November 2006

    A circumscribed memory
    They lost their rights by violating mine:
    contempt for parents lost these days I find
    and hatred for those circum-paedophiles,
    who strapped me, gasping, to a circumstraint;
    who tore off, like a nail from the nail bed,
    the foreskin from my neonatal glans.
    My mother enjoyed my father intact.
    Surely they desired the same for their sons?
    “They did what was best,” we like to believe.
    Lost structure and function: reason to grieve.
    Will I recall them as I once thought they were?
    “Genital terrorists!” I now aver.
    Their history went the way of my skin:
    scarred shrunken remnants, in memoriam.

The year I was born was the peak of New Zealand’s male neonatal genital mutilation frenzy (when an estimated 90% of male babies were denied their birthright). I was born in a private hospital and my father says I was operated on the day after I was born. According to him there was no parental consultation and it was done automatically. Apparently even then, in a conservative community, there was some controversy over the routine procedure, but the doctors were Gods who justified genital mutilation as a preventative for infections of the foreskin. My father told me, “All of your generation was done.”

I was not really aware of what had been done to me because my brother had also been mutilated and we regarded ourselves as being normal and anyone in the natural state as odd. Looking back this seems strange, as some of our friends had been spared mutilation.

When I was about six I remember the clothing rubbing against my glans. As a result, it became inflamed and my concerned father took me to the doctor. The doctor could only suggest I had been “playing with it” (which I hadn’t, as puberty was some years away).

Through my teenage years I accepted my condition without questioning, as virtually all mutilated males seem to. I was aware of the scaring on my penis and the sensitivity of the glans against my clothes. In my late teens the topic came up and my mother said that I had been circumcised twice. (more…)

When it comes to my circumcision experience, I feel somewhat like a returned war veteran. I have a horrible story to tell, one that I need to tell over and over again, but it is so horrible no-one really is able to hear it. I am therefore branded as crazy when I start to talk. People would prefer I was silent about what happened to me. Like a soldier who has been brutalised in battle, I wonder if I might one day ‘lose it’ and circumcise someone else.

I try to be an activist about circumcision, writing letters to the press and thanking people in the media and online who express sensible, humane attitudes to the victims of what must be the most obvious crime on our planet. But often I get stuck. A sort of numb, staring-at-the-wall shellshock comes over me. I think some of my ’stuckness’ on circumcision response has always been connected to the enormity of the crime involved. I mean, how do you even start to respond to this?

I was circumcised at the age of three in an Australian city hospital. It was the early 1970s, when circumcision was epidemic in my country. I was misdiagnosed with ‘phimosis’. I can tell you I remember no discomfort from this phimosis, but I remember a lot about being robbed of my foreskin. I wasn’t quite so unlucky as those little Moroccan boys; I was knocked out with gas before a man sliced off my foreskin with a knife and threw it in the bin. So for me the whole experience is veiled in numbness.

Nevertheless, I vividly remember the humiliation of my genitals being examined by a cooing doctor, and the pain and bewilderment during the recovery. I was a figure of fun for the women in the household at the time. My father was completely, cowardly absent from decisions about what was done to me and from its aftereffects. I remember the rages I would go into when I returned to preschool after my foreskin was destroyed. Unable to express my suffering in any other way, I would run through the classrooms pulling books down from shelves and knocking over things. For this behaviour, a completely rational response to the violation I had been subjected to, I was alternately ridiculed and punished.

Silence descended after that, so that I was pretty much numb and ignorant sexually, apart from galvanic masturbation in my teen years until my early twenties. This is an age where a lot of traumas that have been bolted down in our early youth start to burst out. The internet was my first safe and private source of information. I found a database of medical studies and correspondence in medical journals about circumcision, and what I read there shocked me and took a few years fully to sink in. I wrote letters to the GP who had misdiagnosed me and to my mother. Their responses didn’t offer much solace. What became clear was perhaps only predictable: I had been circumcised mindlessly and ‘routinely’, and because my mother had believed what doctors told her. I even pursued the pediatric surgeon, and in his handwritten reply to my angry letter he had at least the grace to apologize for what he had done.

As a ‘war veteran’ my greatest hope is a simple one—for no more war. No more mutilated generations of boys and men.

I want to share with all of you an event that drew me into intactivism (Ed. activists devoted to keeping baby boys intact)

Back in 1996, I began an OB/GYN hospital clinical as a student nurse. One day, I was enlisted to attend a ‘routine circumcision.’ I did not realize how much that event would shatter the very foundation of a career choice made in ignorance. I appeared in the doorway of the circ room and saw the little newborn boy to whom I was ‘assigned’ for the day. Twenty years-old, and not having kids of my own, I did not anticipate the lurching sensation that gripped my heart. Laying strapped down to a table—so small and new, pure and innocent, trusting, all alone, and defenseless—I walked toward the baby and wanted to grab him off the table and shelter him, to tell him that nobody would hurt him.

In walked the doctor. Loud, obnoxious, joking with his assistant, as if he was about to perform a 10 minute oil change. Not once did he talk to this little baby. Rather, he reached for his cold metal instruments and then reached out for his object of mutilation, this sweet newborn’s perfect unharmed body. As I recall the screams of pain and terro, his small lungs barely able to keep up with the cries, I turned in horror as I saw the doctor forcefully pull his foreskin around a metal object. Then came the knife, cut, cut, cut.

I stood next to the baby and said, “You’re almost done sweety. Almost done.”

Then came the words as that son-of-a-bitch said while he dangled the foreskin in midair, “Anybody care to go fishing?”

My tongue lodged in my throat. I felt like I was about to vomit. I restrained myself. My duty was to then take the infant back to the nursery for ‘observation.’ Here is where I realized I couldn’t do it. I could not be a part of such a cold, sterile, out-of-touch medical model. Rather than observing, I cradled the infant. I held him and whispered comforting words as if he were my own. I’ll never forget those new little eyes watch me as if in a haze. He knew I cared about him. He knew he was safe in my arms. He knew that I was going to take him to his mommy, but deep in his little heart, at some level, I know he wondered where his mommy was while he lay there mutilated in what was supposed to be a safe and welcoming environment.

I made a note in the chart and then caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. My chest and face had broken out in purple splotches. My next thoughts? I can’t do this. I refuse to do this. This is NOT for me. I took the baby to his mother, who was complaining about ’some pain’ she was experiencing. I never addressed her pain because I left to go to my locker. I grabbed my belongings and hoped that my rejection of this ‘medical system’ could serve as some type of redemption for the violation of that newborn that I cradled in my arms that day. The next day, I withdrew from nursing school and never looked back.

I am an intact American Baby Boomer. During my childhood, no one explained to me why the most private part of my body, the tip of my penis, looked very different from that of my father, brother, and nearly all boys I grew up with. This led to the mental equivalent of a festering skin ulcer, which persisted even after I learned that I was completely normal and healthy.

I am intact because I was born in a continental European hospital to a European mother, and because my Americna father was unable to obtain an immigration visa in time for her to give birth in an American hospital. I hear tell that it was (and may still be) the unwritten policy of the US authorities to discourage the use of marriage to obtain US residency. At the time of my birth, the matter was also tied up with Cold War paranoia, McCarthyite hysteria, and fear of the pollution of the American “racial stock” by dark-skinned foreign sirens with shameless sexuality. Hence I see my foreskin not merely as a sign of my foreign birth, but also as an unwitting result of Cold War politics and American racism.

That my father never said anything to me was probably for the best. He had wanted me circumcised, and was no expert on matters medical or sexual, or even on human nature for that matter. My mother was far shrewder and wiser in many respects. Then why didn’t she explain to me why I looked different from my brother, with whom I bathed until at least age 8 (and how did he feel about being unlike his older brother, whom he very much looked up to)? Prudishness per se was not the reason; she could talk quite freely about pregnancy, breast feeding, adultery, and even menstruation, VD, homosexuality and incest. She did not, however, ever tell me about sex in a coherent fashion; she also feared childhood masturbation.

My foreskin paranoia had no rational basis whatsoever, and was frankly comical. I’ve even given this kink in my personality a name: the Aardvark Complex. (more…)

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