Gender Revealing Parties: Making the Womb Sexist?

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[Ed. Note: this is a guest post from Kyl Myers. Kyl is a sociology PhD student and a sex educator in Salt Lake City. She’s a connoisseur of 90s R&B, loves lipstick, and makes a mean batch of guacamole.]

I’m an avid Facebooker and Instagrammer and I have taken notice to this recent phenomenon of “gender revealing” that is happening amongst my pregnant friends. My stomach churns when I see the [adorably] staged photo of an expecting couple opening and releasing a box of 20 blue balloons so friends and family can finally be relieved of their curiosity of whether or not this thing has testicles!

This whole gender revealing trend troubles me for a few reasons, I’ll explain…

    1. “Gender” has nothing to do with the chromosomal make-up of a fetus. That fetus has a vagina, or a penis, or a little of both, or neither [more on that later]. What the couple may know from an ultrasound is that the fetus appears to have XX or XY chromosomes. Gender is something that is usually hurled upon a child after they are born so they fit into the socially constructed “normalities” of penis = boy and vagina = girl. This is not a “revealing” party – this is a “look, this baby has a vagina, so help me enforce femininity on ‘her’ before ‘she’s’ even born so our family isn’t weird” party.
    2. With the “gender revealing” comes a whole lot of heteronormativity reinforcing. Oh it’s a girl!? We can set her up with my 5-month-old son and they’ll grow up together and get married and it’ll be as cute as a country music video. Oh it’s a boy!? Here is a “lock up your daughters” onesie. Let’s just begin sexualizing him while he’s still shitting himself. Poor kids don’t stand a chance at defining their own sexuality sans resistance from parents who started planning their straight life before they had even grown eyelashes.
    3.  Not everyone has perfectly defined genitals and chromosomes. If I saw a face that looked exactly like mine, I’d freak. I can’t imagine what I would do if I saw my vagina doppelganger. There is no such thing as “what a penis is supposed to look like” and there isn’t a vagina production line. Every human is unique and natural variation occurs which includes differences in genital appearance and function as well as a spectrum of chromosomal possibilities. The good news – being intersex is simply an aspect of human variation. The bad news – it’s treated like the end of the world. Every expecting parent should educate themself about intersex conditions, as hasty, permanent decisions are often made for intersex newborns that will affect them for the rest of their life. 

My intention is not to shame anyone who wants to find out if their unborn fetus has a penis or a vagina. My intention is to explain that as hard as one may try to “gender” their child, this kid will ultimately decide who they are, so why not set them up with as much room as possible for their exploration. You may “reveal” that your fetus is a “boy” – but don’t be too surprised when he’s five and “reveals” to you that he’d like to be a mermaid.

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