I have been thinking about writing this piece on circumcision for a while and there have been several drafts already. But as I sit here, playing ground control to my four-year-old son’s cardboard box spaceship, these efforts feel too clinical and theoretical, too far from the visceral need to protect my baby that ultimately kept his foreskin intact.
Don’t get me wrong, the decision not to circumcise was actually rational. For years before my son’s birth, I had been doing work that, in one way or another was about ending the particular indecencies and unfairnesses that women face every single day. I had talked about and joined with men in this, had heard and tried to understand the pain and loss many men experience under the demands of patriarchy, was one of the people who helped my dear friend and mentor Frank Baird put together the first ever Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event.
I had also spent a few years in a part of Africa where female “circumcision” is still not uncommon. As my colleagues and I supported grassroots efforts to end this “harmful traditional practice,” I connected work to address violence against women with the broader concept of human rights and, in the process, became more and more clear on the question of circumcising boys. When I returned to the US, unexpectedly pregnant, I moved to the same neighborhood where Dr. Paul Fleiss—staunch opposer of circumcision and, yes, the father of that other, perhaps more well-known Fleiss—practices, an area where many people are not lopping off the foreskins of their male offspring. In that context, it really seemed to me to be no big deal.
Still, I found myself oddly required to defend this decision. At the hospital, I was asked if I was ‘sure’ I didn’t want to have him circumcised. Then his foreskin hadn’t pulled back by the time he was two and I was told that, if it was still like that at his three-year checkup, he would need to be circumcised “to avoid any problems.” This was in spite of the fact that many boys’ foreskins don’t pull back until much later in life and the doctor suggesting this was very unclear as to what problems might be avoided. This is where the emotions kicked in. I had thought this through, made a decision, and yet was finding myself pressured to ignore all that and cut on.
I started to feel like a mama bear. No one was going to touch my baby. Period. I was ready to fight. Thankfully, by the time of his next appointment, things had stretched out and his unit was out of the spotlight.
Image credit: cheriejoyful/Flickr