Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalize gay marriage gave men and women who desire same-sex partnership the right to autonomy of their hearts.
Well-deserved, the celebration owed to this phenomenal development should last at least as long as the history of gay injustice. Still we cannot help but see this historical moment as a telling reminder: we’ve only just taken the first steps toward ending a collection of outdated oppressions targeting LGBT people in America.
The protection of a particular other human right is still withheld from a significant portion of the gay community (and their straight supporters and non-supporters alike).
650 million males currently living worldwide are victims of genital cutting (compared to 100 million victims of female genital cutting). In the United States, more than a million boys are cut every year; about 3,000 every day. Based on the (probably low) estimate that about 10% of the population identifies with being primarily homosexual, that means 65 million gay males have been circumcised.
It took long enough, but our nation finally decided to acknowledge the legality of gay unions as a human rights issue. When will the majority of our nation’s people begin to recognize male circumcision (along with female circumcision which was outlawed in 1997 in the U.S.) as an equally unacceptable human rights violation?
Non-heterosexuals are now afforded the right to choose to marry whomever they want, regardless of gender. How much longer will we have to fight for their right to choose however they want their genitals, regardless of gender?
They’ve won the right to autonomy of their hearts. But American men (sexual orientation notwithstanding) are still waiting for this other human right they should’ve always had, the right to autonomy of another very intimate part of themselves — their genitals.
A view of the crowd at PRIDE Festival Houston 2015.
Of Special Interest to LGBT
Why does this tradition persist, even when all major medical communities refute any claim of worthy health benefits, and virtually all other Westernized countries refuse to cart their kids along on the bandwagon?
Many Americans think of male circumcision strictly as a medical issue that confers health benefits, a religious issue that is no one else’s business, or most commonly and tragically, a non-issue. As a nation, we’ve repeated these things we “know” so many times for so many years, at first the act of questioning male circumcision almost seems overboard, dramatic, pointless (not a pun). It can be difficult for the unacquainted to accept male circumcision as a human rights issue.
What many of us don’t know, if we’ve not devoted much thought to the mechanics, is that not one neonatal circumcision has ever involved consent of the personally affected individual. Many of us — even in our progressive, melting pot of acceptance, freedom-ringing nation — simply don’t know.
But the LGBT community is no stranger to the issues complicated by circumcision, including “gender roles and equality, societal power, sexual health and rights, medical abuse, and religious oppression” (quote source).
From “Circumcision Affects Gays and Lesbians,” NOHARMM:
“Circumcision has affected gay men directly and indirectly
Over 80% of adult gay, bisexual and heterosexual men in North America have had their natural genital integrity violated at birth. The remaining 20% of intact males were at times made to feel by the wider culture that their natural state is queer, abnormal, shameful or unclean.
Circumcision of children is anti-feminist
Social, religious and cultural pressures to circumcise infringe on a mother’s inherent natural instinct to protect her children from harm. The pain of circumcision alone has been proven to seriously interrupt the natural bonding process of mother and child. Only in dominator societies are women pressured to surrender their children to be genitally cut.
Circumcision persists (in part) because of homophobia
The fear of being labeled queer keeps many straight men from talking seriously about the penis and the problems of circumcision.
Circumcision impacts gay parenting and gays impact circumcision decisions
Lesbians and gay men are increasingly choosing to parent and, until the custom is eradicated, will likely be confronted with this decision. Gays and lesbians have friends, colleagues, and family members who they can educate with the facts about natural genital form and function and dispel the myths of circumcision.”
We handed out info cards and stickered condoms like this for a while. Most people said thank you (some with great enthusiasm) and read them as they walked away, or put them into their bags where they’d surely recover the goodies later.
HIV Hysteria Hurts
From AIDS Hysteria’s Littlest Victims NOHARMM Newsletter, 1995:
“No studies have conclusively or unequivocally proven a cause-effect relationship, i.e. that the foreskin is a genuinely independent risk factor for HIV transmission. The AIDS virus does not discriminate based on sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, or circumcision status.
America has long had one of the highest newborn circumcision rates and one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world.
Circumcision clearly does not confer protection from AIDS. To suggest so sends a dangerous message to circumcised males that they can ignore safer sex guidelines or relax their guard. It also insults men’s intelligence to imply they are so incapable of having responsible sex that they should instead be subjected as infants to an amputative genital surgery.
Lower HIV infection rates in Europe, where most men are intact, provide sufficient proof that men can be physically intimate and safe, even with an intact penis.
Further, HIV-vulnerable mucosal tissues similar to the male foreskin exist in the female, as in the vaginal walls, clitoral hood (female foreskin) and the inner labia. If mucosal tissues are at high risk, it is medically illogical, and self-defeating from a public health perspective, to subject only one sex to surgical prophylaxis. Genital mutilation is not the answer to health problems which are behavior-related.”
The most popular item we handed out — condom with this sticker (which mentions fabulous foreskin and restoration) on the back and Intact Houston stickers on the front.
For Gay Men: An Intimate Understanding
Stuff Gay People Like (SGPL) of Out Front Colorado wrote:
“[C]ircumcision status… is extremely important to gay men. That’s because gay men who have had their foreskins removed cannot escape the thought that they are missing out on a big thing in life – an experience.
It is easy to imagine something you have being missing: close one eye, and now you know what it’s like to only have the other one. It’s much harder to imagine what it would be like to have something you lost before you can remember (imagine having antennae, or gills), which drives gay men into horrible cognitive dissonance.
Such men will choose one of two routes: to become totally grossed out by uncircumcised men so as to never be confronted with it (aka sour grapes), or to become totally fixated on uncircumcised men so that they can live vicariously through their partners. They will also probably consider joining a support group or political cause against circumcision, and eventually have an awkward confrontation with their parents in which they force them to apologize.”
Gay panelist member Brian Levitt of HuffPost Live, who was circumcised as an infant, said in an interview:
“I believe that I’m de-sensitized… Most intact men don’t understand how it works … being a gay man, I have [an] intimate understanding [of male anatomy, which is] something that straight men don’t get… People are in denial as to what the loss is, and what the baby suffers.”
“Low self-esteem, sexual avoidance, trauma reactions, social interactional difficulties, and treatment considerations are more readily articulated about
the female experience of circumcision… Voicing the male counterpart to this surgical assault, however, has been much rarer.” – Joseph Zoske
We handed out these pink cards to everyone we could, and these blue cards to those who might find it personally useful. We didn’t want to make assumptions about others’ bodies so most people received both cards along with a condom (or two!).
For Lesbians: A Feminist Issue
One who is familiar with the history of FGM (female genital mutilation) knows the popularized “known benefits” are eerily comparable to the myriad of supposed “known benefits” claimed to excuse MGM (no medical procedure in the U.S. has claimed to cure and prevent as many ailments and diseases as male circumcision).
Feminism is about gender equality. If a feminist refers to one gender’s experience as “mutilation,” how can the equality advocate then bury the other gender’s equivalent under innocuous euphemism and unfounded acquittal?
PUNISHMENT OF WOMEN
A Jewish mother of an intact son told author Rosemary Romberg:
“Recently a pregnant Jewish friend and I talked about circumcising newborn infants. … She told me that her husband really wanted it done, in the traditional way, by a mohel, as a means of upholding the symbolism of a united Jewish family.
I thought that a worthy goal, but suggested that if he was indeed so insistent on the tradition, that he take his child by the hand, after 7 years of age, and lead him to the surgery himself.
It occurred to me that the main reason the rite is performed at birth is that at birth the mother is the main recipient of the pain — that in this paternalistic society it is better for the mother to be violated than for the father to take on the pain of a practice he upholds.“
TEACHING DISTRUST OF WOMEN
From Part of Us is Missing: The Ritual Mutilation of Male Children The Green Man, 1995:
“[Circumcision] does teach boys, as our first lesson in life, that our pain does not matter: to mother, and by extension, to any woman. It teaches us resentment, fear, distrust, anger – against mother, against women.
We can never love again without fear, for our first whole, trusting love has been shattered. The pain, the terror, the harm is so deeply buried within ourselves that it will remain with us always, just as the covering of our penis will remain missing, always.”
AGAINST THE NATURE OF MOTHERS
Romberg wrote in Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma:
“The term ‘bitch’ is commonly used to describe a woman who is particularly mean or crabby. Bitch is actually the technical term for a female dog. The slang expression has come about because a mother dog with new puppies is likely to tear the leg off of anyone who threatens her pups.
Maternal protective instincts, obviously deeply programmed into the beings of all higher mammals to insure survival of the species, has got to be one of the most powerful forces in nature.“
Holly nursed MaiTai for much of the time because it was hot and the scene was a bit overwhelming for him. Thankfully, The Designated Dad didn’t pause to take over distributing information as needed.
Transgender/Transsexual & Circumcision
UNDERGOING SEX REASSIGNMENT
What we don’t think about is the possibility that our own son may not identify with the sexual orientation or even gender we expect or presume, and the choice we make in permanently removing an important part of his sexual experience will violate his own right to decide.
What kind of message does this send, whether conscious or otherwise, to a member of a community already long-oppressed and stigmatized for an aspect of themselves they didn’t choose (just as heterosexuals don’t choose to be straight)?
What many of us don’t think about are the complications caused by previous circumcision for a person who wishes to undergo sex reassignment surgery. For those who desire male-to-female sex reassignment surgery, having more skin to work with is obviously helpful. Though surgeons claim the procedure can be performed adequately on a circumcised male by using whatever foreskin remnant is left near the circumcision scar, intact genitals are especially valuable to the success of the surgery.
CONVERTING TO JUDAISM
From this article about transgender converts to Judaism and special issues faced, including circumcision from the experience of Rabbi Jane Litman, a congregational consultant with the Reconstructionist movement who has converted close to two dozen trans Jews:
“Most trans men say that circumcision doesn’t apply to them; however, some feel that it is important to undergo a symbolic circumcision in order to fully convert as a Jewish man. They undergo a modified hatafat dam brit by extracting a drop of blood from their genitals onto a piece of cotton and showing it to a witness, who confirms with the beit din that the ritual took place.
For trans women, circumcision can also be a tricky issue… [A] rabbi asked whether a transgender woman in his congregation must undergo circumcision in order to convert. At first, Litman counseled the rabbi against circumcision. Yes, the candidate has a penis, Litman argued — but she is a woman, and women don’t undergo circumcision in Jewish tradition.
Then several colleagues made her rethink her position. “They said no, circumcision is like being called to the Torah,” she said. “We call them without regard to whether they are women or men. A person with a penis should have it circumcised regardless of whether that person is a man or a woman.”
“Circumcision’s role (is) that of a “sacrament”… which initiates men into a life script that is based upon power relationships, violence, and warrior mentality…
The ceremony itself… do(es) not celebrate the male body, but use(s) the violence of male dominant masculinity to deny the existence of an inherent masculine sensuality.” – Zoske
A card with links to SavingSons.org and foreskin restoration (on the back) awaits a mystery PRIDE-goer who we hope will receive the information with an open mind.
“Beliefs Are Not More Important Than People”
At PRIDE Festival, The Designated Dad (TDD) talked to a young man who said he was circumcised, and looked distraught as he read one of the info cards. Since finding out about his circumcision, he’d been “really pissed about it.”
TDD handed him info on foreskin restoration, and the young man said he’d tried it briefly but gave up. He seemed more hopeful after learning that consistency is key and starting young is a great advantage.
“There is a disturbing silence regarding such significant issues as foreskin physiology, the normalcy of the intact penis, loss and grief, and circumcision’s impact upon a man’s overall psychosexual development.” – Zoske
Scroll down for more pictures from Intact Houston at PRIDE Festival 2015, and see the full album here.
Because most people seemed to be in a hurry, the line that worked best to get people to accept the information was “Thank you” (with a smile of course!) then gently putting it in one of their hands.
The Designated Dad talked to an African man who said he was circumcised at age 11. The man said he believes it’s wrong to circumcise babies, and he seemed remorseful that it had happened to him.Some people asked “So, what DOES this card have to do with sex?” We said if they flip the card over, they can learn about the sexual and immunological importance of foreskin and the harms of forcibly removing it. Not one person argued or expressed disagreement regarding anything mentioned on any card.We couldn’t stay long due to schedule conflicts this day, so we left before we were able to get all of our info into event-goers’ hands. Thus the parking garage attendant received some intact info, as did some parked cars.