If you’ve been following my blog and Facebook posts, you know I’m usually quite vocal (visual?) about the dangers and harms of circumcision. But after an interesting conversation with a fellow vendor at the Association of Texas Midwives Conference last week, I want to retract (no pun) any time I’ve used the words “anti-circumcision” to describe myself or my stance. Truth be told, I’ve changed my mind.
The first day of the event, the neighboring vendor struggled to understand what our booth was all about. At first glance he somehow thought we were offering information on piercings for babies. Then he noticed these eye-catching, high-sheen cards…
…and before I knew it we were officially manning “The Penis Table,” according to his jokes (for what it’s worth, not an inaccurate observation!).
“Well… I’m circumcised and I’m pretty awesome!” he said.
“I’m very happy you feel that way. That’s great,” I replied.
The vendor guy was very nice. So nice, in fact, that it was almost painful to hear him describe himself — respectfully and with as much sensitivity to our cause as possible — as “pro-circumcision.” So very “pro” that his three sons were, without question, circumcised.
He claimed that cleanliness and religious beliefs weighted more heavily than other factors in the decision-making process. Quick at the draw, my booth mate was prepared to debunk the hygiene myth, as well as the more sensitive ones exposed in circumcision’s true history with Christianity (click for Judaism).
After absorbing all the information provided by her and debating each bit by tooth, nail, and bone, he relented:
“Well, I’m out of arguments.”
“So are you still pro-circumcision then?” my booth mate asked.
“Yes. But I don’t have a reason why.”
The influence of denial? Quite feasibly. But I cannot neglect to recognize the possibility of his genuine preference for a surgically modified body. I cannot ignore his insistence of gratitude that his circumcision took place when he was a baby, (adult circumcision carrying the risk of death from general anesthesia and all, he reminded). He seemed sure that he’d want to end up circumcised whenever it needed to happen, because I suppose “awesome” is as awesome does.
Then I told him, with what I hoped to be received as sincere promise in my voice, that I’m not anti-circumcision. Because I’m not his enemy. I’m not anti-circumcised men (and women and intersex). We are friends and family and neighbors and fellow vendors at events.
So like a good neighbor, I informed him that neonatal circumcision carries the risk of death, too. The 100+ annual death toll of baby boys due to circumcision is very real.
But I’m not anti-circumcision.
I’m pro-foreskin awareness and education.
That means in a fully aware and properly educated state, the circumcision rate drops drastically (global rates of intact foreskin support this).
I told him that many men do complain, and the thousands of men who are restoring their lost foreskin are very real. He said he’d never heard of restoration and can’t imagine how such a thing could be “at the top of the priority list” for these men. But he was not against those men, who hadn’t even existed to him until that point. Who am I to declare, in all fairness, that I’m “against” the kind of body he says he prefers to have?
So, I’m not anti-circumcision.
I’m pro-foreskin acceptance. I’m pro-rights to genital integrity (whole, intact parts).
Intactivist Aubrey Taylor describes the problem this way:
“[W]e are focused on circumcision instead of foreskin. It’s anti-circumcision this, and opposed to circumcision that. What we need to do is abandon the “circumcision” label altogether and consider using “genital integrity” instead. It may be a new term for some, and will make people curious. In addition, we should always use “intact” and “restored” or “restoring” rather than “non and un-circumcised”. This simple language change will help us focus on the benefits of intact genitals (what we want), rather than on the harms we wish to eliminate.”
I wonder if the vendor guy knows that in Finland, where the neonatal circumcision rate is basically zero, only 1 in 16,667 men ends up getting circumcised. (Most likely for a valid medical reason rather than personal preference). But there is a choice. So, adults: Get circumcised, don’t get circumcised… Whatever’s your bag. That one man in 16,667 should have the freedom and rights to do what he wants with his body, for medical or personal reasons, just like his peers, so long as it poses no harm or danger to others. And he deserves to live in a social environment that accepts his choice.
Here is a video of a man speaking about his experience after electing to circumcision at age 18. SPOILER ALERT: He’s now an intactivist.
Intactivist Aubrey Taylor elaborates here:
“When a person gets a nose job, it is good or bad depending on their opinion of the outcome. Circumcision only becomes wrong when it is forced on someone. Trying to insist that circumcision itself is bad can make some people defensive. They may feel you are trying to take their right to their opinion away. It is important to separate the right to have an opinion (which is always valid) from the (non-existent) right to decide for someone else. If someone believes circumcision is a good thing, and you can see you are not going to change their mind, that is okay.”
It’s okay, and still, I’m not anti-circumcision.
I’m pro-consent. I’m pro-genital autonomy (ownership over one’s parts).
I badly wanted an opening in the conversation to tell him that the word “circumcision” is widely used as a medical term euphemism for MGM (male genital mutilation), which is afflicted upon non-consenting persons across the globe. I believe if one willingly undergoes the procedure, one can call it whatever he wants. We don’t refer to breast implants as mammary mutilation or a pierced female prepuce as female genital mutilation (oh wait, we do now apparently), but would we do so if the procedures were performed on infants who could not consent, especially as any and all body modifications that change form and function do risk hazards to health, ranging from minimal to significant?
You see, I’m not anti-circumcision. I’m anti-forcing circumcision upon the babies who cannot defend themselves, and upon the grown men who were mislead by doctors in a cutting culture to believe all the fear-mongering about foreskin.
I hope we can at least agree that a person’s genitals belong only to *that* person, and that s/he has the right to know and appreciate the value of all of his or her natural parts, to then do with as s/he deems most “awesome.”
I can be pro-all of that, indeed.