Monday, August 5, 2019

Gender Reveal Parties Can Get Bent

"Do you want to know the gender?" asked the technician as she moved the wand over the flesh-balloon-mound encasing the baby.

I started to explain to her the difference between gender and sex but instead ended up blurting, "Oh, it's a boy," as the fuzzy black-and-white picture on the screen in front of us scanned over a small baby butt, a pair of legs, and a very obvious penis.  There was no hiding the penis.  The baby is unambiguously anatomically male.

In other words, it's a boy!

What the fuck kind of cisheteronormative nonsense is this.

For weeks now, people have been asking what we wanted.  They seem incredulous when we say there's no preference.  There really isn't.  After all, it's the first kid; there's no pressure on the first kid.  That all gets put on the second kid to "complete the set."  When we found it was a boy, a surprising number of people said, "Oh, I bet Andrew's happy, huh?"

I don't know where they got the idea that Andrew wanted a boy.  (He was leaning toward girl.)

Before finding out the sex, everyone weighed in.  Everyone had an opinion.  My stupid reiki friend insisted he could somehow psychically tell it was a boy.  (You have a 50/50 chance of guessing correctly, so his accurate prediction was not that impressive to me.)  My previously-pregnant friends had opinions on what signaled it was a boy.  Boys "kick more."  (Compared to fucking what?)  Some people threw well-meaning but ultimately useless literature at me saying things like boys are "more likely" to be born if you eat a high-sugar, high-fat diet.  (This one is true, but the statistical shift is mild.)  (Also, girls are very slightly more likely to be born if you experience severe morning sickness.  But not always.  It's still pretty much a 50/50 crapshoot.)

People's obsession with sex has been of minor annoyance to me because it feels like they're already shoehorning the baby (which is less than a pound and doesn't even have eye pigment yet) into social roles and expectations.

 In case you wanted to know what the baby's face looks like, here ya go.
I made this.

But you know what?  I kind of get it.  And today I'd like to talk about the strange 21st-century obsession with "the gender reveal" and my thoughts on the matter.

Let's start at the beginning.  The year was 2008 and an Angelino blogger by the name of Jenna Karvunidis had made a somewhat hideous duck cake.
Jenna was pregnant.  When she cut into the cake, a baby fell out.

No, wait.  It was pink frosting.  Inside the cake, there was pink frosting, signifying that Jenna's baby was a girl.  Jenna had just unwittingly invented "the gender reveal."

 The baby was born healthy but they had to put the cake down.

It's only been 11 years, but gender reveals have taken off, often with disastrous consequences.  These include a 47,000-acre wildfire, injuries from errant baseballs and fireworks, and one party that involved harassing a live alligator.

Funnily enough, Jenna decided to opine on gender reveals after ten years, stating: "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."

 But how will the child know what's expected of it if you don't start a fucking wildfire?

The phenomenon has since gotten a liiiittle out of hand, with people coming up with elaborate ways to reveal "gender."  Of course, they mean sex, but no one wants to say the s-word, because this (correctly) implies that we're color-coding infants so that strangers know what their genitals are.

In researching gender reveal parties (i.e., looking for memes) I found a lot of borderline aggressive defenses of pink = girls and blue = boys.  My favorite bullshit explanation was that girls are "naturally" drawn to pink because, as evolutionary "gatherers" who hunted for berries, pink would appeal to them.  (This article does not explain the fact that there are many, many, many poisonous pink and red berries, including holly berries, yew seeds, and Jerusalem berries.)

The author also seems to have forgotten that "pink for girls" was only the rule after the 1940s. A hundred years ago, a1918 article from Earnshaw's Infants' Department said, "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."  Store catalogues that claimed pink was better for boys included Filene’s (Boston), Best & Co. (New York), Halle’s (Cleveland) and Marshall Field (Chicago).

This means in his baby photos, Captain America was probably in pink, since he was born in 1918.

Ultimately it's stupid to try to ascribe any color to infants because all infants, no matter how you dress them up, are just pooping, crying, sleep-deprivation machines that fail to do anything interesting for the first year they're alive, unless you count having dangerously floppy necks as "doing something interesting."

So what's the big honking deal with gender reveal parties, anyway?

The short answer is, if you don't care about the baby's sex, being able to discover the baby's sex on an ultrasound is a milestone.  The body scan is typically done at 20 weeks, the halfway point of a human's 40-week pregnancy.  At this stage, the baby is distinctively baby-like.  It is no longer a blob but a "person."  It has graduated from embryo to fetus, and the chances of miscarriage are drastically reduced.

For many, the 20-week ultrasound is the first ultrasound, and the first time they are seeing their baby.  The sex of the baby, once unknown, is now known.  It's the first time you're discovering something about your baby.  What's not to celebrate?

If we wanted to get rid of the "gender reveal" party, we'd be hard-pressed to find something to replace it with.  Infant eye color doesn't become permanent until after about nine months post-birth, and other things, like having ten fingers, tends to be so universal, there's no mystery or anticipation.

But I have an idea and I think it's a good one.

Pro: it doesn't involve ruining lasagna.

Why not have a name reveal party?  Names can be (but are not necessarily) gendered, and week 20 is probably a good time to stop calling your fetus "Gumwad," since it no longer resembles a wad of gum.  You could still do something stupidly extravagant, like writing the name in the sky with gender-neutral and probably-toxic green smoke, or painting the name onto the side of a wildebeest stampede.  I don't know.  I'm just trying to meet you halfway, Pinterest nerds.

The reason people have gender reveal parties is because they want a party to celebrate their child, and the sex of the baby is the first of one of many variables they learn.  The baby suddenly feels more like a person and less like a parasitic blob of cells.  And unlike baby showers, gender reveal parties let the parents get their party-goers excited by creating "stakes."  (Certainly, all of my friends weighed in on whether they thought it was a boy or a girl, and got somewhat competitive in their predictions.)

Oh... oh no...

I think gender reveal parties are stupid.  But I get it.  People are celebrating their baby.  Knowing something previously unknown gives you a sense of "knowing" the baby, which doesn't initially feel like it's knowable.  Babies start out as abstractions and slowly evolve into actual human beings.  It's a head trip, and having a way to give the baby something concrete (i.e., assigning it a gender) is shorthand for moving the baby from abstraction to reality.

I personally hate the way we pussy-foot around the fact that we're having a whole event that revolves about an infant's genitals, which is why, if I were to have a party, I would call it a "baby's sex organs party," forcing everyone present to ask themselves why the hell they are my friends.

Normal friend: "I brought a cute blue bear for the baby."
Me, thrusting this picture at them: "Look at it."

But wildfires aside, let people have their gender reveal parties.  So long as they don't start wildfires, and so long as they understand that their child's interests, hobbies, styles, and tastes may not be informed by their gender at all, and so long as they love their child for the content of their character regardless of their genitalia, then who cares?  Let people eat their disgusting blue lasagna.  The most important thing is for parents to love their kids for the people they grow into.  But at twenty weeks, kids haven't grown into anything yet, so I don't see the harm in finding an excuse to celebrate their existence as it is.  The true test of parenthood will come much later, and so long as parents can keep an open mind about the kind of person their child may (or may not) become, they're hurting no one by having a tacky party.  

That being said, I will not color-code my infant if I can help it, nor will I ever try blue lasagna.

Pinterest idea:
have a gender reveal party that's just a 30 minute PowerPoint presentation about how gender is different than sex.

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