I do not wish to be concerned with the matter of genital mutilation. I did not set out looking for a cause with which to align myself. It found me.
There is no unknowing, however. I cannot go back to the blissful time before that winter day in early 2009 that I began to uncover the truth through a ghastly video and a baby’s tortured screams. Back to a time when I wondered why certain sexual acts were counterintuitive but thought it was some shortcoming on my part. Back to a time when I did not cringe at subtle television and movie references–intended to be amusing–to soap, lotion, and other artificial lubricants.
Image: Bay Area Intactivists
I spent Saturday staffing a booth, in the name of my doula business, on male infant circumcision. The woman selling cloth diapers at the booth next to mine told me of her three sons’ circumcisions–how she didn’t know the truth the first time but the second and third times lost the battle with her husband. I spoke to a lesbian couple expecting their first child, a boy, and having little personal experience with penises, trying to decide what was right for him. A Filipino woman approached me with her infant son, circumcised, and her four-year-old son, intact. She questioned me on whether it would be OK for her older son to forego Tuli, the Filipino circumcision right of passage, and whether he would then look different from American boys.
“Don’t cut me,” the boy said.
I’ve yet to meet a woman who is eager to have an episiotomy. None of us wants a sharp object cutting our bodies, especially not our genitals. Yet we sign our newborn baby boys up for it every single day. We subject them to painful cutting that disfigures their bodies and diminishes their sexual functioning.
“Don’t cut me,” they would cry if they could.
People like me, the ones “it” found, must tackle the overwhelming tasks of educating parents-to-be and those who are yet to conceive, explaining to women that normal sex is not supposed to be a jackhammer affair, and trying to build up the men we love and the men we meet, stroking their egos, convincing them of what we know to be true–that in spite of a missing piece they are just right.
I was content to sit in front of a computer screen and type the words that would save the world–I’m better that way. But I had the (mis)fortune of an old friend responding to my thoughts and sparking a debate that still fuels my fire a year and a half later. You see, she is a pediatrician, someone with clout and a constant audience. Someone who could get paid to tell parents the truth about circumcision and the intact penis. But instead, I and others pick up the slack of hundreds, thousands probably, of medical professionals. With no reputation to back us, and with our own time and money, we must write, educate, demonstrate. It’s up to us.
When this moment has long since past, the history books will not speak of a time when Americans paid to have their sons’ genitals surgically altered. There will be no mention of the “intactivists” whose names I know. It does not matter, however. We know we are on the right side of history.
I will continue to listen to stories of heartbroken mothers who didn’t have information; to see our country as one in which, occasionally, teenage boys arrive as immigrants and cut off part of their penises so American girls will like them; to hone my argument so no one walks away leaving me feeling uncertain as to what the future holds; to fight back tears and frustration when a mother feels pressured by her partner to circumcise; to hold in the anger when she succumbs to that pressure.
I didn’t go out looking for a cause. But one found me.