The debate over children and gender in America is getting explosive — literally. Last week, a New Hampshire man ignited 80 pounds of Tannerite as part of an elaborate gender-reveal celebration for a new baby. The blast cracked and knocked pictures off his neighbors’ walls, turned their water brown and registered on a surveillance system miles away.

Deranged, dangerous, sometimes even fatal, stunts designed to announce a baby’s sex aren’t exactly new. But these antics are reaching absurd new heights simultaneously with a national Republican panic about the existence of transgender children. That confluence doesn’t feel like a coincidence. At a moment when gender seems less stable than ever, both gender-reveal obsessives and Republican legislators seem determined to force the world, and kids’ identities, to stand still for as long as they can.

In the nine months between a child’s conception and arrival in the world, a time of both wonder and terror, excited soon-to-be parents tend to devour every scrap of information they can about the baby they’re waiting to meet. Genetic testing and anatomy scans may be the most high-stakes assessments to happen during this period. And while a baby’s sex won’t determine everything, many who choose to learn that information believe it’s the first clue to who their child will be and to what their experience as parents might be like.

Perhaps the spectacular gender reveal is the baby-making equivalent of the elaborate bachelorette party. Or the desire to reveal gender in explosive fashion is a matter of macho: If the old saying was that a man becomes a father when he meets his child, maybe men now become dads when they go out and buy detonators.

And the bigger the reveal stunt, the greater the insecurity it seems to communicate. Blowing up a patch of God’s green earth with pink or blue munitions may not forestall the arrival of a world where, to quote the Kinks, “Girls will be boys and boys will be girls.” But at least for one day, before a child grows into a person with opinions about how to express masculinity and femininity, parents — however misguided — can pretend that gender expression is something they can control.

At least the parents lighting a fuse on an emphatic declaration of their baby’s sex aren’t generally posing much danger to anyone but themselves and their audience. The same cannot be said for a wave of state-level bills targeting transgender children.

In Arkansas, a Republican-controlled state legislature overrode Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of a bill that would ban trans minors from receiving appropriate gender-affirming care from their physicians. (The American Civil Liberties Union plans to challenge the law in court.) Tennessee is considering a law that would declare the pursuit of gender-affirming medical treatment for children who have not yet gone through puberty a form of child abuse. A North Carolina law would force teachers to narc on children who show any signs of gender dysphoria or nonconformity.

Altogether, more than 75 bills introduced in 2020 and 2021 would mandate a variety of restrictions: They would impose health-care limitations, prevent transgender children from playing on sports teams for the gender they identify with rather than the one their natal sex might assign them to, and ban LGBTQ literature and history from schools.

For transgender minors whose parents can’t afford to move to friendlier states, these bills may make it harder to live in their gender identities. Some of these kids will come out later, or won’t pursue physical or social transitions at all. As a result, Republican lawmakers will be able to pretend they don’t exist: close their eyes, clap their hands over their ears and loudly proclaim their intent to ignore the reality that apparently makes them so uncomfortable.

But restrictive legislation can’t deny the existence of trans kids. Poking noses in exam rooms and interfering with doctors won’t clarify what the standard of care for these kids should be.

Of course parents want to spare children pain, be it the agony of gender dysphoria, or the awkwardness of figuring out what it means to be a boy or girl. But relying on conformity to protect a kid from the cruelties of life, much less forcing a rigid gender role on a child, is no guarantee of happiness. Not only is this a potentially harmful mistake, but trying to fit a tiny human into a rigid box means missing out on the chance to watch children become fully and mysteriously themselves.

Anxious parents should put down the explosives, lawmakers should set aside their bills, and everyone should take a deep breath. The gender norms children are growing up with today are different. Handled with sensitivity and care, this is an enormous opportunity, not a reason to panic.

Read more: