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.


  1. Your blog is really valuable (and entertaining, like Suntan U, ha, ha, ha) to read. I bet it is really rare for most people to confront parents about something done to them as a baby.
    I totally get your disappointment at your parents' responses. Those two things: 1. defensiveness and passing the buck, and 2. surface apologies meant to just bring an end to the discussion, really stick in my craw.
    Your post reminds me that my parents' habit of never admitting their mistakes and blaming us kids for everything, was a source of great angst for me.
    Until I was about 27, I was adamant that I never wanted to have children. Honestly, I was in fear of becoming the kind of mom that my parents were.
    I consider myself lucky to have my husband and 3 kids today. I have learned so much through raising children. Today, one of the many things that I am adamant about doing differently is that I do apologize and fess up to my mistakes (no matter how often, or how little, or how big the mistake.)
    I truly believe that just saying "sorry" is not enough. Actively working toward change is the only real way to make amends.
    And damn that doctor-parent responsibility tug-o-war. I hold doctors hugely accountable, especially due to the almost complete lack of true informed consent. I can't wait to read the doctor post of yours that is just itching to get out.

  2. I heartily agree that American doctors, especially medical school professors, should bear the blame for the American Foreskin Holocaust. Even though pediatric urology is the branch of medicine most involved with damage from routine circ, I know of only ONE pediatric urologist in the entire USA who has gone public with his opposition to routine circ.

    The problem is that the AAP task forces on routine infant circumcision have repeatedly included men who are obsessed with keeping the American penis bald. The worst of the lot is Edgar Schoen, who serves on the current task force even though he was born in 1925. Schoen served in the US military during the Korean War. During much of the last century, US military doctors believed that intact soldiers were much more likely to contract STDs from prostitutes, and any member of the Armed Forces could have himself circumcised at any time.

    Another obsessional former task force member is Thomas Wiswell, the fellow who claims to have reviewed the records of 400,000 boys born in US military hospitals, and found that intact boys are 11x more likely to contract a UTI in their first year of life. Baby girls are 3-4x more likely to be diagnosed with a UTI than intact boys, yet nothing is done to them. Years ago, Wiswell was thrown off the task force, reality TV style, for alleged unprofessional behaviour.

    These men are the reason why the AAP recommendations sit on the fence, as it were. These men prevent the Task Force for reaching a conclusion that we intactivists could more or less agree with. The AAP gives parents a free option to alter a son's penis without any medical indication.

    Part of the problem is that the sexual sophistication of the entire human race is deficient. The fact that billions of humans marry and reproduce does not assure that we humans are fully self-aware about how intercourse works. The human body does not come with a User's Manual. We have to research and write that Manual ourselves. Most men around the world are intact, but that does not mean that other cultures are fully aware of what foreskin and frenulum contribute to sexual acts.

    The AAP sweeps aside the possibility that circumcision can adversely affect sexual pleasure and functionality, claiming that this possibility "lacks evidence," when in fact the burden of proof should go the other way: circumcision should be assumed to affect sexuality unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary. Why? Because the bits sacrificed to circ are most of what makes contact with the vaginal wall during intercourse. Those bits stand at centre stage in every sexual act.

    There is a ray of hope, albeit one that requires less than safe sex practices. There are women whose multiple sex partners include some of each kind of men, sans condoms, and who have used to internet to reveal that they definitely prefer intact. (The Grande Dame of female sexual hedonism, Betty Dodson, concluded this in a blog post she made in her 80th year.) To my knowledge, the advocates of routine circ are silent about such women. I believe that in a few years, the typical American young mother will agree that circ detracts from the pleasure of at least one gender, whereupon RIC will die, because this reduction will be seen as too high a price to pay for the questionable benefits.