By now, the world is familiar with Kristin and Tom Cressotti’s gender reveal party. Maybe you’ve seen the video? It captures Tom Cressotti, a real estate appraiser with a party vibe, getting hit in the crotch by a smoke bomb, dropping in pain in his East Longmeadow backyard, covered in blue powder (it’s a boy!), as an off-screen guest yells, “No need for a vasectomy!”
But there was a time before the footage went viral, before a media company paid the couple $1,200 for film rights, and strangers on the Internet started telling them they don’t deserve children, when Kristin Cressotti was just an expectant mother inviting her family to a bit of festivity in the otherwise dark summer of 2020.
Her grandmother wanted to come, but what, she wondered, is a gender reveal? Then, after learning it was a party to announce the gender of an unborn child, she had a second question: Why?
We’ll get to grandma’s question. But as the gender reveal death toll mounts — yes, there’s an international gender reveal death toll — what can be said is this: Some people consider having a child exciting enough, and others think the news needs to be amped up, by shooting off a cannon with pink or blue smoke, perhaps, or piercing a confetti-filled balloon with a crossbow.
At some gender reveal parties, the expectant parents do the revealing. At others, the parents themselves learn the gender — when they cut into a cake with a blue or pink center, for example, which has been baked by a friend or family member who has been empowered to get the information.
Already this year the trend has claimed three lives. In February, an expectant father in New York was killed, and his brother seriously injured, when a device they were building for a gender reveal exploded. In late March, a pilot and copilot hired to announce “it’s a girl” died when their plane plummeted into a lagoon off Cancun.
Gender reveal parties have sparked wildfires in Arizona and California, led to the death of a firefighter, and become so controversial that the woman credited with popularizing the parties, in 2008, is asking people to stop.
“Oh my god NO,” Jenna Karvunidis, an LA blogger, wrote on Facebook. “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.”
But the trend only seems to be accelerating. Justin Jaye, the owner of FlySigns Aerial Advertising, a national firm, said his company is doing three gender-reveal airplane flyovers a week, minimum, with prices that start at $1,200. Demand is such that he is adding a helicopter option, too, for $1,500.
As the mayhem continues, people are starting to wonder: Are the parties cursed?
The question was put to Jaye as he happened to be driving by the site of the El Dorado wildfire, a blaze that consumed thousands of acres east of Los Angeles and was set off by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used for a gender reveal party.
“No,” he said emphatically. “That was people not being responsible.”
In Marston Mills, the manager of The Mills Air Service, Chris Siderwicz, gave a more nuanced answer when asked about a possible curse.
“I try not to give it a lot of thought,” he said. “I don’t like to think anything we’d be doing would be negative.”
When something does go wrong, Twitter is ready to pounce. The plane crash off the Mexican coast set off a firestorm.
“‘[Y]ou’re invited to a gender reveal party’ is Mafia code for getting whacked,” tweeted @joelpatt.
“We’re this close to a headline that’s like ‘Three dead, one injured during ceremony honoring victims of gender reveal parties,’” tweeted @HunterFelt.
“We’re not far from ‘my parents died doing my gender reveal’ becoming a plausible, even cliche, backstory for orphans in movies,” @mattress_island observed.
Transgender rights advocates say the parties send the wrong message by focusing on the gender a person is assigned at birth:
“[H]ow many more must die before people learn they can’t reveal gender’” tweeted @adamholwerda.
“[L]isten, all i’m saying is that trans kids transitioning have caused 0 explosions to date and cis gender reveal parties have caused like 10,” @Khoshtistic tweeted, “so who’s really the more dangerous here.”
There’s no official tally of gender reveal injuries, but the toll can be seen on YouTube and in the Amazon review of at least one gender reveal confetti cannon.
“[T] the bottom part that you twist backfired straight into my stomach,” a customer named Taylor Scarborough wrote. “Spent my night in the hospital making sure my baby was ok.”
All of which brings us to Kristin Cressotti, and her grandmother’s question: Why?
“I know this sounds silly,” she said, “but social media influences a lot of how we behave and what we do. You have to keep up with everyone else.”
The star of the Cressotti video, baby Cade, remains ignorant of the role he played in smacking his dad in the groin. But when he reaches the age that he’ll enjoy it, Tom Cressotti said, he’ll show him the video. “He’ll get a kick out of it.”
Beth Teitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.