I’ll just come out and say it: I hate gender reveal parties.
People have big feelings around this polarizing topic. I can feel your frustration and eye rolls at my confession. I can also see your praise hand emojis and head nods of agreement. I know how exciting it is for expectant parents to shout baby news from the rooftops, or in some cases the inside of an chain restaurants before it turns into a fist fight. I have been an expectant parent, and I completely understand the excitement of new baby possibilities.
But my biggest beef with gender reveal parties is the forgotten fact that there is a possibility we are limiting our child’s potential by placing too much stock in their gender.
Before we get into this, can I let you in on a secret? Actually, it’s not a secret; it’s documented science, but it doesn’t seem like enough people want to believe in science. Gender is not the same as biological sex. When parents plan elaborate parties to reveal the “gender” of their baby, what they are actually revealing is the sex of the baby—the parts that are between Baby’s legs. Baby can’t tell us if they are a boy or a girl (based on chemistry in their brain), so we rely on body parts (sex) seen in an ultrasound or at birth to label our kids male or female (gender).
In many cases gender and sex will be the same; this is called cisgender. But there is so much more to the story than perfectly aligning gender identity and biological sex.
However, people spend lots of money on elaborate celebrations placing their child into a pink or blue box. They aren’t likely to acknowledge they are actually hosting a “Guess My Baby’s Genitalia Party.” They should at least recognize they are placing unnecessary stereotypes on their kids, but again, I am too hopeful. When parents set a 47,000 acre wildfire or hit their guests in the face with fireworks in the name of revealing the gender of their baby, I get real stabby.
Gender reveals are just another way of celebrating the binary—the belief that gender is either male or female. So while ignoring nonbinary or gender fluid people, and the chance Baby may someday identify as both male and female or neither, gender reveal parties also highlight the heteronormative stereotypes of what it means to be a girl or boy. These parties celebrate vaginas with pink and frilly things. They introduce penises with blue and tough things. Heaven forbid we place an ounce of pink near the penis lest someone think the boy attached to it will be too feminine. And boys and men can’t be feminine right? That feeds too much into our internalized homophobia.
People perpetuate the sugar and spice and everything niceties of girlhood by throwing sweet and delicate parties punctuated with bows and lace and an expectation she can do and be anything—because girl power—except enter the world to a sea of blue balloons. The fucking balloons. Why don’t we just light money on fire? It would save time, the environment, and the death of unsuspecting animals who suffocate on them.
Yes, the body parts in the ultrasound which lead parents to buy pink or blue cake frosting, gun powder, or Jell-O to stuff into a watermelon an alligator will later bite into (yes, this really happened and gosh, I hope they put that much energy into parenting) will likely match the assigned gender at birth. But as a parent of a transgender child, let me tell you, ya just never know. My daughter has a penis and no amount of blue streamers or confetti could have revealed her gender. A gender reveal party just would have made me look like a fool to have put so much stock in her body parts and not in the words she eventually spoke to my partner and me when she told us she was a girl and not the boy we assumed her to be.
Gender reveal parties also add to the secrecy and shame of intersexuality—when a baby is born with genitalia that cannot easily be categorized as solely male or female. External anatomy may be different than internal anatomy. Intersex may mean that a child is born with mosaic genetics; their cells have both XX and XY chromosomes. More parents and doctors now understand the benefit of avoiding “normalization surgery” where the baby’s gender would be chosen and surgery would create genitalia to match. This is mutilation and a human rights violation. Intersex children are much happier and healthier when surgery is avoided at birth and they get to tell us their gender later, which is a very personal and internal identity locked in around the age of three.
I am not saying to avoid gender or raise kids as gender neutral, because the majority of kids will be either male or female based on their biological sex. But I am saying that parents need to be more open-minded and cool it on the over-the-top gender reveal parties. They reveal how much stock we put into gender and its dangerous stereotypes, and they get the basic fundamentals of human biology wrong.
Save the pink and blue, and celebrate a few more months of rest before baby arrives to fuck up your sleep schedule. You will need the energy to deal with your failed expectations of what it means to be having a boy, girl, or something in between.