What's Wrong with Gender Reveal Parties?
What’s wrong with
Gender Reveal Parties?
by El Sanchez
Congrats on the upcoming arrival of your grandchild! First and foremost, it’s always important to remind yourself that while it’s exciting to be a grandparent, the parents are the ones that ultimately make all the decisions regarding how they will give birth to and raise their little ones. I’m sure this is something you already know, but it’s important to be reminded as new arrivals in the family can make everyone feel a little protective and on edge. I recently had a new baby myself (my very first!) and I also did not know the gender of my child prior to birth. There are many reasons parents do this: some want the surprise of the doctor’s birth assignment saved until that very moment, while others choose not to determine gender in this way at all. I can’t say exactly what your daughter’s reasoning is, of course, but I can explain my own—and why knowing the baby’s gender at this stage is impossible anyhow. Before we continue, if you’re not already familiar with gender identities like transgender and non-binary, I really recommend clicking on the links to read our Defining pieces on them!
It’s unfortunately commonplace in many medical fields for doctors to assign a gender to a newborn baby based on the type of genitals that baby has, i.e. penis = boy, vagina = girl. The fact of the matter is, many biologists, psychologists, and anthropologists would tell you this practice has proved to be inaccurate. The fact that transgender folx (like myself) exist is proof that this method is invalid.
Genitalia does not determine gender, because gender, unlike genitalia, is not actually biological. Our sex chromosomes are biological, as are our reproductive systems and genitalia, but the idea of assigning identities such as “man” or “woman” to those characteristics is not based in biology. Gender is a social construct, meaning it is something created by people in order to label each other more easily, as well as categorize the differences between each other. Not only that, but since gender is something we as humans created, our understanding of it is constantly both expanding and evolving, just like we are. These days, many members of the scientific community see gender on a spectrum that is not limited to “man” and “woman.” There are also gender non-binary folx like me who are neither. Basically, gender expansive folx and others who recognize this are just waiting for social acceptance to catch up with the science.
What it boils down to is this: there is no way of determining the gender of your grandchild before they determine it for themselves. Sometimes people know their sexuality and gender identity early on, but for others, it takes some time to figure out those identities for themselves. Just like their sexuality is going to be something they tell you, rather than you assigning it to them, their gender identity will be the same.
Most parents choose to go with the gender assigned at birth as they raise their child, and in some cases this works just fine. However, there are many cases in which children are assigned an incorrect gender at birth. This is what happens to most trans folx, and may cause gender dysphoria or other painful experiences. As someone who was assigned the incorrect gender at birth myself, I can tell you, growing up being forced into pretending you’re something you’re not is extremely painful and can lead to much mental anguish. The good news is that these experiences can be avoided to a large degree if you allow children to simply be who they are. I don’t blame my parents for raising me as the gender they were told I was, rather than the gender identity I am. At the time, they didn’t have access to information that told them there were other possibilities (such as My Kid Is Gay!), and since being non-binary was a concept none of us were familiar with, we weren’t able to understand the root of much of my depression and anxiety until I was an adult. Now that I am a parent, I have an understanding of this experience and access to information my parents didn’t, therefore I want to make sure my children can benefit from that knowledge and possibly avoid some of the pain I experienced. This is why I have chosen (along with a large number of new parents in recent years) to use gender neutral pronouns with my newborn until they are old enough to communicate to me what gender identity they are. As I see it, they are the only one that truly knows that information and rightfully deserve input in defining who they are.
It’s also important to note that “gender reveal” parties, while they’ve surged in popularity amongst cisgender folks in recent years, are actually a pretty outdated and transphobic practice—not only because they assume that gender is determined by genitalia, which directly erases the existence of transgender folx, but also because they often rely on pretty inaccurate depictions of gender and overwhelming amounts of gender stereotypes! For example, a quick Google image search of “gender reveal party” will pop up pictures of invitations with themes like “touchdowns or tutus,” “lashes or mustaches,” “rifles or ruffles” and even party favors that include bowls of candy labeled “Nuts?” or “No nuts?” Yikes! When you think about it, a “gender reveal” party is essentially an entire party celebrating whether an unborn baby has a penis or a vagina and/or how that penis or vagina will determine a person’s likes or dislikes—and that’s kind of weird!
Lastly, touching on your question about how your daughter’s sexuality plays into this: her marginalized status as a queer person can absolutely correlate to gender politics. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she may very well care about issues affecting transgender folx, leading her to advocate for transgender issues (which should make you all the more proud of her!). Alternatively, her own sexuality may have nothing to do with this decision at all! Either way, it sounds like she and her wife are going to make awesome parents!
A queer/trans/non-binary Seattle-based comedian and writer, El Sanchez has been performing all over the US (and once in Canada) since 2010. They have appeared on NPR’s Latino USA, featured in Teen Vogue, starred in LGBTQ documentary short, "Oh, I Get It" and have performed at Bumbershoot, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, Emerald City Comicon and Autostraddle.com's annual LGBTQ event A-Camp. They have opened for comedians Michael Che (Weekend Update), Bridget Everett (Inside Amy Schumer) and W. Kamau Bell (United Shades of America). El has been called "fearless" by City Arts Magazine, "a grumpy nugget of delight," by writer/activist Lindy West, "a local favorite," by Seattle alt weekly The Stranger and "a brilliant new voice everyone should know," by comedian Hari Kondabolu (The Problem with Apu). Grammy Award winning singer/song-writer Kimya Dawson has cited El as her 'favorite underground Northwest comedian' while Emmy Award winning comedian and host of CNN's United Shades of America, W. Kamau Bell, once said, "El Sanchez is the truth." Their debut comedy album "Hard Femme/Soft Butch/Werewolf" will be released in the summer of 2018.