|Image credit: punctuated, via Flickr.com|
I hate gender reveal parties.
Yep, hate them.
And I know "hate" is a very strong word, but in this case it's entirely appropriate. I think they can be damaging by sending all the wrong messages.
Now before you get your hackles up, I don't have a problem with the people who throw gender reveal parties or the people who attend them. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and free choice. I still like you. But I just don't get this trend at all.
If you don't know what a gender reveal party is, let me set it up for you: The couple finds out what's between their baking baby's legs via ultrasound. They get a cake and have a bunch of people over. Then they cut the cake, and the inside is either blue or pink in celebration of what was discovered in those blurry ultrasound images of their unborn child. People get super excited and eat cake.
There's a lot of cake.
There are many different versions of a gender reveal party, some more elaborate than others. But what it comes down to is that the baby's "gender" is the central theme of this party. It's not a shower with pink or blue balloons and a few dresses thrown in with the baby bibs and lotion and receiving blankets. No, it's a full-on gender-centered hoedown.
I don't get it at all.
First of all, we're not finding out a baby's gender via ultrasound. We're finding out a baby's sex.
Sex is biology. Sex is what's between the legs and gender is what's between the ears.
So if we're going to get technical, it's actually a baby sex reveal party.
Yeah. That's right.
I guess that's why people don't put the proper name on the evite and instead call it "gender reveal." But don't get the two confused; studies are clearly demonstrating that gender is in the brain. Most of the time, sex and gender line up. But they don't always and there's no way of knowing that when baby's in the womb. Therein lies the rub.
We live in a society that is quickly chipping away at the gender binary. We're starting to realize that not everyone fits neatly into a little gender box of boy or girl, blue or pink. We live in a world of Bruce Jenners and Chaz Bonos and Laverne Coxes - and my very own Alexis.
We're learning that people might be born one way on the outside but feel entirely different on the inside. We hear heartbreaking struggles of how they were forced into gender stereotypes for years, feeling like they couldn't be themselves because of the expectations society - their family, friends, neighbours, teachers, employers and the media - placed upon them their entire lives.
Hiding is an incredibly painful way to live. Trans and non-binary folk have the highest attempted suicide rate of any marginalized community.
So why are we suddenly throwing these parties that have everything to do with boy or girl, blue or pink? We're setting the stage for gender expectations before the child is even born. We've come a long way in many respects, but this is like taking a giant step backwards.
From where I sit with everything I now know, having a gender reveal party is about as ludicrous as having a party to tell everyone your fetus is straight. We don't know a child's sexual orientation before they're born; we also don't know their gender identity. We only know what's between their legs. That's it.
According to Google, gender is defined as: "The state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)."
Read that last part again. Gender is about social and cultural differences. It's about who someone is and how they function in society based on their gender identity.
So why are we declaring what a child is before we even meet them? Before they even have a chance to tell us who they are?
Look, I'm not trying to be a radical. I'm cool with people shopping for dresses or baseball hats, blue or pink sleepers, saying "I'm having a boy" or "I'm having a girl." I get that most kids won't struggle with their gender identity.
I have a trans child, so I think about this stuff more than most people do. But it's because I have a trans child that I can see how painful being shoved into that gender box was for her. While we didn't have a gender reveal party, we did have a shower that was awash in blue everything. Society - including her family - treated her as male before she was even born, from clothing to toys to sayings like "little man" and "big guy."
Pushing against that wall of expectation to be who she really is took every ounce of her strength. It nearly killed her.
Every month at our parent support group there are more and more families coming in for the first time. Our children's hospital's Gender Diversity Clinic is growing at a ridiculous pace, as more and kids step out of society's perceived gender binary and tell us all who they really are. Many waited a long time to say anything and are well into puberty by the time they come out. They just couldn't hold it in any longer.
The kids' parents are shocked, their idea of who their child is completely upended. I know that feeling. I had "boy" and "son" in my head for 11 years. Wrapping my mind around having a daughter took months. There was a lot of unlearning to do, in part because I, along with society, put too much emphasis on my child's gender.
As parents, we need to set the stage for conversations about gender identity early on.
We need to make it easier for our kids to talk to us.
We need to make gender less of a big deal, not more.
That's why I hate gender reveal parties. They can set the stage for a lifetime of stereotypes and expectations. They send the message to family and friends that the child's gender is very important to the parents.
And even worse? They can eventually send that same message to the child.
That little baby might grow into a kid with gender identity issues, and see those pictures and the adorable blue cake and all the happy faces and think, "Wow. My parents threw an entire party to celebrate that I'm a boy. How can I tell them I'm a girl? I can't."
So please, expectant and new parents, be mindful of the expectations you're setting for your child now and throughout their lives. Make it easier for your child to tell you who they are than it was for ours to tell us.