By ERWIN FREED
The El Dorado Fire has burned over 10,000 acres in the San Bernardino forest, mere miles away from hundreds of thousands of homes. The El Dorado Fire is gaining infamy due to the event that sparked its flames—pyrotechnics at a gender reveal party. The Washington Post reports that over 21,000 people have been forced to evacuate due to the El Dorado alone. Another large fire was started by a gender reveal party in Arizona in 2017 that caused over $8.5 million in damages.
The fire inside
So-Called “gender” reveal parties, where people gather together to celebrate the presumed shape of a fetus’ genitalia, began to gain popularity around 2008. The practice took off through the last decade due to developments in ultrasound technology and the internet. Parents give bakers, party suppliers, and, apparently, pyrotechnicians sealed envelopes containing the presence or absence of a penis in-utero. These professionals are then tasked with constructing surprising ways for the parents and their families to discover the sex of their soon-to-be newborn, usually through the presence of either pink or blue in anything from cakes to paint to fireworks.
Gender reveal parties are emblematic of what trans activist and author Julia Serrano calls “oppositional sexism.” Oppositional sexism is “the belief that male and female are rigid, mutually exclusive categories.” The problem of oppositional sexism is that it assigns behaviors, activities, and even commodities as the specific purview of masculinity or femininity, culturally limiting the variation of human activity within and between individuals regardless of gender. In distinction to what Serrano calls “traditional sexism,” oppositional sexism does not necessarily create a hierarchy between male and female characteristics, but simply separates them within a binary understanding of gender.
The name “gender reveal party” indicates a further complication of the events. An individual’s gender is an always-developing social relationship that can not be predetermined by the presence or absence of a phallus. While those participating likely have no intention of causing harm, upholding birth genitals as predetermining a child’s future self-identity is a reflection of the marginalization of trans, non-binary, and inter-sex people.
Deeply embedded in capitalist social relations, cis-normativity (the idea that people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth are “normal”) has the effect of monstrous and growing rates of suicide, violence, and discrimination against trans people. The year 2020 has seen more reported murders of trans people in seven months than 2019 did as a whole, and the majority of victims are Black trans women.
Up in smoke
The causes of the great tragedies of both gender oppression and devastating forest fires are to be found in an unlikely place—the capitalist mode of production. Traditional and oppositional sexism are outgrowths of the objective needs of capitalist society, namely the creation of gendered subjects within the working class to carry out reproductive labor. Put simply, the bosses rely on the unpaid labor of women to cook, clean, and generally maintain working-class households. The hierarchy of gender and sexual identities within wage workers as a whole feeds into competition among workers that the bosses use to drive down wages for everyone.
Forest fires are a “natural” part of many Western environments. Indigenous people maintained healthy forest management practices for thousands of years before colonization. The drivers of our current fire crisis are anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, dangerous real estate development, and poor forest management under the direction of timber and real estate capital. While news outlets are quick to point to the immediate “cause” of the latest uncontrollable blaze, this inclination obscures the social factors at the real heart of the worsening phenomenon.
There is a haunting coincidence of thought in people simultaneously engaging in activity that puts thousands of acres of land at risk while also maintaining the destructive ideology that denies trans existence and upholds childish gender-based stereotypes. Still, gender oppression will not end with an end to “gender” reveal parties, nor will forest fires stop decimating communities if only people refrain from activities that may spark them. Instead, the conscious replacement of the capitalist state by a workers’ government through revolutionary struggle is what is necessary to create a society capable of allowing everyone to live safely and truthfully.
The vision, possibility, and, ultimately, realization of such a transformation is the historic responsibility of the millions of workers and young people who have been in the street all summer fighting for Black liberation.
Photo: Helicopter fights the El Dorado fire, started by a gender reveal party. (Ringo H.W. Chu / AP)