast at some point, whether it’s Robyn or someone else, and I’m looking into possibilities on that front because I’d like that to happen.”

References

Bryant, Ann (January 28, 2010). Driver arrested after crashing into two parked cars. Lewiston Sun Journal

Christine, Theresa (March 9, 2021). After a Winning Election Campaign Design, Robyn Kanner Has Started Her Own Studio. Print https://www.printmag.com/post/after-a-winning-election-campaign-design-robyn-kanner-has-started-her-own-studio

Marron, Dylan (January 26, 2020) Episode 32: Trash. Conversations with People Who Hate Me. https://podbay.fm/p/conversations-with-people-who-hate-me/e/1580101260

Olcott, Mike (February 3, 2011). Making Noise: Designer making the seen with Portland’s best bands. Portland Press Herald

Singal, Jesse (May 23, 2019). Those Who Speak Out Against Cancel Culture Must Be Cancelled Immediately (Robyn Kanner). Singal-Minded / Substack https://jessesingal.substack.com/p/those-who-speak-out-against-cancel

Smith, Lilly (December 22, 2020). Design for all Americans: How Biden’s design team helped defeat Trump. Fast Company https://www.fastcompany.com/90583515/design-for-all-americans-how-bidens-design-team-helped-defeat-trump

Resources

Studio Gradients (studiogradients.com)

Robyn Kanner (robynkanner.com)

LinkedIn (linkedin.com)

Twitter (twitter.com)

Instagram (instagram.com)

Medium (medium.com)

@robynkanner

Muck Rack (muckrack.com)

YouTube (youtube.com)

Chartwell Speakers (chartwellspeakers.com)

The Atlantic (theatlantic.com)

New York Times (nytimes.com)

VICE (vice.com)