Circumcision Cuts Both Ways (Ay, there’s the rub)

Circumcision has been in the news lately. (What makes it “news.”) More precisely, it is anti-circumcision sentiment that has been in the news. The issue is going to be on the ballot in San Francisco in November and was due to be considered in Santa Monica, California until the measure was withdrawn due to controversy. There are efforts afoot in other cities, and anticirc or intactivist (as some style themselves) campaigners on Twitter and in the blogosphere. And Russell Crowe made it know on Twitter that he wants to his kid’s weenie to look like his (uncircumcised) member.

I should (or will, anyway) state that I am circumcised. (Is that too personal?) I am Jewish, so that’s no surprise. So while I will protest the occasional assertion (people will say anything) that I am a dick, I hereby acknowledge that I have a dick and that it is a circumcised dick. I have, then, so to speak, a dog in this fight. (Here, boy.) What’s more – I like my dick. (Now, that’s really too personal.) We are on very intimate terms with each other, almost, you might say, best friends. I’m good to him (Dick) as often as time and “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” – as Tom Jefferson once put it in a slightly different context – and the complicity of the appropriate consenting female allow, and he (Dick) is good to me in return.

Not only do I like my dick, but I like my dick circumcised. (Does it seem a little, maybe, like I’m verbally playing with my dick? Just wondering. Dick.) While I was a tad annoyed with my parents when they disposed of, without my consent – simply because the contents were still hanging in one of their closets ten years after my personal removal from their home – half of my Smithsonian-bound hippie attire, I bear them not the slightest ill will for what I would term the kindest cut of all.

Now that last sentiment is very much to my point here and now. I’ve been talking about feelings on the subject of circumcision. People’s feelings on the subject, whatever their source, are part of this debate, and the presence of those feelings and the sources of those feelings are not to be ignored. If a person who has never been politically engaged before begins aggressively to campaign against illegal immigration, even patrolling the borders, others have a right to wonder about the origins – beyond simply the ideas – of that particular zeal. If an individual who never once raised the prospect of boycotting Russia because of its war in Chechnya, now considers economic ostracism of Israel to be the moral issue of our times, that moral ardor, too, needs to be questioned.

People are answerable for their passions. Not just their ideas, which they must defend intellectually, but their passions, for which they are accountable as people.

There are good, reasonable arguments against childhood circumcision. There are, I believe, good, reasonable arguments for it. It is not my intention to consider any of these arguments here. Part of my point is that I also acknowledge, by humorous introduction, that I have an emotional stake in personal identity in the matter. Too few public opponents of childhood circumcision offer that acknowledgement. Yet, like most passions, the unacknowledged character of this passion generally reveals itself nonetheless.

Was it too perfect an example that the man behind the San Francisco and other ballot proposals, Matthew Hess, was revealed to be the creator, also, of the vilely anti-Semitic comic book Foreskin Man? There it is nonetheless. Not atypical is the gross – actually abominable – mischaracterization of circumcision offered by an intactivist in the linked article, as seeing “a child’s genitals cut off.”

Perhaps the most complete and revealing distortion of the issue is the use of terminology employed as well and commonly by the man who is perhaps the most visible of all opponents of circumcision, Andrew Sullivan, who has for years referred to circumcision as male genital mutilation (MGM). What is the problem with this terminology?

What is referred to as female genital mutilation is intended to destroy the proper functioning of female sexual organs, to rob women subjected to it of sexual pleasure, and a kind of freedom and personal autonomy that comes with it, and is an act of domination and control representative of the most essential kind of patriarchal subjugation of women. Whatever anyone’s opinion of the efficacy and wisdom of male circumcision, or of the violation childhood circumcision may be of the highly arguable personal autonomy of an infant, male circumcision is neither intended to have, nor has, any such or similar effects on the lives of the men on whom it is performed.

To frame the circumcision procedure commonly performed on men in parallel terms to the procedure that, outside of some areas of the world, for very obvious moral reasons, is rarely if ever performed on women, is inappropriate in every way. It is both prejudicial to any kind of reasoned intellectual discussion of the issue and suggestive of an intensely emotional personal prejudice in the matter. It is, on its face, completely dishonest.

There may, in fact, be an honest intellectual debate to be had on the subject of circumcision, but few if any public opponents of it, including Andrew Sullivan – as reflected in the very distortions in the language they and Sullivan use to discuss it – are engaged in that honest debate.

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1 thought on “Circumcision Cuts Both Ways (Ay, there’s the rub)

  1. First let me say I’m glad your circumcised dick is so good to you. Some (though not yours, and not through any fault) have been good to me too. But I really appreciate that you lay out the difference for the REASONS between male circumcision and FGM, sometimes called female circumcision, which in fact is not circumcision since it not only totally destroys the source of female sexual pleasure but can make sex extremely painful and dangerous.

    If you believe in god, you have to believe that she invented the clitoris for the sole purpose of providing women with a reason to have sex and to procreate. Otherwise, it would only be done by force.

    Although women were not allowed, I insisted on being present at my son’s Brist or refused to allow it to be done. And as I was a Jewish convert at the time, the mohel did not argue with me. It was done in my dining room. There is a reason women are not allowed. I fainted at my baby’s scream and the sight of the spurting blood.

    I agree that male circumcision should be a matter of choice, but I would always like it to be done in hospital with some anesthetic and antiseptically.

    Due to a medical condition which I cannot recall, my brother-in-law had to be circumcised in his 20s, The pain he suffered was unbelievable, and not just for a minute or two, but for weeks. He could not have sex comfortably for months after.

    So, if you are not bound by Islamic or Judaic laws, as a parent you will have to decide whether you will subject your baby to a quick and more pain-free circumcision or let him decide whether or not to have it as an adult for either personal or medical reasons.

    Since the practice, no matter how odious to some, does not impinge on or destroy male sexual pleasure or aptitude, it should be left as a matter of choice for the parents.

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