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Opinion: Stop setting California on fire to tell people about your kid’s genitals

Firefighters make their way up a hill as the El Dorado fire approaches in Yucaipa on Saturday.
(Los Angeles Times)

Gender reveal parties, the pointless trend in which expectant parents think up increasingly bizarre ways to communicate to their friends and family whether their baby will have a penis or a vagina, would be harmful even if one wasn’t responsible for the 10,000-acre El Dorado fire currently burning in San Bernardino.

For one thing, they conflate biological sex with gender identity. A fuzzy ultrasound image of a penis doesn’t necessarily mean your kid will identify as a boy — much less one who likes blue more than pink and trucks more than tiaras. About 1.4 million adults in America are transgender. That’s small as a percentage, but it’s more people than the population of 10 U.S. states. (When was the last time you heard someone argue that citizens of Rhode Island don’t actually exist?)

For my age group, Gen Z, this is common knowledge. More than a third of Gen Zers personally know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns. Almost 60% agree there are valid gender identities beyond “man” and “woman.” Neither of these realities can be captured by a pink-blue binary. Gender reveal parties — a misnomer, since all they reveal is a baby’s sex — are regressive, antiquated and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. And that’s just the ones that go right.

Because the ones that go wrong have a body count.

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The El Dorado fire has so far forced 20,000 people to evacuate. It’s only 7% contained and could get much worse as gusty winds pick up. And it started during a gender reveal photo shoot, when a couple set off a pyrotechnic device meant to produce colored smoke — pink or blue, naturally. In a grassy field during triple-digit heat, the blaze spread quickly.

El Dorado isn’t the first wildfire to have been sparked by a gender-reveal stunt. In 2017, a similarly explosive gender reveal in Arizona set off a 47,000-acre fire that caused more than $8 million in damage. (It was a boy, in case you’re wondering.) (Or at least it had a penis.)

In 2018, another pyrotechnic gender stunt set off a car fire in Australia.

And in 2019, a woman in Iowa was killed by a gender reveal pipe bomb.

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This dangerous gender-reveal one-upmanship has gotten so bad that the blogger credited with kicking off the trend back in 2008, Jenna Karvunidis, took to Facebook to beg people to cut it out.

“Stop it. Stop having these stupid parties. For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid’s penis. No one cares but you,” wrote Karvunidis.

If you’re thinking of having an elaborate and explosive gender reveal party, please take Karvunidis’ advice and just don’t. (Really, don’t have a gender reveal party at all! But I’m just an overly woke twentysomething. What do I know?)

And if you absolutely must tell the world what kind of junk your future kid is working with? Please, I’m begging you: stick to a cake.


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