For over a decade, expectant parents have jumped on the “gender reveal party” trend, to celebrate finding out the sex of their baby-to-be with some sort of reveal. The reveal usually involves pink and blue.
For instance, after an ultrasound, a doctor will write the baby’s expected sex in a sealed envelope. Then a bakery will bake either a pink cake (female) or a blue cake (male), then cover the cake in icing to preserve the surprise.
But not everybody’s celebrating.
A large pregnancy/parenting group on Facebook recently banned posts with the term gender reveal. The 53K-member private group Vegan Pregnancy & Parenting added this text to their list of eight Group Rules:
“Gender Reveal: Please realize that we come from all around the globe and aren’t all the same. We ask that you do not use the phrase ‘gender reveal’, and find a more accurate description. This isn’t a suggestion, this is being a good community member, and respecting everyone.”
Group members are still free to discuss their baby’s genitals (or even parties to “reveal” them), but when posts use the term gender reveal, mods either remove the post or comment with “Just a gentle reminder….”
Gender is something a person defines for themselves, not something you can tell by looking at an ultrasound or a baby’s genitals.
Maybe you’ve heard the term gender reveal party. Maybe you’ve even used it yourself and don’t see what the big deal is.
The problem with the term “gender reveal party” comes down to the difference between the words sex and gender. Sex, in this context, means biological, physical sex characteristics — chromosomes and body parts. Gender, on the other hand, is how people continually define themselves, how they think of and present themselves.
Gender is something a person figures out and expresses themselves, not something you can tell by looking at an ultrasound or a baby’s genitals.
Many of us grew up thinking sex and gender were the same things, so this understanding can take an adjustment in perspective.
Even Jenna Karvunidis, the mom who “invented” the gender reveal trend in 2008 with the first viral “gender reveal” cake, is questioning the trend. This year, she revealed her discomfort with the focus people put on gender before birth. She also revealed Bianca, her original revealed daughter, prefers to dress in gender-nonconforming suits.
In July, Jenna Karvunidis posted a family photo on Facebook, including these words:
“Who cares what gender the baby is? I did at the time because we didn’t live in 2019 and didn’t know what we know now — that assigning focus on gender at birth leaves out so much of their potential and talents that have nothing to do with what’s between their legs.
PLOT TWIST, the world’s first gender-reveal party baby is a girl who wears suits!”
We all want children to have options to be whoever they are, to safely experiment with identities and interests and find what feels right for them. This can start by recognizing that, while we may know the sex of a baby or fetus, we can’t know their gender.
Calling something a gender reveal party can appear like an announcement that you are making these choices for your child-to-be, putting gender expectations on them before they’re even born. Cakes with slogans like “Ruffles or Rifles?” and “Guns or Glitter?” at reveal parties further this appearance that the parents are planning to push a violent idea of masculinity if their child has a penis, or an appearance-focused idea of femininity if their child has a vulva.
So “gender reveals parties” can look like closed doors, forbidden opportunities, stifled dreams. For those who were pushed into ill-fitting gender boxes themselves, a gender reveal party can appear especially harmful, bringing up feelings of shame, of failing to meet their parents’ and culture’s expectations.
Getting rid of gender reveal parties could be a step toward breaking the cycle, giving the next generation the freedom to figure out who they are without constraints.
If gender isn’t binary, then what is it?
Gender for a child can be boy, girl, both, or neither. A child might stick with one gender identity forever, they might play around with it for a while to see what feels right, or their gender might remain fluid for their entire lives.
The children’s book “Who Are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity” by Brook Pessin-Whedbee, illustrated by Naomi Bardoff, can help parents and young children start conversations about gender, and give children space to tell you who they are and what they like.
We all want children to have options to be whoever they are, to safely experiment with identities and interests and find what feels right for them.
A common objection to bans like the one Vegan Pregnancy & Parenting enacted is this issue is only relevant for a small segment of the population. The complaint goes, “I don’t need to think about this, because my kid’s probably not going to be transgender.”
First off, kindness, respect, and sensitivity are awesome, even if they’re for the benefit of only a small portion of the population.
But, also, this issue effects more than just a small segment of the population. Each and every person deserves to be in charge of declaring their gender. Gender expectations are stifling to all of us, whether we identify as trans or not.
We all win when gender is ours to figure out, to name (or not), to disclose, to play with, to revel in, to subvert, to ignore.
And more and more young people are telling us they don’t fit in the binary. New research shows, for example, that 27% of teens in California are gender nonconforming. Some of these teens consider themselves trans; others just say they feel/appear androgynous, that their gender expression doesn’t correlate to what a gender reveal party would have revealed.
So should you still have the party/announcement, but just call it a genital reveal party or a sex reveal party instead? Of course, it’s up to you, but even sex is not completely binary. About 1 percent of people are born with a difference of sex development (DSD), known commonly as intersex. When we recognize that at least one in a hundred people don’t fit neatly into male or female sex, we can see why scientists are now talking about sex as a spectrum as well.
Pregnant people are never going to stop dreaming about who their little ones will be, wondering how they’ll look and how they’ll act. Nine months is a long time of wondering, with almost no information. So it’s understandable that many families want to find out what their baby’s sex will be, want to know something, and want to celebrate the massive change that’s about to happen.
But there’s so much to celebrate beyond your fetus’s predicted genitals, or the gendered expectations and baggage society has planned for them.
Here are some ideas of ways to celebrate without a “gender reveal”:
A pregnancy reveal. Throw a party and promise a big surprise. Your pregnancy itself is exciting enough. “What are you having?” A human baby!
A baby shower. Remember those? People want to celebrate with you, even if they already know you’re pregnant. And you’ll get way more interesting clothing gifts (think skeleton pajamas and dinosaur hoodies) if you don’t declare glitter or guns.
A name reveal. Do you know what you’re going to name your baby? Reveal it at a party, or if you can’t choose, let your friends and family vote.
There is one decidedly legitimate reason to throw a gender reveal party. Mom Heather Lundberg Green threw a gender reveal party for her 20-year-old son Adrian when he came out as transgender. She shared the photos — “It’s a boy!” — on Facebook, and wrote,
“I love you, I honor who you are and I respect your courage to be unapologetically you!! Lets celebrate!!”
Portions of this piece were originally published online in Raise Vegan.