Gender reveals aren’t just damaging to society in propelling tone-deaf cisgender narratives. They’re also devastating the planet, too.
In 2008, Jenna Karvunidis, an expectant mother, decided to throw a party to announce her unborn baby’s sex. Surrounded by friends, she cut into a cake and waited to see whether the icing was pink for a female or blue for a male. It was touted as the very first gender reveal party, and since then, there have been thousands of copycat celebrations all over the world.
The parties are particularly popular in the U.S. and the U.K. In fact, in 2019, research suggested that from 2018 to 2019, one in five Brits was invited to a gender reveal party.
Like Karvunidis, some will announce their baby’s sex at these parties with a simple cake, while others might choose to pop a confetti-filled balloon.
Many have taken things one step further and let off smoke bombs or fireworks. And some have even gone to the extreme of dying animals or water sources. All of this can have devastating consequences for the planet, wildlife, and people.
Here’s why, for the sake of our environment, but also for the sake of societal progress, it’s time to lay gender reveals to rest once and for all.
Gender reveals are environmentally damaging in so many ways
One of the most famous examples of a gender reveal gone wrong is the El Dorado fire, which broke out in San Bernardino county, California, in September 2020. A couple had chosen to announce the sex of their baby by way of a smoke bomb, which, in already scorching temperatures, ignited a blaze that burned across the region for 23 days.
The fire was catastrophic for the environment. Wildfires displace wildlife, including birds, and may cause them to search for new, unnatural habitats. But they also emit potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
In 2022, global wildfires generated more than 1,450 megatonnes of carbon dioxide. Because of the extent of the damage, and because the fire also caused the tragic death of one firefighter, the couple that started the blaze was charged in a criminal court.
But this is far from one isolated incident. In 2022, one couple was investigated by the Brazilian environment ministry after they polluted the Queima Pé river — a vital water source for the town of Tangará da Serra — when they chose to dye a whole waterfall blue for a gender reveal party.
Animals have been victims of these celebrations too. Earlier this month, a pigeon in New York died after it was dyed pink for a gender reveal.
“Despite our best efforts to reduce the fumes coming off the dye, while keeping him calm and stable, he died in the night,” said a spokesperson for the Wild Bird Fund, the organization that rescued and tried to save the bird. “We believe his death was caused by inhaling the toxins.” They added that they hoped the animals’ death would help to “prevent more acts of careless cruelty.”
Forest fires, polluted water sources, and dyed animals are extreme examples of the way gender reveals can negatively impact our planet. But on a smaller scale, these parties can still have consequences. Balloons, for example, are a common theme in many gender celebrations, but they’re often made from plastic, which doesn’t biodegrade and causes havoc in the environment. In 2019, one study suggested that balloon pollution was the number one marine debris risk for seabirds, for example.
And, while they are used in many celebrations of different types, not just gender reveals, there are now calls to think more about the serious impact that fireworks have on the environment. After all, to make that pretty pink announcement, they have to send an explosion of toxic chemicals into the air.
Gender reveals are harmful to people, too
But the planet is not the only reason why it’s time to ditch these types of parties. Even Karvunidis now admits that they promote an outdated view of gender. “There’s such an obsession with gender that it becomes limiting in many ways and exploitative in others,” she wrote in a 2020 op-ed for the Guardian. “You don’t want what’s between your legs to guide your path in life. I want my kids to grow up in a world where gender doesn’t matter.”
She added that her daughter, Bianca, who’s sex was announced with pretty pink icing, now prefers to wear blue suits. “I get a lot of emails from transgender or non-binary teenagers who see themselves in Bianca,” Karvunidis continued. “And they see her family supporting her.”
Karvunidis is not alone in denouncing the societal harm that gender reveals can do. After all, the very name promotes the idea that the sex you’re assigned before you’re even born will determine how you will express your gender throughout your life. And we know now that, for many, this isn’t how things play out. In 2021, a study by the Trevor Project, which looked at data from 35,000 young members of the LGBTQ+ community, found that 26 percent of young queer people identified as non-binary, while 20 percent were questioning their gender identity.
This is why, in 2021, singer Demi Lovato shared a post to Instagram, written by another user, which labeled gender reveal parties as “transphobic.” It noted: “Gender reveals are based on the illusion that genitals = gender and that there are only two options ‘boy or girl.’ This definition erases the fact that there are boys with vaginas and girls with penises and that there are people who are neither boys nor girls. The idea that sex is based on genitalia is inconsistent with science.”
And let’s not forget, gender reveals don’t just harm people by promoting binary thinking, but they have also led to physical injuries and even death. In 2020, one gender reveal guest was killed by a metal piece that flew out of a handmade pyrotechnic. And in 2021, another individual was killed when a gunpowder-filled cannon exploded.
You know something is wrong when, at best, gender reveals promote an outdated and harmful view of societal gender norms, and at worst, they cause fatal and catastrophic forest fires. So, for the sake of the planet and all living beings, let’s just let our children define who they are on their own terms. Maybe then we can throw a party—no fireworks or dye allowed.
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