One of my favorite phrases is from Maya Angelou: "When you know better, you do better." This is, I think, particularly applicable to the problem of routine infant circumcision in the United States. So many parents sign off on their child being circumcised because they don't know better. Many have not even discussed circumcision before the doctor asks about it, much less before they were pregnant. They trust the doctor to know best. They've got many decisions to make, everything from what color junior's room is going to be to what kind of diapers they are going to use to whether they intend to tote him around in a plastic bucket or a cloth sling. So when they get hit with the circumcision question it's tempting to defer to the doctor, especially if Dad is circumcised. It makes him feel better about his own cut status when Doc prattles on about the supposed health benefits. Mom may be blindsided and all too often, among women I've surveyed anyway, defers to Dad's decision. Apparently all Dads are supposed to be experts on medical ethics just because they have a penis too.
Anyway, one of the reasons I speak out about circumcision is to prevent this kind of uninformed decision-making. Parents need to know what circumcision really does to a baby both physically and psychologically. They also need to be aware of the risks circumcision poses to future sexual happiness, bonding with their baby, and even the baby's life. The dramatically reduced circumcision rate nationwide is directly related to parents starting to make informed decisions about circumcision. Lord knows it's not because doctors are out there informing people. It's because new parents are investigating things for themselves, talking with friends, and perhaps even listening to activists like me once in a while.
This is all well and good but this post is about the people who DO get the information to make an informed decision and still choose to circumcise their child. People who claim not to have much of an opinion on circumcision often will say, "well, it's the parents' choice." To which the intactivist responds, "Actually it's the baby's body, it's HIS choice. That's the whole problem with circumcision!" This makes it difficult to accept a friend or family member's decision to circumcise.
Example: I rode the same bus to work for several years and got to know a number of people who also rode the same bus. (Special shout out to any ex-44U rider who someday reads this LOL.) One was a gal who eventually became pregnant. One day she happened to get on at my stop instead of a later one and I had a chance to talk to her about circumcision. She was very receptive to the information and appeared somewhat interested in talking about it. She let me know that her husband wanted the child to be circumcised and she wasn't so sure. I tried to give her as much information and encouragement as I could without being overbearing. Time went on and I stopped seeing her on the bus, probably because she was on maternity leave. A few years later my wife ran into her in a Mom oriented book club and told me that based on a conversation that took place at the book club she was pretty sure this girl had ended up circumcising the baby. I felt sad and frustrated and wondered what I could or should have done differently. I felt bad for the baby primarily but also for her to some degree because I knew she didn't really want to do it and had let her husband talk her into it. Like MANY dads who sign off on circumcision he was probably cut himself and not real interested in delving into why someone cut part of his dick off; better just to make junior look the same way so he doesn't have to think about it.
Now here's the point of this post that is starting to ramble a bit: I never had to see this girl again so I haven't thought about the whole thing much until now. But what happens when the mom and dad that know better and still circumcise are related to you? I can't tell you how many posts I've read from people that are going through some pretty serious family conflict because they are trying to talk a brother or sister or cousin out of circumcising their child and the family member just digs their heels in. The intactivist feels extra motivation to go above and beyond to try to protect this child; it's a future family member for God's sake. The family member in question, unfortunately, may perceive the intactivist as overbearing. They think to themselves, "Well, it's my choice. I'm the parent. Why does x think he/she can talk me into something that's just their own opinion?" I have the utmost respect for those that continue to try to protect the child in question in these difficult situations. But what happens when they circumcise the baby and then you have to see them at family gatherings? It can be awkward.
I talked with my younger cousin about circumcision as soon as I found out his girlfriend was pregnant. I did this via email since I live in PA and he lives in AZ. This didn't go very well. He outright ignored the first email and then told me very unequivocally that they intended to circumcise their child. Again, I felt frustrated and wondered what I should have done differently. Fast forward a year later. His wife posts some misinformation about foreskins on Facebook and gets flamed by me, my wife, and all the intactivists we are friends with. (Apparently his wife has had one year of nursing school and is suddenly an expert on everything.) This electronic exchange got pretty heated, but I didn't feel the least bit bad about it. I thought, "goddamn it, I tried to give you information about this. I'm not going to pull any punches for your dumb ass. You and your wife need to know what you did to your kid."
When we saw them at my sister's wedding several months later I wasn't sure what to expect. It turned out to be kind of ironic because our kids played with their kids almost the entire time we were there leaving the adults plenty of time to talk. Of course the topic of circumcision was never broached. We all knew where each other stood so we talked about other parenting topics: interests the kids had, activities, etc. In the end, the anger that I feared I would have for them was just not there. More than anything I felt bad not just for their son, but also for them. I've made my share of mistakes as a parent but this is one that they will never be able to correct. Even if they get a clue 30 years from now when circumcision in the US is almost if not entirely eradicated, no matter how their position on this changes their son will have to pay for their mistake his entire life. And whether or not he confronts them about it years from now, as I warned them he might, they'll always know that they had the opportunity and the encouragement to protect their child from circumcision and they opted not to. Perhaps that's why they seemed sad and not angry when I saw them at the wedding. Perhaps seeing my face reminded them of a decision they're trying not to think about, a subject that they wish would just go away. Well, I'm not going away.