A grandmother died during a gender reveal party. It’s time to end these rituals permanently.

A grandmother recently died at a gender reveal party gone wrong.

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A grandmother recently died at a gender reveal party gone wrong.
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Getty/Jeneil S

  • A grandmother died at a gender reveal party in Iowa this month when a piece of debris struck her in the head.
  • Even before the tragedy, Haig Chahinian, a career counselor and gay dad to a teenage girl, always felt troubled by the popular pre-birth ritual.
  • Chahinian said he doesn’t know any LGBTQ people who have hosted gender reveal parties because they reinforce labels that stifle individuals like him.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

I was rattled by the news that an Iowa grandmother died at a gender reveal party this month when a piece of debris struck the 56-year-old woman in the head. The family had likely hoped to spray festive bright blue or pink powder to announce the sex of the newborn-to-be. In the process, they inadvertently created a pipe bomb.

Even before this tragedy, gender reveal gatherings – like pre-baby showers designed to bring together loved ones – have always made me uncomfortable. These events enforce “either-or” thinking, branding everyone “him” or “her” forever, even before having a chance to enter the world. The unsuspecting individual is then expected to follow a strict code based solely on their genitals. As a gay dad with a 14 year-old daughter, I’ve constantly battled these norms.

Even before a woman died at a gender reveal party, I thought the popular ritual was troubling

At school in navy pants and white short sleeves, I preferred playing hopscotch, jumping rope, throwing jacks instead of strikes. I was popular with female classmates, but was taunted by the boys. Part of me wanted to worship sports like they did. But hanging upside down on the monkey bars, I didn’t want to fit into a category. I wanted acceptance.

While growing up in Los Angeles, Haig Chahinian shirked gender expectations.

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While growing up in Los Angeles, Haig Chahinian shirked gender expectations.
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Getty

At the University of Southern California it seemed wrong for me to kiss a guy. Back then, gay marriage was perfectly illegal.

My destiny was to marry a wife, earn money, and provide for our children while passing down our ancient culture. At night I lay shaking in my dorm bed, considering my limited options. Ending my life seemed like the logical solution.

Then a feminist theory professor I adored helped me realize gender wasn’t fixed. “It’s made-up,” she said. “You can reject social constructs. Your genitalia should not dictate how you express yourself in the world.” I realized if I cast aside the toxic idea of gender, I could choose to be with someone who just happened to have a penis as well. I slowly discarded every notion I held about what it meant to be a man. Her words were like a get out of jail card for my heart.

While I was lucky to come out alive, not everyone is.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely as their hetero-identified peers to have attempted suicide. More than half of trans male teens surveyed reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, as did about 30% of trans female teens, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The higher suicide risk may be a result of being marginalized or experiencing discrimination. Trans youth are at an increased risk for depression, too, according to Harvard scientist Sari Reisner. He noted that “if a person is not being seen for who they are, it can be very distressing.”

No LGBTQ person I know has ever organized a gender reveal party

The trend of hosting jubilees focused on a narrow definition of gender could contribute to these kinds of problems. No LGBTQ person I know has ever organized such a shindig.

I get the fuss about making a big to-do of your joyous bundle.

Sometimes what you expect when you’re expecting is cake, ice cream, and confetti, captured in photos that garner lots of social media likes.

In a twist, Jenna Karvundis, the woman credited with “inventing” the gender reveal concept, has had a change of heart. There’s “more emphasis on gender than has ever been necessary for a baby,” she said this summer. “Who cares what gender the baby is?”

He preferred play hopscotch and jumping rope to traditional sports.

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He preferred play hopscotch and jumping rope to traditional sports.
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I got lucky again when I fell for Peter, a cute New York City history buff who wanted a family, too. When we heard through our adoption agency that we were having a girl, we were excited to heap on her our unconditional love. We made a pact never to box her in. We resisted the pink toy aisle at big box stores.

Later when gift-wrapped Barbies showed up on our doorstep, we donated the impossibly shaped dolls to the local thrift shop. Letting myself daydream, I envisioned her picking up the piano where I’d left off, and sharing my passion for cooking luleh kebab.

When I found out I would be adopting a girl, I made a pact to never box her in

The first time she stirred a pot of lentil soup, I saw her on a future cover of Food and Wine magazine. Yet when my temper flared, she retreated from the kitchen. I hoped something special was in store when she agreed to learn the keyboard. It didn’t feel so unique when she dropped music lessons after a few months.

Haig's daughter has now developed her own style.

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Haig’s daughter has now developed her own style.
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Getty

Still, she surprised me by tossing a football in perfect spirals as a tween. Now in junior high, she enjoys shooting hoops, and in a reversal of roles, she’s teaching me how to be a spectator. Rule No. 1: When she scores, I am not supposed to yell “basket!” Better to clap. But not too loud.

For a recent birthday, my mother gave her granddaughter two pair of sneakers. Lately my child had ditched the dresses we’d bought in favor of athletic shorts and sweatshirts. I didn’t love her new schleppy style. I grumbled about it to my mother.

“Let her be,” my mom said. “You’ve given her room to express herself. She’s just using it.”

I was still learning to embrace all of my daughter. Now that was something to celebrate.