I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time. How does a woman born in the eighties with only one son become so passionate about an issue like circumcision? After all, I was born and socialised under the presumption that circumcision was definitely normal, and ‘uncircumcised’ was weird. I was properly indoctrinated in the mid-sized suburban, vanilla valley of the Colorado Front Range with staunch conservative values. But I was also born of a generation that benefited from the sexual revolution of the previous decade, a generation who came of age with cell phones, the Internet, and unprecedented access to information.
Needless to say this has been a journey. It began when I was about eleven-years old and I read an article about female genital mutilation in the Reader’s Digest. It was horrifying, and I remember critically wondering why circumcising boys was ok, since it was definitely not okay to mutilate girls. I justified that boys could at least still use their penises for sex, and FGM destroyed all genital functionality. I then decided I was very lucky to have been born a girl in America so I didn’t have to be circumcised like all the boys I knew.
I was further socialised into my teen years about the foreskin being useless and dirty. In seventh grade health my teacher preambled the male anatomy section with saying ‘The foreskin is useless and unnecessary, which is why we cut it off at birth,’ and followed this up with a projector transparency of the circumcised male sexual anatomy. My friends were very vocal about how uncircumcised men were exceptionally dirty, and none of them would EVER go near an uncircumcised penis. I always found this a bit strange, because the penis itself never seemed terribly complicated, but maybe I was missing something, after all I’d never seen a dirty uncircumcised penis.
When I was nineteen I started dating a man who was intact. At this point, I was fairly sexually inexperienced, so it wasn’t until years later that I would be consciously aware of the difference in cut and uncut during coitus. I asked him all sorts of questions because this was only the second time I’d ever even heard of a man being intact, and for the first time I had a personal model of the natural penis.
Being very pro-circumcision still, I couldn’t imagine why someone wouldn’t be cut. ‘Are your brothers circumcised?’ No. ‘Not even Jacob?’ (who is autistic) No, not even the little boys who were adopted. ‘Were you ever made fun of at school?’ Really, Maria? Who is going to make fun of a guy’s penis? ‘Why didn’t your mom circumcise you?’ She thought it was cruel. Plus I have more feeling than circumcised guys. <—-That I didn’t believe at the time.
Even though this man had been raised in the rural midwest and born when circumcision rates were at their highest, he had never been made fun of, and he had never scheduled his own circumcision. I never told my friends he was intact, however, because I didn’t want them to treat him differently or worse, think I was dirty for sleeping with him.
We eventually broke up, and in my mid-twenties I finished University and set off for Europe. I lived in a flat in Kosice, Slovakia with a rotation of different flatmates. There was one night, after shots and karaoke, and maybe the club, a drunk bus ride back up to the PVK, sipping bourbon tea in our small kitchen, we had a conversation about circumcision. I was the lone American, and these guys, all intact, were none too shy about expressing American idiocy over cutting baby penises. It’s an uncomfortable moment when you cannot defend a cultural attitude difference.
Shortly after, the stock market crashed, I was compelled to return home, campaign for Obama and move to the mountains, where I met Dan.
A few years later, I became pregnant. It was at my 26-week appointment that my midwife brought up circumcision. Have you thought about circumcision? No. The thought made me uncomfortable. Well you need to think about it. She said this with such seriousness I was taken aback. This was a woman who was normally very calm and soothing and she’d never used this tone before. She handed me a book called ‘Say No! to Circumcision.’
I laughed, ‘How do you really feel about this, Kathi?’ Still very uncomfortable, I tucked the book into my purse and decided I’d leave the decision up to Dan.
It took Dan less than five minutes to declare we wouldn’t be cutting our son. I hadn’t even opened the book, and when I peeked around Dan at just the images, I was disgusted and relieved. We wouldn’t be putting our son through this horrible event, and that was the end of the discussion about circumcision.
Months passed, our son was born at home, and left perfectly intact. Sometime later, I was on Facebook and saw a video of a child being circumcised, and I was horrified. Horrified. I hadn’t done any extensive research about it, only looked at a few brief photos, but after watching the procedure and hearing the poor baby’s screams, I couldn’t believe parents actually did this to their children.
That’s not a judgment, that’s honestly what I thought. Why are we still doing this to children in the 21st Century? Why is this being allowed to go on? Why are good people so defensive of this practice? Thus an intactivist was born.
This fire has been lit, and although I understand intimately how uncomfortable this subject is, if we don’t pull it out from behind the dark curtain and start having honest conversations about the penis, the foreskin, why men have one, why we’ve been cutting it off, and why it absolutely needs to stop, this absurd and harmful tradition will continue at the cost of us all. Socialisation and culture are powerful forces, but compulsion to cut our children’s genitals must be roadblocked with reason, education and annihilation of ignorance.