Friday, April 29, 2011

Mother, do you think they'll cut my nob?

Thanks to all who commented on and shared the last post and also provided links as well! The title is a Pink Floyd reference in case anyone is wondering.

How's the saying go: God bless the child that's got his own. Billy Holiday sings that so nicely. I think it's supposed to mean, "Aha, now that you've got a clue how hard it might have been to raise you, now we'll ask for blessings on ya." I got along with my parents tolerably well as a teenager, typical screaming matches and what have you but never any police involvement or tearful encounters over drug use since after all I was a certifiable square until I got to college (thank you suntan U I mean ASU for curing me of that.) HOWEVER, I always felt kind of weird when I'd go home to visit after I moved out into the dorm. I felt out of place, like a stranger. Not that I didn't belong, just that there was something between us, a separation. Not any kind of dislike or hatred but rather the kind of separation you would feel from say your neighbor or the guy you buy your coffee from at the convenience store. You may say hello to this person and smile at them every day but you're probably not going to invite them to your daughter's wedding and you're certainly not going to call them in tears when your wife leaves you. It felt kind of like I wasn't really related to them and we were all victims of some kind of child swap at the hospital and were just laboring in denial instead of trying to find out where our real birth parents/child were. A case of pre-adulthood angst. Perhaps. The overgrown child finally detaching self in hopes of recreating self in new, private, and most importantly novel image. Certainly plausible. I satisfied myself with these explanations for some time. As I got older, shedded my squaredom, and acquired a serious, and hot, girlfriend, she would often ask me after visits back home, "Why don't you like your parents? They're so nice." I would typically shrug because I honestly did not know the answer myself. I started to wonder if I was just kind of a jerk.

Fast forward just around 9 years or so. I have wedded the hot girlfriend and we now have a child. "Hmmmm," I wonder, "I feel so attached to this wonderful infant baby girl and yet oddly distrustful and hostile towards Mom and Dad. What's the deal with that?" A year passes. I chalk it up to New Dad-itis. (The disease that makes you get all hot and bothered when someone coughs near your child or when you forget the baby's coat on a day when the temperature is expected to drop below 60. You get the drift.) Second baby is on the way, only this time it's a boy. NOW this post starts to get interesting.

After wife and I agree we are not going to circumcise our beloved son (see previous post) I at first, for some reason, have absolutely nothing to say to my parents about this decision. It's like there is some enormous, thick wall in my brain. I know my parents are on the other side but since I can't see or hear them it never even crosses my mind to tell them about this. (In case you didn't already guess that's the wall of Denial baby! And let me tell you it was big and thick and took a shit-ton of explosives and some bulldozers for me to finally clear it out of my subconscious.) My wife doesn't do denial. This is one of the many things I love about her. She has this fascinating idea that truths should be faced even when they make you uncomfortable. So she tells my mother during a phone conversation shortly before the birth that we are not going to circumcise our son.
"Well that's good," she says after a pause, "I wished we hadn't done it to Jeff but the doctors said that was the best thing to do and everything we read agreed with them."
My wife shares this with me when she gets off the phone and I am, needless to say floored. My wife states the obvious to make sure it gets through my denial wall (she has grown accustomed to dealing with it at this point and has drilled some nice holes she can shout through when she needs to.)
"So what the hell, that's how she feels and she was going to just not say anything and let us do that to our son?!?!" my wife says.
"It's either that or, more likely, she is just saying that so she doesn't have to feel bad about having done it," I say. "Either way it sucks."
So now I'm starting to get a little pissed. I'm starting to wonder why this was done to me, but it still makes me pretty uncomfortable so I shelve it for a little while. My wife is a little more pissed and having many conversations with our intactivist friend which I find a way to not overhear even though my house is not that big and it's awfully quiet in those days before I had three children.

The baby is born! Hooray! I am so lucky to have all three of my children. I remember the days they were each born as clearly as if it happened yesterday. Well after the exciting newness wears off I actually start paying attention as I change my man's diaper. Damn! This is not "the tip" people. This is not a small flap of useless skin. I mean, it's like some creepy guy who would've been a serial killer if he hadn't been an MD said, "Hmmm, I wonder what that looks like under there? Let's grab my trusty scalpel and find out." (Well actually the MD KNOWS what it looks like under there because chances are his looks the same way so really it's probably a thought process that is closer to, "Well if I don't get to have one you don't either you little bastard! Why should you get to hide your glans in that nifty little flesh covered, rollable, nerve-laden, snug fitting foreskin. That foreskin is bad! It has to be bad dammit. We have to find a reason to remove it RIGHT NOW!" Sorry that's another post cropping up again.)

So yes it had just dawned on me that my little son's penis looked quite a bit different than my own. I had never seen an intact penis before I saw my son's-- outside of one time when I think I must have glimpsed my friend's penis which was probably uncut because I remember asking my mother why his penis looked "square." Looking at my little son protected and safe made me suddenly feel vulnerable and, well, like I was missing something, particularly when I had to pee. There were no secrets about where my urine was coming from. My son's urine however squirted in all kinds of bizarre directions as it emerged from the thick folds of foreskin that appeared to come almost completely together at the tip, only allowing enough room for the pee to escape and spatter whatever or whoever was close at hand during the diaper change. That was not how I peed. This was starting to mess with my head now. The fact of my own "difference" became harder to ignore because everytime I went to the bathroom I found myself thinking about it. My son's body looked quite normal to me, natural, so suddenly my own did not. Crap. I did not know I had signed up for this kind of denial busting or I would have started drinking more before he was born.

So Mom and Dad are out to visit. I don't want them to change his diaper. I'm worried they are going to accidentally or, worse, forcibly retract my son. I use my obssessive worry that they will accidentally harm him to keep me from facing the larger and more obvious question: Um why the hell did you remove part of my body without my consent? Thanks to the Internet I do finally confront them about this. (Isn't it nice to use email to communicate all those points you inevitably end up stuttering through or forgetting when you get in face to face conflicts with people?) I send them an email. My dad says he's sorry, sort of. He does say he wouldn't have done it if he had known I'd feel this way. Much later on he actually says he understands I feel he failed to protect me. This is somewhat helpful, certainly more so than if he tried to tell me I was an idiot or that my son would be unclean now or any of the other ignorant things that some people resort to saying when they are caught in having done something embarassingly idiotic and hurtful. My mother is another story. She makes it all about her. Yes, she's one of those mothers who could find a way to make you feel guilty for getting into a car accident that claimed both of your legs because of how it made her feel. She sends a rambling response to my wife about how she's so depressed now because I've attacked her and she was only doing what she thought was right after extensive research. (After some research of my own I'm wondering what kind of research she was doing since I was born in '77 and in '75 the AAP said there was no valid medical indications for circ. In dear old Mom's defense the AAP of course went on that same year to list all the GREAT benefits of circumcision should you decide to do something that had no valid medical indication. Interesting enough that year the AAP said the decision should be based on "true, informed consent." The only problem is they were talking about the parents' consent instead of the little baby. Oops. Um yeah, that's not a pet dog there, doc. That is a living breathing person who, ethically speaking, you might want to check with before cutting off part of his body just because mom and dad say it's ok. Damn that anti-doc post is just itching to get out.)

I ask my wife to please respond that no I am not angry at her (my mom,) even though I am and just know better than to try to argue with that woman about anything. Her defensiveness, needless to say, is painful and makes me more angry. It makes me feel like I'm crazy for feeling hurt by this. A little, "I'm sorry" would have gone a long way with me on this one but she just couldn't muster it. "I'm sorry I did that to you" validates the person's hurt and also acknowledges that what you did was ethically wrong. We say it when we step on someone's toe or bump into someone on the bus but no one wants to take any kind of responsibility when it comes to circumcision. The parents blame the docs, the docs blame the parents (um who's holding the bloody scalpel on the blog background there, buddy?) Very few people are willing to just throw up their hands and say "I messed up. I shouldn't have done this. I'm going to do everything I can to stop others from doing it." Those that take responsibility and work to stop circ are some of the most powerful forces for change in our culture. I admire their bravery and authenticity in an age where all that seems to matter are surfaces. I guess that was what disappointed me about my dad's reaction: I kind of felt like he said what he thought I wanted to hear. Once he sent the response that was kind of the end of the discussion. I mean I knew he wasn't going to be shouting, "STOP CIRCUMCISION" from his rooftop but if he really felt bad and thought it was wrong shouldn't he do something about it? Bare minimum I was hoping he would have wanted to at least talk to me about it a little more.

Hmmm. Maybe I should buy him a TLC tugger.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ouch! You motherf$*#er!

I never thought much about having kids when I first got married. Marriage was about retaining the excellent partner I had found in a more permanent fashion. I know that's not very romantic but I think most husbands, if they're honest, will say the same kind of thing. I read a quote one time that said, "Woman marry the man they love the most, men marry the woman that loves them the most." Us men, we need to be loved, see? We need our mommies more when we're little (just ask my son) and when we're teenagers we want sex all the time but that's just because we've got that confused with love and once we get old enough to have some sense we get really scared at the prospect of losing this person that loves us for some strange reason so we put a ring on their finger in hopes of discouraging them from considering the prospect of loving someone else who may be better looking, make more money, dress better, or, ugh! all three.

Once married there was a lot of confusion about what exactly I was supposed to do next but I won't digress any further than I already have. Let's cut to kids. The pun will become more apparent later on. So I'm married, I wasn't planning on NOT having kids so it seems like the logical thing to do eventually. My wife at one point tells me she had rather not drag me kicking and screaming into this thing, as she has so many other things, as that would really take the fun out of it for her. I figure what's the point of stalling and hemming and hawing and worrying like I do about everything else (you should see what a frikkin' battle it is for me to pick out the right melon at the grocery store, not because I want it to be perfect but rather because I am so hyperconscious of screwing it up.) I figure what's the point of indulging my cynical side when I'm going to agree eventually anyway, because remember I don't NOT want them, and then she'll just feel like the whole process is tainted somehow. For any of you who don't have a clue: women don't like it when things are tainted. So I go along with it. "Sure, let's have a baby. It'll be fun." It turns out we are as fertile as two sixteen year olds in a low income neighborhood and we get pregnant the first month we try. Pregnancy is awesome, it's great, but it's not what I'm here to talk about. Fast forward 21 months. New baby girl is one year. We love her dearly, love being parents. We want more. Yes, I actually actively want one this time as opposed to entering into the plan as a way of treating my career of reluctanct hesitation with some exposure therapy. Again, we conceive on the first try. Bam! I was not surprised. I WAS surprised that we were able to avoid pregnancy for the first ten years of our relationship utilizing primarily the pull out method after deciding birth control pills are overrated and bad for your health and condoms feel like you are jacking off through a grocery bag. (Sorry for those of you who aren't in a monogamous relationship and have to use the buggers routinely. Perhaps if my writing career remains in this nascent stage when I am 50 I will instead set out to invent a more "sensitive" condom and make my million that way.) This time the baby is a boy and now you, you patient reader you, finally see why this post belongs on this blog.

Like most Americans we're not even really thinking about the question of circumcision when we learn we're having a boy. We're excited about a million other things, a million other potential lives for him and for our budding family. Eventually the question is broached by my wife as to what I think about circumcision. I say, "I don't know but I don't think I can sign off on someone doing that to my son." The wife is equally circumspect. We don't spend much time researching it even though we are compulsive researchers. (I shudder to count the hours I spent online researching our eventual decision to not vaccinate our children.) In retrospect, I didn't research it because my subconscious had built up a healthy resistance to not thinking about the fact that some asshole doctor had cut off part of my dick. Thankfully we had a dear friend who HAD researched it and, unfortunately, directly experienced some reasons for why it should not be done. We were sort of looking for a reason not to do it at that point and this friend, without premeditation, gave us just that. Yet even after we decided not to cut off part of our child's penis I still found ways to avoid thinking about it. I'm ashamed to admit I told myself it was not that big of a deal, that I was glad we had decided not to do it but that our friend was making too big a deal of it. Again, in retrospect, of COURSE I didn't want it to be a big deal. To admit it's a big deal is to admit that I'm not happy that part of my dick is MISSING due to being forcibly removed by some asshole that deserves a Sisyphusian fate. Well I labored in denial for quite a while. I would get irritated when this friend would call and talk to my wife because it would force me to consciously think about what had been done to me. I fought it for a long time. I refused to read the literature my wife acquired about the subject. When she told me she had heard that our friend's husband was restoring his foreskin I'm ashamed to say I laughed and said that was crazy and I would never do that. Little did I know that within the next year I myself would begin the process of restoration, but that's another post entirely. My awakening was fairly gradual as I suppose most awakenings are. I do however remember an important moment in that process. My wife and I were talking in the bedroom after showering. We only had one kid then so yes we actually talked and had uninterrupted conversations back in those days. We were talking about circumcision. I'm sure I was irritated that she had brought it up. She mentioned my scar. "I don't have a scar!" I said with cultivated indignance.
"That's what that ring is right here, honey," she said as gently as possible.
In that moment it dawned on me how little I knew about my own body. My next question was how the hell I could not know that and that was when I finally started to realize I was using this minimalization of what had happened to me to avoid dealing with how I really felt about it. She then proceeds to tell me how this idea of restoration works. She rolls some of the skin on my dick past the scar and it really freaks me out. I stop her twice before she is finally able to do it. Again, I'm left wondering what the hell my problem is when this woman has touched my dick a substantial number of times without ever inspiring this feeling of abject terror and discomfort I'm currently experiencing. Then I realize it doesn't even hurt when she does it, it feels kind of natural and I realize all of it, the discomfort that is, is in my head.
It wasn't like all the lights turned on at once that night but it was the beginning of a kind of awakening that culminated in my realization that I was not happy my parents had signed up for part of my dick to be removed and i was really pissed that the American medical community had encouraged them to do just this and had made a practice of doing it to people for all kinds of bizarre invented reasons since the 19th century. Now I was REALLY uncomfortable. I realized that what had been done to me was really, royally screwed up but I had no idea what the hell to do about it. Boy was I a miserable jerk for a few weeks there. Apparently the first mental breakthrough I had was that cutting in general was bad. I look back at pictures from that time in my life and I had allowed my beard to grow down almost the base of my neck. Coincidence? I kind of doubt it. By then my son had been born and I saw what a real, normal penis is supposed to look like. Um, yeah, it's like the difference between going out to play in the snow with your coat on and walking outside naked. It's like looking at one normal finger and than looking at a finger than has the fingernail ripped off and here's this naked nail bed all dried out and fucking weird. That denial really started to fall apart after the first twenty or so diaper changes. But I'm glad of course. That's a hell of a thing to live your life without realizing that a huge part of you has been missing since you were about 4 days old.

Now my son's almost four and I look back on this time for me and I think how obvious it is why this cycle of circumcision perpetuates itself. We are hardwired for survival. It's a hard thing to face this stuff when you can't even remember it being done and your whole life everytime you hold your dick in your hands to take a piss you think it's perfectly normal that it looks that way. You're talking about rising up against decades of cognitive dissonance. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to come to such a realization after you've already circed your child. Anyone who has the gumption to face a mistake like that and speak out about it deserves a frikkin' medal in my book.

That's what this post is about I guess: facing things. I wrote it the day I found out belatedly that David Foster Wallace had died and he was just about the most authentic writer I have ever read. I thought I am going to write something authentic even if it sucks and voila. There's a lot of reasons why people try to justify circ but I think one of the most important reasons is because it's so hard to face what has been done to them and call it what it really is: VIOLENCE against children for the sake of preserving the ego of adults.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"But I want him to look like his dad..."

Scene: Public restroom somewhere in Ocean City, MD My son and I are peeing.
My almost 4 year old intact son, Sullivan: Daddy, why does your penis look like that?
Me a circumcised Dad: What that ring?
Sullivan: Yeah that ring.
Me: That's a scar. I was circumcised without my consent when I was a baby. Your mom and I didn't want to do that to you.
Sullivan: Hee hee! We are peeing! Can we go bowling later?

(Note: At no time did he express concern, regret, or sadness that we didn't "look alike.")

Many more ridiculous reasons for circumcision will be explored and blown apart on this page in the future. Stay tuned.