Michelle Duff: Pink and blue are not the only colours

Gender reveal cakes are on the rise in New Zealand.
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Gender reveal cakes are on the rise in New Zealand.

OPINION: I remember the moment my best friend, aged eight, told me he wouldn't be coming over to play with me any more.

"Why not?" I asked, confused. Had I not let him have enough turns on my bike? Was he still annoyed that he'd fallen off the pogo stick?

"Because," he said, "You're a girl."

It's not like this was news to me. I knew I was a girl, that's just the first time I remember it really meaning anything. In this case, it meant I was not as fun to play with. I think. Or did it mean that James was too embarrassed to come around any more, in case the boys at school found out he was friends with a girl?

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I'm not sure, and I don't think he was either. He mumbled something and went home soon afterwards, and I didn't invite him again. He sucked at the pogo stick, anyway.

I've been thinking about gender quite a lot this week, after a friend told me about a gender reveal party for a family member.

"It gave me the icks," he said, of the occasion, which involved a cake being cut to reveal a blue interior, presumably indicating the impending birth of a boy and not as a tasty harbinger of apocalyptic floods ("I didn't know how to tell you! This cake seemed the best way" "Shut UP Noah") or a marketing gimmick for a new cake-flavoured Powerade.

Imagine that, though. A hangover cure that tastes like cake? Yes, please.

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Let's get real for a moment: the concept of "revealing" the gender of a baby through an appropriately-coloured cake is utterly ridiculous at best, and transphobic at worst.

Before I get into that, let's establish that the "gender reveal" party, a trend that appears to have made its way here from America - the home of commercialised celebrations - is happening. I contacted three Auckland cakeries in the hope that it wasn't catching on.

Bad news. It is. All the cake companies said they have had increasing requests for gender reveal cakes in the past two years, with neutral or multi-coloured icing hiding either a pink or blue interior.

Sometimes the couple will come in without even knowing the sex, and hand over a sealed envelope given to them by the ultrasound operator. At the party, they find out at the same time as the guests.

No-one had ever asked for any other colour on the inside, one company said, though the owner had heard of one being made in white once "as an awful joke".

What kind of joke, I wonder? "Surprise! We don't care!" "Surprise! Our baby won't be boxed in by binary ideas of gender!" "Surprise! Gender roles suck!"

All those terrible lols sound infinitely better to me than the alternative "blue" or "pink" routes that babies are pushed on to before they even exit the womb. Not only this, but the whole idea of a gender reveal assumes that biological sex and gender identity are always the same thing, which we know they are not. 

Gender reveal parties are an exciting thing for expectant parents to do, I get that. It's nice to imagine your baby, and who they might be. But by the age of three, kids are starting to be influenced by gender norms, and it's not long before we all know what we're meant to wear, say, act, and who we should play with.

Wouldn't it be nice if these gendered expectations didn't begin, say immediately? If we allowed our kids to just be themselves?

Last week, a Canadian baby was issued a health card that did not specify a sex. His parent Kori Doty, a non-binary trans person who does not identify as male or female, told The Guardian the aim was to allow the child to discover their gender on their own.

"I think we're starting to understand that gender identity is not directly attached to genitals," Doty said. And: "I don't want to put them in a box where they only get to wear pink and ruffles or they only get to wear blue and trucks. I'm just trying to leave that space open, so that when they can say who they are, that they don't have to say 'your guess was wrong.'"

Sounds pretty sweet to me.

Michelle Duff is a weekly columnist for Life & Style.

 - Stuff

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