Gender reveal announcements have unleashed untold calamities upon our fragile world. There was the 47,000-acre Arizona wildfire that caused $8-million in damages. The misfiring pyrotechnics that burned party guests in Philadelphia. The confetti-strewn brawl in an Ohio Applebee’s parking lot. The hungry alligator in Louisiana. The pink or blue ricotta-filled lasagna that costs $139.99 and feeds twelve.
Straight people, you are truly weird.
Now, the woman who is widely credited with kicking off the gender reveal trend a decade ago says she regrets the mayhem she inspired. What’s more, her oldest child, the baby whose gender she initially revealed, is gender non-conforming.
Back in 2008, blogger Jenna Karvunidis posted a picture of a cake with pink icing inside to let her family know the sex of the baby she was carrying. Ten years later, that child feels most comfortable with short hair, and dressed in suits and blazers. Karvunidis spoke out recently to encourage other parents to support their children in exploring and embracing the full range of sex and gender identities and expressions.
“I’m letting her lead me,” Karvunidis told The Guardian about her child. “She has her opinions about there being many genders and she is informing me about things. She was biologically born a female and she is still ‘she’ and ‘her’ and says she’s a girl, but she is still doing things her way.”
Having witnessed the dizzying popularity of gender reveal announcements over the past 10 years — a rise exponentially fuelled by YouTube and Instagram — Karvunidis worried that what she once thought was just a cute way to celebrate baby news had morphed into a kind of oppression. “I started to realize that nonbinary people and trans people were feeling affected by this, and I started to feel bad that I had released something bad into the world,” she said.
The gender reveal phenomenon is a collision of a number of social and political currents, including the quest for social media fame with competitive-level parenting. But, most troubling, gender reveals have emerged at a moment of heightened backlash towards trans and non-binary people, as well as others who in some way defy traditional, rigid gender expectations and expressions. Beneath the pink and blue frosting lies a deep anxiety — that turns, in some cases, into outright hostility — about what it means to be a man or a woman.
Take the reductive either/or themes of gender reveal announcement parties: touchdowns or tutus; quarterback or cheerleader; pistols or pearls; princess or pirate; handmaid or commander. (Okay, I made the last one up.) These are stereotypes about sex and gender taken to the uttermost extreme. Not only is there no spectrum of interests and affinities in these antiquated binaries, but the assumption is, of course, that babies assigned as female inevitably love pearls and tutus and those assigned as male are innately drawn to football and guns. (Gender reveal announcements, which usually occur after the 20-week ultrasound, also assume that the presence or absence of a penis is enough information to determine a person’s sex. It’s not.)
So congratulations to Karvunidis for being so open about her growth on these issues, and for supporting her child to live and express herself freely.
Might we suggest that the family celebrate with a gender repeal cake?