Nikki Borge-Scott, a mother in Halton, Ontario, is throwing her daughter a gender reveal party—but not the regular, old-fashioned, binary-enforcing kind. Her eight-year-old daughter, Ella, is trans, and the party is a chance to celebrate her gender identity and new name with her family. Borge-Scott hopes that creating joyful memories of her daughter’s transition will help Ella continue to see her gender as something worthy of celebration.
Borge-Scott’s daughter transitioned in November 2020. But due to waves of lockdown restrictions, Ella hasn’t seen parts of her family since before that. While Borge-Scott and her mother-in-law had initially told the rest of the family, who she says have been unequivocally supportive, she wanted to give Ella a chance to announce these changes herself.
Originally, Borge-Scott was planning to send family members a card that contained recent photos of Ella.
“It was really Ella’s first chance to come out to our family,” says Borge-Scott. “It was an opportunity for [Ella] to choose the card, for her to choose the wording that went in it, and for her say, ‘This is me, this is my new name and this is who I am.’”
Then Borge-Scott was presented with the possibility of celebrating in-person. The weekend of July 30 is the annual reunion of the Scott side of the family, and Borge-Scott originally planned to throw a party for Ella as part of this gathering. However, when Ella expressed a desire for a smaller celebration, they decided to have the gender reveal party the day before with just their immediate family.
The plan is to keep the festivities very low-key. Borge-Scott is getting Ella a cake with her name on it and some balloons.
Borge-Scott’s take on a gender reveal party is a far cry from most of the ones you’ll see on Instagram. Usually, gender reveals take place before a child is born, and reveal the gender that a child will be assigned at birth.
This type of gender reveal has received criticism for perpetuating normative ideas of gender as static and binary. And because of the competitive showmanship of the parents, for causing a literal plane crash and a forest fire.
“They presuppose particular identities that the infant will have, even before they’re born,” says Robert Diaz, a professor of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. “They really take away the ability for the individual to shape their narrative because it’s preshaped for them at such an early age. For trans youth, who might not identify with that gender, it becomes something that they have to go against,” says Diaz.
Diaz says that what Borge-Scott is doing is rethinking the role of family in a trans child’s journey. “It moves away from the stereotype of family as a harmful space,” he says. “They’re creating a space for their daughter to celebrate herself and they become part of it.”
Borge-Scott says that the chance to flip the script on gender-reveal parties is part of what inspired her to throw this celebration. “I love that we’re taking the stereotypical ‘boots or bows’ or ‘guns or glitter’ and shaking it up and allowing people to form their own questions about their concept of gender.”
For Borge-Scott, the journey of helping Ella express her gender on her own terms started years before Ella made a public transition. By the time Ella was four, she was gravitating toward more traditionally “feminine” toys like My Little Pony or characters from the film Frozen and using baby blankets to give the illusion of long hair.
“That’s when I started introducing her to gender identity,” says Borge-Scott. This included emphasizing that it’s possible to be a boy who likes wearing dresses, but also introducing Ella to children’s books on the topic of gender expression.
“I think it was Halloween. She was in grade one and she said, ‘I want to be a cat, but I want to wear a skirt,’” recalls Borge-Scott. “We put together this cute little outfit for her, and she was just so happy. She said, ‘Mummy, I’m a girl. I don’t feel like a boy. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’”
After that, Borge-Scott got in contact with the Reach Out Centre for Kids (ROCK) in Burlington, Ontario, which provides mental health services for children. They have a partnership with The Positive Space Network, an organization that creates safe spaces for LGBTQ2S+ youth. There, she was able to access guidance and reassurance about her decision to let Ella express her gender in whatever way she chose.
“No baby book, no parenting book, had ever prepared me for this,” says Borge-Scott. “It was difficult for me to let go and be like, my six-and-a-half-year-old is making this huge decision. But you know what, even if she does change her mind or she does detransition, so what? You know how many times I’ve changed my mind about something?”
“I can understand parents’ concern about making these really big life choices,” says Julie Hamara, the community engagement coordinator at The 519 in Toronto, which offers a range of services for queer and trans youth. “But we have to consider the negative mental health implications of not celebrating this.”
“Trans youth in particular struggle with mental health issues disproportionate to their cis hetero counterparts,” says Hamara. “The consequences of not celebrating a child’s identity can be much more damaging than being proud and affirming.”
Hamara says she would love to see other parents of trans youth take up Borge-Scott’s version of a gender reveal party.
For Borge-Scott and Ella, not every experience has been positive. Since Ella changed her name, Borge-Scott has pulled her daughter out of the Halton Catholic District School Board, which made headlines after refusing to allow its schools to raise the Pride flag (a policy that has since been amended). Borge-Scott was present at the trustee meeting about the issue in 2021 and says the things she heard there were homophobic and transphobic.
Ella has since moved to a public school, which Borge-Scott says has been a welcome change. “On the first day of [public] school, Ella came running out and she was like, ‘We have a Pride flag in our classroom!’ And I was just like, yes, we did the right thing.”
Borge-Scott is adamant about doing everything she can to preserve the excitement and joy that has accompanied the change in Ella’s gender presentation.
“I want to keep her transness and being transgender as such a positive thing. It already is—she loves being trans. She loves talking about it. She says all the time, ‘Mommy, I’m rare and I’m special because I’m transgender.’”
“She’s eight years old, so she has no idea how hard it can be. I want her to have all these positive foundations that she can look back on when it does get hard,” says Borge-Scott. “I’m hoping she has that positivity and it stays with her.”
Borge-Scott has also started an Instagram page dedicated to sharing her experiences as the mother of a trans child, where Ella sees and approves of every photo before it’s posted. Through the page, Borge-Scott has connected with parents of trans children from around the world.
Borge-Scott says that her advice for other parents whose kids are starting to explore or question their gender boils down to this: listen.
“Just listen to your kid. Listen to them and let them lead. And, you know, you’re not doing anything wrong. You are not a bad parent for being affirming. You are the opposite, you are an amazing parent. To suppress a child and who they are, that is not good parenting.”
“And there are resources. There are so many great resources out there.”
As for Ella, Borge-Scott says she’s been thriving. “She went from being this really shy, quiet, reserved girl to—I’m pretty sure she’s out with her friends right now, playing on the street.”
“The opportunity she has to be her authentic self with everybody that she meets is so great.”