StartOut Founders Over 45: Emily Kleckner’s road to The Transverse
By John Kregler, StartOut
We often say that the journey to entrepreneurship is different for everyone. It’s true whether you’re a founder fresh out of school or a later-stage entrepreneur looking to begin a new chapter. And for many folks, entrepreneurship is just a matter of falling in when the time is right.
Emily Kleckner (she/her) found the doors of her startup opening the day she started a digital web series called The Transgender Show. Her story is one of self-reflection, acceptance, and unshakable confidence in her mission.
As a transgender founder from SoCal, Emily represents the StartOut community through word and deed. Emily offered to speak with us as part of our scholarship campaign with AARP highlighting founders over 45. Here’s what she had to say.
Could you take us back to the beginning of your story, Emily?
Well, I think we have to start at the beginning. I went through life with a typical trans story, and I always felt off. When I was young, I always preferred to hang around with girls on the playground and relished in moments when I’d be compared with them. When puberty started, I just remember feeling confused and not understanding how to be like the boys around me. Later, I became a very ashamed crossdresser, terrified of anyone finding out about me, never understanding why I had this propensity.
I got married a few years after college. Coming out to my wife as a cross-dresser didn’t go well and sent me deeper into feelings of shame and self-loathing which drove me to a very dark place. As my collection of clothes expanded and grew, I feared I was always on the verge of her divorcing me, and worse, that I deserved it. After we split up, I dove into self-exploration, figuring out what was going on and why I couldn’t control the urges I had to present as feminine. Eventually, I stumbled upon a blog post that talked about many transwomen who went through periods of purging all their feminine clothing, only to buy it all back within a year.
In an instant, my worldview changed. I realized that while I might not understand who I am fully, this is a part of me that I can’t change, and I need to move past the shame and self-loathing and towards self-acceptance. I started to believe that I was precisely the woman I was supposed to be from that moment on.
How did your personal journey impact you professionally?
One day, I walked into my graphic design job [in a company of 200+ people] in my blouse, skirt and heels, and a full face of makeup on. What happened next was the catalyst for The Transgender Show and, soon after, my business.
I expected to be ostracized, treated like an outcast, or fired, but I received an outpouring of love and support from colleagues. They’d stop me in the halls and say they were encouraged by me. I was shocked and knew this feeling was more significant than just me and needed to share it.
One day I discovered Twitch and fell in love with the idea of doing a live show. I decided to create a platform to interview trans folks and bring visibility to the community, and show others like me they were not alone. Every person I’ve been able to interview shared something that resonated with me and made me feel better about myself and my journey. In turn, I like to think it has provided our audience with the proof that their experience and feelings are valid and normal.
On May 3rd, we’ll celebrate our 100th episode of The Transgender Show, and it’s something I’m incredibly proud of.
And that led to you eventually creating The Transverse?
Yes. The idea of helping others like me was so refreshing that doing one show wasn’t enough. I set out to see if I could turn the platform into a channel of mixed content by and for trans folks. I saw a huge need to help the closeted or questioning trans person trying to figure out what’s going on with themselves and provide them with real-life examples of how to get to the other side and the support and resources they need to get there.
The Transverse is essentially that original Twitch channel-turned-network providing content covering everything from stories to video games to trans news and resources for medical and mental health. Users can share the info they have expertise in so that we can build the support network we all deserve. We have just shy of 1,600 followers on our Twitch channel, and our community on Discord serves about 700 members. But I never stop wanting to do more.
What issues have you faced since launching?
There’s still a lot to figure out about running a business. I don’t come from a traditional background in business or entrepreneurship, so organizations like StartOut are critical in filling that gap. I joined a local chamber of commerce but couldn’t see where our goals aligned. StartOut is crucial because it can connect me with investors, mentors, and other essential resources.
Another challenge is getting people to understand the validity of what we do. I believe in our mission wholeheartedly, but getting the word out to the people who need us the most and those who can help support us has been difficult. But I’m optimistic because I know there is a need for a community like ours, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to prove that to people.
What are you most looking forward to with The Transverse?
I think I’m most motivated by what we’ve accomplished so far with little to no experience and zero resources and what we have our eyes set on as we look to the future.
Since launching, one of our biggest highlights has been establishing Aegis, a Discord server that protects streamers and other communities. We’re able to monitor and report on trans- and homophobic comments and spam messages to create lists of known offensive accounts, stopping trolls and hate raids before they start. With the communities currently signed up for the service, we protect over 25,000 users in the LGBTQ+ community.
We have a couple of time-sensitive goals to focus on with funding and investment, but I want to expand our efforts to provide even more resources for trans folks in the long term. Things like opening up a company headquarters/retreat for trans folks who need a place to go and working to reduce housing inequality are all in mind.
It’s just having the right support system and drive to get there.