Many more readers are dissenting:
Andrew, your reader is right that “your passion is getting the better of you” about MGM, and your response to her proves it. In one breath you admit that MGM only “merely slightly dulls” pleasure, yet in the next you grab your pitchfork and torch so you can shout down dissent, saying “So, sorry. But you did that. You have scarred his penis for life. You made that decision on behalf of your infant son.”
Yes, the reader made a decision on behalf of her son. Guess what? That’s what parents do, all the time and every day.
Are all these choices wise or correct? Of course not! But we do the best we have with the information that we have. What is the point of accusing good-intentioned parents of “mutilating” their infant boys with a procedure that you yourself admit can still be part of a healthy, pleasurable sex life? Can your reader, and others like her, explain this to her son someday, and make sure that if he has children he is aware of the choices? Absolutely. But can you stop shouting at your readers about something that’s already done – and almost always innocently and/or with good intentions – and focus instead on changing the conversation going forward?
Point taken. But this is not part of usual parenting; it is not teaching a kid how to read or play a game; it’s a physical surgical irrevocable operation on the most intimate part of a human being’s body. It occurs almost immediately after birth. Would anyone ever think of doing such a thing if it were not related to ancient religious tradition? No. Would we permanently change any other part of an infant’s body to ward off nebulous future STDs? No. Those are my points. As for my tone, maybe mutilation does come off as harsh. The online thesaurus proposes the following synonyms: “baptism, initiation rite, initiatory rite.” But those are religious definitions, obviously. “Mutilation” has all negative connotations, but captures the permanent loss, or damage and scar tissue. Perhaps the most neutral term that is not cowardly is “male genital cutting”, or maybe “forcible foreskin removal.”
I am not doubting the good faith of those who choose to permanently alter their infant sons’ bodies out of future health concerns.
My parents, whom I have confronted over this myself, simply accepted the medical authorities’ diktat at the time my penis was permanently altered. They meant no harm. They actually meant well, even though my screams while my little dick was being sliced open were, apparently, ear-splitting.
But I do not lie to my readers to make them feel better. This blog is not known for its sugar coating of certain subjects or its squeamishness – hence the photo above of what we are actually talking about. But I really feel at this point that this debate has come full, er, circle and it’s time to cut it off. But you get the last word:
As you know, I am one of your biggest fans and most loyal readers, but sorry, you are an asshole.
Your reader made a very thoughtful post on her decision to circumcise her son which was abundantly reasonable and sound. All she asked was for your to tone down the rhetoric and, instead, you doubled down on it. It is not appropriate to call loving, caring parents “mutilators” over fucking foreskin. And worse you were snide and dismissive in responding to someone who you could have possibly eventually won over to your argument by a more reasoned response. You hyperbolic use of language in this particular subject matter, turns many people off to the core basis to your argument which has validity and should be heard. You want to change this? Then stop insulting and demeaning parents who are honestly and in good faith trying to navigate this matter. Use the best weapon you have, reason and logic and then the tide will turn.
I have a young son and chose not to circumcise him. I cited many of the same reasons you cite. However, to compare circumcision to and appendectomy or tonsillectomy is over the top. Those are relatively invasive procedures that come with more risk than circumcision, which can be performed by a religious official. The risk is low, so a rational cost/benefit analysis considering the perceived benefit lends itself in favor of circumcision.
Another offers a much different perspective:
I am the mother of two young sons. Neither is circumcised, though my husband – a secular Jew born in 1974 – is. I am kind of a hippie, too influenced by Mothering Magazine and its ilk not to take seriously the ways we welcome children into the world. So the idea of a truly unnecessary surgery soon after birth – quick and “easy” though it might have been – seemed incredibly unwelcoming and shocking. How unsafe a new child would feel! When each was born I didn’t really know much about the procedure, so leaving them intact was instead just the conservative choice. Why fix something (painfully) that isn’t broken? My husband agreed with me, and had no investment in having his sons “look like him”, as people put it. How ridiculous! Sons almost never look exactly like their fathers – what a frivolous rationale.
Now I am a nurse at a community health center. We try to do in-house procedures and treatments that would cost our low-income, homeless or Medicaid patients more in the hospital; this includes circumcisions. I asked to assist at one yesterday, so that I would know how to explain the procedure to parents.
Andrew, I am so, so glad we didn’t do that to our children. The procedure – at least this one, with a skilled doc – was longer and bloodier than you think, more invasive, more painful, more upsetting. He was such a beautiful boy, about a week old. Perfect! I had to hold his arms and legs down while he shrieked and keened and struggled. The lidocaine injected into the base of the penis doesn’t really numb the pain. I was sweating and weepy by the end. Yes, children are resilient – we already know this. He will probably experience worse – either physically or emotionally – at some point during his childhood. But having participated in it, I finally realized just how barbaric it is. I’m still shaken.
Another returns to the religious factor:
I must say, I still just do not understand why you believe that religiously motivated infant circumcision is somehow more acceptable than any other kind. The thing is, it seems to me the religious liberty angle militates strongly against allowing religiously motivated infant circumcision.
Let’s be clear about what a Jewish father does when he circumcises his infant son: he marks him, permanently, as a Jew. That’s the whole point! Eighteen years later this kid could decide he doesn’t want to be Jewish, but he is still going to be a Jew. And indelibly marking someone like that, even on the penis, has consequences. At the extreme, you have Jews in Nazi Germany who could be identified by their penises.
Respect for religious liberty should be respect for freely made choices. I just don’t get how this somehow turns into a justification for parents permanently marking their child as part of a religion while he is an infant who is obviously incapable of making any choice at all.
This is really quibbling, but it just seems to me that “Hey I had part of your penis chopped off because I had it done when I was a baby and it’s pretty much what everyone does – it’s not a big deal, though” is actually much better than “Hey I had part of your penis chopped off because I wanted to be damn sure some part of you would be Jewish no matter what you ended up deciding for yourself.”
If circumcision is mutilation, it’s mutilation whether a doctor does it or a rabbi does. And let me also point out that the horror stories of infections, not to mention an adult placing his mouth on an infant penis, come from the religious side, not so much the doctor side of the equation.
I’m a Jew, and I pretty much agree with you about circumcision. But what exactly did you mean by the phrase “desert religions of Islam and Judaism”? Because it sure sounds like you’re denigrating those religions as somehow more barbaric or archaic. And how precisely is Christianity not a “desert religion” as well?
Foreskins are much harder to keep clean in dusty arid places like deserts. Hence the Greek objection in the early church. One more reader:
I disagree with you wholeheartedly on the MGM issue. But disagreeing with you on something makes me feel much better about being devoted to The Dish. I was beginning to worry that I was becoming one of those automatons who begins to agree with everything a favorite source says as a matter of indoctrination. Thankfully, this issue makes me realize I can agree with you on most things … and still think for myself.