Last week I attended a gender-reveal party, the purpose of which was to determine, once and for all, what my gender was. I say a gender-reveal party because I was not the only one having the state of their gender revealed. It was a group party, among my friends and acquaintances and a few of their friends and acquaintances.
Someone at work was talking about attending a gender-reveal party for someone else and thought it would be a fun idea to have our genders revealed together. These are offered by a few private companies for a fee. We selected a company that specializes in group packages, we each chipped in for the fee and one friend volunteered their home to be the party’s location. It was on a Saturday afternoon going, presumably, into the late evening. I was tasked with bringing a cheese plate, and beer or wine if possible.
I was reluctant at first to participate in the gender-reveal party. For much of my life I felt more or less confirmed about the gender into which I was born if not always entirely at ease with it, and it would be foolish to deny that I hadn’t reaped occasional advantages as a result of it. But I knew also that others might not feel the same way. The very least I could do was keep an open mind. It wasn’t much of a chore anyway. My portion of the fee was doable with easily made sacrifices and all that was required besides my presence was submitting answers to an online questionnaire and samples of my blood and urine. If, after all that, it happened that an error had been made somewhere along the way, well, I would have to deal with that.
I pulled into my coworker’s cul-de-sac with the cheese plate and a six-pack of Molson Ice. The formal invitation also encouraged me to bring a “support guest,” a trusted friend or loved one, to comfort and/or congratulate me upon my revelation. I opted not to do this.
I was not very late when I arrived, but most of the guests were there ahead of me, spread out along the open floor layout. A long table was set up extending over both the living room and the kitchen. Before each seat was a box with the name of each guest on it. Festive multicolored letters were hung over the living room sofa that read “TO NEW BEGINNINGS.”
Everyone was buoyant and cheerily apprehensive save one standing over the kitchen counter, dressed in a polo shirt and pleated khakis with a look that was at once soft, self-affirming, and alert. I suspected they were a representative of the company we hired.
I was greeted warmly by all and the cheese plate appeared not to offend. But the pleasantries had to be paused as the polo-shirted representative, Representative A, moved to the head of the long table.
“If I could just have your attention,” Representative A said. Everybody went silent and directed their gazes as ordered. “Thanks everyone for coming, first of all. Thank you also for choosing our firm to organize what will surely be a momentous and cherished occasion. Please give yourselves a hand.”
Representative A continued. “In a moment we will commence with the revelations of everyone’s gender, but first I wanted to set a few things straight. Our company prides itself on our meticulous process so as better to serve the needs and wishes of those who hire us. For those whose genders will be revealed to be other than what yours previously were, we will offer resources for support and guidance as you leave. For those whose genders do not change, it is extremely important that you be supportive of your peers. And I ask that each, the changed and unchanged, be mindful of one another.”
Another polo-shirted representative, Representative B, whisked in from the side hallway with several clipboards in each arm that were passed out to all the guests.
“These are waivers,” Representative A continued, “absolving the company of any error or false-positive that may occur in the process of the revelation. Our company takes any complaint or attempt at correction very seriously, but we pride ourselves on having a 0.000001% margin of error, a far smaller margin than any of our competitors. Now once everyone signs their waiver and passes it back to my associate, everyone please take a seat at the table where you see your name.”
Everyone sat down.
“The data you submitted to our company was analyzed with the greatest care and consideration to your well-being. It only makes sense that we take as much care in giving back the results. Some might say it is less costly in time and resources to just call or email you. We think that’s a bit cold, so we devised this setup. You will each take turns with your gender-reveal, starting with you,” Representative A said, pointing to the guest seated to their right.
The guest lifted up the box to reveal a cake covered in pale blue frosting and their name in sugar lettering. Ooos and aahs all around. Representative A handed the guest a pie server. The guest cut their cake which revealed a regular yellow sponge. Representative A held up the cake and presented it to the other guests.
“Yellow,” Representative A said, “indicates no change in gender.”
Everyone lightly clapped as the representative handed the cake back to the guest who looked game but a little underwhelmed.
The guest passed the pie server counterclockwise to the next seat, and then to the next, and then to the next, and so on. There were 21 or 22 of us. Most of the results were yellow cake. This was met with different reactions. Some were satisfied. Some were clearly more disappointed, having worked themselves up the days prior into an anticipation of the possibilities of something new, only to have that hope festively dashed. Some were more muted and ambivalent. One guest actually cried and had to be comforted.
Four or five guests had cakes with a red velvet sponge. This indicated a new gender designation. There was much cheering when these were revealed before these guests had to report to Representative B for another clipboard and some pamphlets.
I was seated in the middle of the row to Representative A’s left, about 12th or 13th in line. By the time the server was handed to me, my curiosity had raised somewhat higher from when I had arrived. Still, I mustered enough sober modesty to cut slowly and not too large a slice.
But once I had done this, I was met with a sponge of a very different color. Rather than yellow or red velvet, my cake sponge was of a greenish-black consistency with a soggy texture.
I looked around at the other guests who had stilled into a tense pause. I signaled the representative.
“There seems to be a problem with my cake.”
Representative A looked at it briefly. “What is your name?”
I gave my name. Representative A signaled to Representative B who brought over an entirely new clipboard. Representative A looked it over.
“Ah, here it is. Your gender is unchanged.”
“Okay,” I said, then motioned back to the problematic cake.
“Oh,” Representative A said, inspecting the cake more closely. “Your cake is defective.”
“Is there any way I can … maybe … get a new cake?”
“All cakes are final. But consult with my associate after the ceremony about getting a quote for reanalyzing your data.”
I nodded and passed the server on.
After the ceremony, the guests splintered into several smaller parties centered on the few who got red velvet cakes, where toasts were made and group selfies were taken.
I formed a sort of satellite at the periphery of these groups where guests would pass me and offer various commiserations.
“Better luck next time, eh?” one guest said.
“It’s not your fault,” another assured me, “no matter what they tell you.”
“Have a beer on me,” another guest said, and handed me a bottle of the Molson Ice I brought.
I took my cake and prepared to leave. Just as I reached the door, Representative B accosted me to remind me of the finer points of the waiver, which I halfheartedly acknowledged, having had my fill of clipboards for one evening. I last saw Representative A moving around the table carefully dropping the cakes into a large trash bag.
I drove home with the cake box on my passenger seat. When I took it out of my car, I noticed that some of the cake had seeped out of the side of the box and onto the seat’s fabric. I opted to deal with it in the morning, though I did not hold out hope that the stain, now the most prominent stain on the seat, would ever be removed.
I placed the cake on my kitchen table and observed it. I went to the junk drawer and took out a box of birthday candles. Conveniently there was one left. I placed it at the center of the cake, right at the half-point of my name. I lit the candle and ate from a bag of stale tortilla chips until the candle melted down to half its length and extinguished.
I threw out the cake and fell asleep watching Hawaii Five-O — the old one, not the new one.