A gender reveal party is an event when expecting parents invite people to a celebration where they — the guests, or both the guests and the parents — will learn the sex of the baby.

So is it like a baby shower?
It is only in that it takes place before the baby is born. But the point of the gender reveal party is to share the sex of the baby.

So people just show up and the couple says, “We’re having a boy” or “We’re having a girl?”
It’s usually more involved than that. Sometimes, a couple might serve cupcakes or a sheet cake that has vanilla or chocolate frosting. Then, when the cupcake or a cake is cut into, it can reveal pink or blue frosting, indicating whether the baby is female or male. Sometimes, one of the parents will know the sex of the baby beforehand. But sometimes, the parents want to learn at the party at the same time as the guests.

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How can parents host a party announcing the sex of their baby if they don’t even know the sex themselves?
Writing for Parents magazine, Charlene DeLoach wrote:

It’s clear to a skilled ultrasound technician whether you’re having a boy or a girl at around 18 to 20 weeks’ gestation. Ask the sonographer to write “boy” or “girl” on a piece of paper and place it in a sealed envelope (instead of announcing the sex of the baby).

Then, DeLoach wrote, parents can take that envelope to a bakery and instruct the bakers on what to do with the information inside:

…order a cake that’s either blue or pink on the inside (depending on the results of your ultrasound), but with a neutral-color frosting on the outside, such as white (vanilla) or brown (chocolate). Sheet cakes and square cakes are best; you’ll need to cut off only the corner to announce your baby’s sex. If you’re expecting multiples, you could get a large sheet cake that is baked half and half, with clear delineation on the top for the cutting of the cake; otherwise, get two cakes for Baby A and Baby B. Cupcakes and cake pops make unique reveal alternatives to cake.

Is it always cake or cupcakes?
No. DeLoach explained that you can use pink or blue baby socks inside a box, or that you can release pink or blue balloons. One company recently started selling “gender reveal lasagna.” In a New York Times opinion piece, Jennifer Finney Boylan listed some more options:

If you have a few hours free, you can find online videos of parents shooting off blue or pink water from fire hoses to announce the joyful news or slicing open a cake filled with colored marbling. One family invited friends over and had their pet alligator bite open a colored balloon.

Whoa. That sounds intense.
That’s not even the most intense one. Boylan also mentioned this one:

Back on April 23, 2017, a man named Dennis Dickey and his wife, Rita, gathered their friends in the desert south of Tucson to unveil the sex of their forthcoming baby. The festivities included detonating an explosive called Tannerite that puffs blue or pink smoke. You know, the way one does. Mr. Dickey shot the explosive with a high-power rifle, and in short order there was a column of blue smoke rising in the Arizona desert.

Unfortunately, also rising in the desert were flickering flames from the dry brush that the Tannerite had likewise ignited. Thanks to a video released by the Forest Service last month, You can watch the whole thing unfold on YouTube. The video ends with someone shouting, “Start packing up! Start packing up!” The resulting fire raged for over six days and took more than 800 firefighting personnel to contain.

Yikes, indeed!

Fires and destruction and colored lasagna aside, I seem to recall an LGBTQ+ Experiment post explaining that gender and sex are not the same concept.
Right, that was one of the first posts. The GLAAD Media Reference Guide states that sex is “a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics.” Gender, though, has come to be seen a concept not tied to physical or bodily characteristics, but rather, part of someone’s identity and how they view themselves.

Here’s how a newsletter from the National Institutes of Health described it in 2016:

Gender is a social or cultural concept. It refers to the roles, behaviors, and identities that society assigns to girls and boys, women and men, and gender-diverse people. Gender is determined by how we see ourselves and each other, and how we act and interact with others. There’s a lot of diversity in how individuals and groups understand, experience, and express gender.

So how can one’s gender be revealed before that person is even born?
That’s part of the criticism of gender reveal parties. In a 2016 article for Slate, Jessica Winter wrote:

A gender-reveal party might at least take on a sheen of medical accuracy if it were called a “sex-reveal party,” with the added bonus that it would also sound more like a fun orgy. But I doubt it’s a total accident that “gender-reveal” collapses the discrete concepts of sex and gender into one big face-mash of tasty cake. In fact, the gender-reveal phenomenon pulls off a rousing counter-progressive two-for-one: weapons-grade reinforcement of oppressive gender norms (sorry, feminists!) and blunt-force refusal of the idea that sex assigned at birth does not necessarily equate with gender identity (sorry, trans-rights movement!).

Beyond that, these events can not only ignore transgender people and non-binary people, but also intersex people, Diane Stopyra wrote for Marie Claire in 2017:

Projecting gender perceptions onto a fetus becomes especially thorny when you take into consideration that, globally, one in every 1000 to 1500 children is born with a visible form of Difference of Sex Development (DSD), which means being neither entirely male nor female, since the chromosomal/genital makeup falls somewhere in between—an enlarged clitoris capable of erections, for instance. (Broader definitions of DSD put this number closer to 1 in 100 children.) Then there are the millions of kids assigned a sex at birth with which they don’t align: 150,000 American teenagers identify as transgender. In a ritual that celebrates only a binary way of thinking about identity, we’re leaving a cross-section of the population out, adding to a culture of trans and intersex shame. And for what? Confetti poppers?

Wow. I can see how someone who doesn’t conform to gender norms might feel uncomfortable with these types of events.
For the above article, Stopyra spoke with Katie Baratz Dalke, who at the time was an assistant professor of psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine. Dalke said that these parties can do a “disservice” to everyone, especially intersex or transgender people:

The popularity of gender-reveal parties speaks to how powerful and central this binary is to our sense of identity… Still, they make me a little queasy. By collapsing gender expression, gender identity, and sex, you’re doing everyone a disservice, because no one buys into the whole package all the time…. 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.

So I guess all this is to say that gender reveal parties are bad, eh?
There are people who would say that, but as is the case with all topics, there is no one universal opinion of LGBTQ+ people. Stopyra’s article included the line, “This is not to say that everyone who’s ever hosted a gender-reveal party is a raging egomaniac with a Kardashian-level selfie collection.” And Amber Leventry, a non-binary writer who contributes to Scary Mommy, said this when writing about gender reveal parties:

I am not saying to avoid gender or raise kids as gender neutral, because the majority of kids will be either male or female based on their biological sex. But I am saying that parents need to be more open-minded and cool it on the over-the-top gender reveal parties. They reveal how much stock we put into gender and its dangerous stereotypes, and they get the basic fundamentals of human biology wrong.

In a post for Everyday Feminism, Pidgeon Pagonis suggested some alternative things that expecting parents could do. Pagonis suggested parents should prepare for the idea that their children could could be transgender, non-binary, or intersex. In the case the child is intersex, the parents could create a legal document explaining what they want to have happen — or not have happen. Another idea Pagonis suggested was having the antithesis to a gender reveal party:

Instead of biting into a cupcake and finding pink or blue frosting, have guests bite into rainbow cake! Or, instead of opening a box to reveal pink or blue balloons, open one with balloons of every color under the rainbow. Then, use that rare time with your friends and family to discuss what it was like growing up in a culture that unevenly attributes gender expectations with sex anatomy. This may seem awkward at first, but it’s not impossible. One way to get the conversation started is by asking everyone, “How many people didn’t get to play with certain toys because they were for boys or vice versa?”

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