Assigning Sex with Cake: The Problem with Gender Reveal Parties

Mila Madison on why gender reveal parties are bad for transgender people and cisgender people alike.

It is a rising trend over the last decade that has gained its popularity through social media. The gender reveal party, a financial windfall for anyone who makes baby products, party supplies, and cakes. As if a baby shower was not enough, expecting parents have now turned to announcing their yet to be born child’s “gender” with a big party and games where people try to guess what it may be. The expecting parent or parents then reveal the child’s so called gender in some creative way. It seems to be all the rage and is quickly becoming a tradition in American society.

I must admit, of all the things I see posted on social media that make me cringe, the gender reveal party is right up there. To a transgender person, the problems with such a concept are obvious. How can you reveal a child’s gender if they haven’t been born yet and haven’t told you what it is? The other obvious problem is that gender reveal parties usually adhere strictly to the concept of a male and female binary with no accounting for variance. It also shines a light on an larger problem, which is that most people usually conflate the differences between assigned sex and gender, making the concept of the gender reveal party a big mess.

Look, I get it. Calling these parties what they really are would be hard to market. Who would really want to go to an assigned sex reveal party? It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. I also understand that for expecting parents, it is an exciting time in their lives, and they want to share their excitement with everyone they know and love. The problem is that these parties impose gender expectations on our yet to be born children that are destructive no matter how that child may end up identifying.

For starters, you have about 1 in every 1500 - 2000 children (1.7%) who are born intersex. That is about as common as a child being born with red hair (2%). There is no way to tell how that child may identify until they know for themselves. The same thing goes for transgender and non-binary people, their gender is not yet determined before birth. Nobody’s gender is. The common misconception would be that in most cases this guess works out and the child is cisgender, meaning their gender identity aligns with their assigned sex. Even though that alignment seems to work out, the cultural norms we impose on our children before they are born could have long lasting negative affects.

"THIS ALL HAS TO DO WITH GENDER EXPECTATIONS AND THEY ARE HARMFUL REGARDLESS OF HOW THAT CHILD IDENTIFIES."

This all has to do with gender expectations and they are harmful regardless of how that child identifies. From the moment an expecting mother gets a sonogram and is told what the child’s assigned sex will be, a mountain of pressure and expectation is put on that child before they are even born. Upon finding out the child will be assigned female for example, this unborn child is already bombarded with pink colors and stereotypically feminine things. The parents imagine the life they are going to give their daughter. They setup the baby’s room according to society's interpretation of gender roles. The dolls, toys, the dresses, and everything that they and others in their lives begin to buy for this child that are associated with the female gender. They think about the heterosexual cultural norm of how one day she will marry the perfect man. How they will have to behave in society. The child’s whole future is laid out in a dream of what is to be.

Then the child is finally born into a world of cultural gender stereotypes and expectations. They are often rewarded with love and affection as they conform to the stereotypes that were laid out before them. They are raised by being told that because of the genitals they were born with, that their role in society, and thus their potential, is limited to the unwritten rules imposed upon people who also have those parts. The child will often be corrected when they express any personality traits that aren’t culturally associated with the sex that they have been assigned. These expectations are impressed upon our children before they are even given a chance to develop their own opinions of who they really are and should be.

So yes, in many cases things may work out and the child may never even question it, but in other cases they will and either way it is not a good thing. If this child that was assigned female and was raised with all the feminine stereotypes begins to realize they are something different from the expectations that were impressed upon them, they often face a tough road ahead. They are faced with feeling shame and they fear how their parents will respond once they let them know that they are not the person they had expected them to be. In many cases they will do everything they can to hide who they are. If the child has the confidence to come out to their parents, it is often a big shock for them when they are told. In the parent’s mind, the child always liked “feminine” things and expressed themselves in the way they were expected to. Now it seems like a complete surprise.

"THIS IS HOW WE GET SILLY CONCEPTS SUCH AS RAPID ONSET GENDER DYSPHORIA.."

This is how we get silly concepts such as Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, except the reality is that the parents are experiencing the rapid onset portion of the equation, not the transgender child. In other cases it may be more subtle. The child may have a sexual orientation that goes against these expectations or maybe they are just more fluid with their gender expression. Either way, non-conformance will make life difficult for the child because it doesn’t fit the vision of who the parent or parents thought they were. The parent’s dream for that child’s life is now smashed, and that point they have to decide whether to love their child unconditionally or do whatever they can to bring the child back in line with the dream. They may believe that they are protecting their child by forcing them to conform, or that they are doing it out of love, but they do so without realizing the harm they are causing.

Now I am not saying that gender reveal parties are the primary cause of all the gender problems we have in society, but they are an example of where they begin. The point is that the confining walls of gender roles are often put up before childbirth. We have always been a society of traditions and rituals. The roles that are often assigned to gender are a result of them. While there are those who tend to push back when it comes to changing what has always been done, the problem is that not all traditions are necessarily good ones. Just because you used to smoke cigarettes does not mean that it is a good idea to keep doing it. It is the same with enforcing gender roles and adhering to the ideals of a strict gender binary. It may have seemed like a good idea many years ago, but now we realize that it is harmful and limiting. Society as a whole can no longer fit within those walls.

Simply put, people are excited about having a child, and they should be. They should be able to have a party and celebrate. It just doesn’t have to be centered around sex and gender. While our traditions are important, it is just as important that we let go of the ones that are no longer good for society. More importantly, let us not create new traditions that are harmful like the gender reveal. We need to realize that we limit ourselves when we impose gender roles upon our children before they are even born and know who they are. Life is meant to be a journey, and self awareness of who we are is an important part of that exploration. That is something we should be encouraging and celebrating.

Comments
No. 1-1
debfreeman
debfreeman

Ok I will give you that calling them "gender reveal" parties is a misnomer. The proper term would be "sex reveal" because in truth that's what they are. As to claiming they are problematic that's garbage. Sure some parents will put unrealistic expectations on their child but that's not a function of the child's sex it's a function of the parents. Period. Two other things. First you might want to get your math right. One point seven percent is 1.7 in 100 not 1 in X000. Also our gender is very much determined before our birth. It may not match our sex but it is set before birth. Otherwise it would be a choice not something that is fundamental in whole we are.