In recent years, gender reveal parties have ended in wildfires, plane crashes, possible animal abuse, and even death. As these celebrations have gotten more and more elaborate and dangerous, on Sunday, one couple decided to fire a cannon while announcing their baby shower. A piece of the cannon flew about 15 feet and injured a 26-year-old friend of the hosts, reported Michigan police. Metal shards also hit a garage and several parked cars. No one else was harmed, but the guest was brought to a nearby hospital, where he later died of the injury.
It’s both been reported that hosts were attempting a gender reveal and simply announcing a baby shower, but in any case, the stunt speaks to the increasingly dangerous trend of parents pulling elaborate, sometimes expensive and life-threatening stunts to share or celebrate their pregnancy and announce their unborn child's assigned gender. And the trend started with gender reveal parties — which are, cannons and planes and casualties aside, more harmful than they look.
Some of the earliest known gender reveal parties were somewhat small-scale: expectant parents baked cakes and cookies, or stuffed piñatas with pink or blue candy. Blogger Jenna Karvunidis, who hosted the first known gender reveal, went viral in 2008 when she filled a cake with pink icing. But since then, parents-to-be have started pulling much riskier stunts. In 2019, a pilot crashed a small plane after dumping gallons of pink water to the ground. In September, a California couple accidentally started a wildfire that burned over 8,600 acres of land. And a couple years ago, one reveal did turn deadly when a family built a pipe bomb that killed a 56-year-old attendee.
But there’s an insidious, damaging undertone to even the most innocuous parties. Gender is personal, often fluid, and cannot be determined by anatomy. Labeling an unborn child, especially with an elaborate blue or pink “reveal,” enforces both stereotypical gender norms and the gender binary. “The popularity of gender reveal parties speaks to how powerful and central this binary is to our sense of identity,” Dr. Katie Baratz Dalke, a psychiatrist at Penn State College of Medicine and an intersex woman, told Marie Claire. “You’re especially doing a disservice to those who are intersex or transgender, who must spend their lives explaining it. It’s frustrating that this is now a commercialized ritual, when it can be so alienating.”
As many as 1 or 2% of people born in the U.S. are intersex, which can mean several things. Some intersex people don’t have XY or XX chromosomes; others have genitals or internal sex organs that don’t align with those assigned male or female at birth. Many people, children and adults alike, also don’t identify with their assigned gender: in 2019, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 2% of high school students identify as transgender. “The CDC’s new groundbreaking report shows that transgender youth exist in much greater numbers than researchers previously estimated,” said Amit Paley, Executive Director of The Trevor Project.
Karvunidis, the so-called founder of the gender reveal, said that, years later, she regrets her decision to throw a party. “Guns firing, forest fires, more emphasis on gender than has ever been necessary for a baby. Who cares what gender the baby is?” Karvunidis wrote in a Facebook post in 2019. “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.”
Her child identifies as a girl, but Karvunidis says she rejects “gender norms.” Which brings us to another issue altogether: gender reveal parties tend to celebrate stereotypical definitions of “boys” and “girls,” which feels dated and damaging at a time when we’re realizing both of those words have ever-changing, infinite, and deeply personal meanings.
These parties remain widespread, in the U.S. and elsewhere: search “gender reveal party” on Etsy, Google, or any party supply store and you’ll find hordes of items and ideas. Claire Grasby, the managing director of U.K. retailer Party Delights, told the BBC that these parties are popular because people are looking for “even more creative ways to celebrate a pregnancy.” But there are plenty of ways and reasons to safely celebrate a pregnancy. Announcing a child’s genitals with a cannon that could literally kill people isn’t one of them.