I am a young woman who is proud to be deeply invested in the movement to defeat institutionalized circumcision. However, as I have previously confessed, I once agreed with and actually defended this unnecessary surgery and its imposition on non-consenting infants.
Since I used to be pro-cutting and am now adamantly opposed to it, I remember which messages I used to scoff at, and which messages actually got me to listen. I couldn't identify with the horror of the procedure until I learned about it in a non-judgmental manner.
When I became increasingly interested in the cause this past year, I sought out other intactivist “converts” like me but encountered sparing results. Most acquaintances and friends with whom I’ve spoken understand why I feel passionately about the issue and agree its practice should end, but few of them ever actively supported circumcision.
I’ve met a similar lack of representation in communities of more outspoken intactivists. I feel almost envious of the instinctive horror that these people rightfully experienced when they learned what circumcision meant. I feel guilt for having needed evidence to understand that the permanent alteration of male infant genitalia with a scalpel should be—at the very least—harshly questioned. Still, I am endlessly relieved that I gained this knowledge before becoming a mother and letting a mohel amputate large amounts of sensitive tissue from my son’s penis by default.
My former misguided opinion is understandable given the misconceptions about circumcision that most Americans hold, especially considering my upbringing in a Reform Jewish family and year-round attendance of Hebrew school throughout my youth. Religious leaders taught me that God commanded circumcision upon Jews to protect the Chosen People from common fatal, foreskin-related infections, just like He banned treyf items like shellfish and pork to prevent health risks associated with their consumption.
Just as I remained in the dark about the reprehensibly unethical and medically dangerous facts of circumcision for so long, I hold no ill will towards people who remain ignorant to the severity of this surgery. My former mindset is the primary reason why spreading knowledge about this procedure is so important to me. I want other people who see infant circumcision as the default choice for parents of boys to understand why permanent alteration of the human penis from birth is not sensible, beneficial, or trivial.
I’ve noticed with some disappointment that much of the propaganda released by the pro-intact movement is so severe and harsh that it sways laymen even further from our message. Phrases like “genital mutilation” and “child abuse” aren’t necessarily false when it comes to infant circumcision, but they are so inflammatory that most people will quickly reject them when confronted about a controversy that they may not have even known existed. Millions of excellent mothers and fathers have allowed the surgery to be performed on their sons without question at the ill advice of medical professionals. These people, who endlessly love their children and have done everything in their power to protect, foster and nourish them, do not deserve to be labeled “child abusers” and won’t readily accept any movement that so labels them. Similarly, most people are resistant to conceive of their body, or their partner’s body, as “mutilated.”
As abhorrent as circumcision seems to most intactivists, we must remember to withhold our judgment and our anger in order to be productive in our cause. I’ve personally struggled with such emotions, and I certainly haven’t overcome their presence in my life. However, I know how to handle these feelings in a way that lets me communicate with pro-cutters, and I believe that’s an imperative step in promoting the intactivist movement.
Circumcision exists because of institutionalized regulations on normality rather than specific parental wrongdoings, but combating it requires loud voices from supportive individuals. For this reason, we must forgive our opposition before we can sway them. Otherwise, we will never be open enough to garner their support.
Foreskin is not a birth defect. “Male” is not a diagnosis. Corporate financial profit does not justify dividing baby boys into pieces. Condoms prevent HIV; circumcision doesn’t. Circumcision is more than just a snip. Circumcision has no compelling medical benefits, but carries dozens of potential dangers. Medically unnecessary cosmetic changes to the body should be a matter of personal choice and should never be performed on a person without their consent.
These messages—ones of clarity and factual assertion void of personal judgment—have the potential to open minds. Only after this respectful introduction to our cause may we delve into the deeper implications of circumcision and its plague on baby boys while remaining productive in our fight to protect our sons.
Molly McFly (a pen name) is a blogger and third-year student at Indiana University, where she majors in Gender Studies and minors in Human Sexuality. She was raised as a Reform Jew in the suburbs of Chicago before moving to her current residence in Bloomington, Indiana.