Parents hold a gender reveal do-over to celebrate their transgender daughter
When Julie Hindsley found out she was expecting a baby boy in 2014, she celebrated in the same way many parents do: She threw a small gender reveal party and used cake pops with blue filling to share the news with her closest family and friends. Six years later, the mom knows now that blue cake pops could never tell the whole story of the amazing person her baby turned out to be. Hindsley’s 6-year-old, Ella, is transgender, and with the help of a local photographer, their family got a second chance at a gender reveal party to celebrate their daughter. From her earliest years, Ella has been clear about who she is. She spent much of her early childhood enamored with high heels, dolls and Disney princesses. At first, Hindsley and her husband, Daniel, assumed it was a phase. “We always laughed it off whenever she would walk around in my heels or put on one of my shirts as a dress,” Hindsley says.
Shortly after Ella’s third birthday, it became clear to Hindsley that her child was going through more than just a temporary stage of development. “She came to me and told me out of frustration, ‘I want to be a girl, Mom! Just make me a girl!’ That comment stopped me in my tracks,” Hindsley says.
Hindsley knew then that she needed to do whatever she could to support her child. She sought help from professional counselors, and the family started making small changes to allow Ella to express herself in the way that makes her most comfortable. “After she made that comment and we told her she could grow her hair out, she opened up more about her gender identity,” Hindsley says. “She had always expressed herself as a girl but never came out specifically saying that she identified that way until then.”
At Ella’s request, the Hindsleys bought dolls, dresses and bows for her to have at home. At the suggestion of a counselor, they helped Ella socially transition, allowing her to wear the clothes she liked to school and take the lead on expressing her gender identity. “After we had slowly started letting her wear girly clothes but had not changed name or pronouns yet, we went to see her counselor,” Hindsley says. “When her counselor asked her to pick out anything in the room that made her think of herself, she picked out a pretty pink princess figure. It was at this session that she told us she wanted us to use she/her pronouns.”
In February 2020, Hindsley shared some of Ella’s journey on Facebook and caught the eye of Midlothian, Texas, photographer Heather Harris Witt. Witt, who has a gay son, approached Hindsley about doing a special photoshoot to celebrate Ella and share their family’s story. Together, the pair came up with the idea to do gender reveal photos.
The photos took a while to organize because of social distancing requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in May they were finally able to make it happen. Hindsley shared the stunning photos in a post on Facebook earlier this month, where she wrote:
“Just a few days ago, I heard Ella tell a family member, ‘Sometimes God makes mistakes. He just made a mistake with me.’ … Although typical gender reveals seem to place a significant amount of stress about how important it is to be a boy or a girl 20 weeks before the child is born, I felt it was necessary to have this photoshoot for Ella; the main reason being so she knows that she is not a mistake.”
The photo series features Hindsley, her husband and their older son, Grant, holding a typical “boy or girl” sign one might see at any gender reveal party. Then Ella enters the frame wearing a rainbow dress and a unicorn headband, and the family celebrates their girl with silly string and lots of laughter.
Hindsley admits she has some regrets about that first gender reveal party she hosted six years ago. “I never even thought about this prior to having a transgender child, but now looking back on those photos, I kind of wish we had never done them,” she says. “We just helped solidify how much importance people in America put on a human's gender way before they can ever express themselves.”
Gender reveal parties have faced criticism over the years because of the way they seem to promote gender stereotypes. Even Jenna Karvunidis, the woman credited with throwing the original gender reveal party, has spoken out against the trend and the way it upholds “narrow gender norms.”
Rigid ideas about gender not only impact kids’ mental health, but they can also contribute to stigma and discrimination faced by the transgender community. A 2019 report by The Trevor Project found that one in three transgender youth had attempted suicide in the past year, one-third reported being a victim of sexual violence and more than half reported experiencing episodes of depression that lasted more than two weeks.
Hindsley says she and her husband have lost friends they grew up with because of their openness about Ella’s journey, and she is well aware that not everyone is supportive of Ella’s transition. Still, she is proud of her daughter and optimistic about the future.
June is Pride Month, which is dedicated to commemorating the uprisings at the Stonewall Inn in New York City that are largely credited with launching the movement for equality for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) community. Just over a week ago, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that LGBTQ people cannot be disciplined, fired or turned down for a job based on their sexual orientation.
The world continues to change for the better, and Hindsley hopes sharing Ella’s story will do even more to open people’s minds. “We are putting ourselves in a vulnerable situation telling the world that our child is transgender,” she says. “I am hoping that putting ourselves in this situation will at least help to change hearts and minds, spark some curiosity of wanting to learn more about this, and in return we gain some more allies. The more people learn to love and be accepting of others, the more we can help this country progress to where all LGBTQ individuals have equal human rights.”
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