“Don’t prod into my gender identity at a birthday party”

When my friend Robbie, who identifies as trans, told me that someone brought up the topic of genitals (in the context of reassignment) in an inappropriate business setting, my first impulse was to ask, “really?” But then I thought for a second and immediately took that “really?” back.

In general, though, genitals don’t come up in business settings, right? We don’t ask things like, “For a man of your age, how is the elasticity of your scrotum holding up?” or “Your boobs look great. Are those implants?” And we typically don’t do this because it is none of our business, and it is inappropriate to do so.

For the trans community, though, many still see this as fair game. Activist Janet Mock has brought attention to this by “flipping the script” and asking Alicia Menendez to “prove her womanhood” in a television interview. I asked Robbie to weigh in and continue / contribute to that dialogue by addressing those who feel compelled to ask about, well, private matters.

Without further ado…


I’m thrilled you’re intrigued that I identify as trans. And it’s possible you’re potentially confused and have some questions. You’re trying to understand how to be supportive. You want to let me know that you’re okay with me being trans? Wait, you want to be sure that I know that you ‘can tell’? And you want me to drop everything I’m doing to explain what it’s like to be on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)?

I can empathize with the impulse. And I want to do my best to provide a platform for a discourse so that positive social change can occur. I’m a firm believer that it’s the stories from real life trans women like Janet Mock and Laura Jane Grace that are moving us towards a stronger, more inclusive society. But within this context is piece about social boundaries. I may not be entirely comfortable with an acquaintance prodding into my gender identity at a birthday party. Or in a business setting. Or at dinner. Actually, unless we’re sleeping with each other, I never want you to ask me about my genitals. Not only is it irrelevant, but it also doesn’t confirm what it means to be a woman.

The truth is that I just want to feel safe and be comfortable. And I want you to feel comfortable—in fact, I want to help get you there. I just don’t want to be uncomfortable during the process. I know we’re both going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. But let’s just try to be a little bit more empathetic and less terrible when it comes to experiencing things that are outside of our norms.

Robbie Kanner is a graphic designer based in Portland, Maine. Robbie has been graphically documenting the process of HRT. You can check that out here.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.