Archive for Personal issues
I have now been chemically castrated. I assume this was done with the same drugs that were used to chemically castrate Alan Turing as punishment/control for his homosexuality. If not the same drugs, then the same results. I have been injected with a drug that blocks my testosterone. I am now sexless.
In my case, the law no longer cares whether I am gay or not. I have been rendered sexless as the first step in treating my prostate cancer. So, what did Alan Turing experience? Certainly it’s not something that will lead me to suicide. That would be counter productive indeed, since this hormone therapy is intended to save my life. Obvious it was the social pressures, the stigma, and the bullying by legal authorities that contributed to Turing’s depression and suicide. The physical symptoms of being chemically castrated are no big deal.
In fact, I’m having a hard time putting my finger on any physical/emotional symptoms at all. Maybe I have the occasional hot flash. Maybe the old fire in the belly for achievement and success has been banked somewhat. My aesthetic appreciation of sexuality seems unaffected. I still find young women attractive and erect dicks erotic. I don’t think that my appreciation of sensuality has changed. But there definitely is a difference in functionality. I’m now like a dog chasing cars. There’s not much I could do if I catch one.
Mind you, even this is untested theory. It’s been a while since I caught one. Who knows what would happen with the right partner and circumstances. As the old saw goes, I used to have to avoid temptation but now temptation avoids me. Alas.
In the meantime I can experience a fancied connection to one of the great men of science. What is life but a series of experiences.
I had a visit with my oncologist last week. The good news is that my CT scan also came in clear. So my cancer is confined to my prostate and I’m not likely to die in the immediate future. Whew.
The bad news is that I should undergo treatment. My oncologist is recommending a triple treatment approach – hormone therapy, focused radiation therapy, and implanted radioactive seeds (brachytherapy). For me the most worrisome of these is the hormone therapy, which shuts off my testosterone.
I’ve started on the pills, one a day, and next week I’ll have an injection. And then that’s it for a sex drive until this thing is over, if my sex drive ever comes back. Two things to be grateful for: in the old days the hormone therapy involved an orchiectomy, which is the nice not so scary medical term for castration, and there is a possibility that my testosterone level will rise after treatment. I guess the third thing to be grateful for is that this beats dying. But just barely. I’m going to die eventually anyway. We all do. But, much as I love it, there’s more to my life than sex. I’m glad I’m going to stick around for a while.
I had my bone scan last week. They injected radioactive isotopes into my veins, waited a couple of hours, then did a full body scan. Then I went home to await results.
I’ve had some pain in my left foot for months now. I complained about it, was sent for an Xray, and the doctor told me it’s arthritis. But… what if he was wrong. What if the cancer from my prostate has gone into my bones. What then? So of course that took me to Google and this page, where I learned this:
Metastatic prostate cancer without bone metastasis:
- one-year survival: 87 percent
- five-year survival: 56 percent
Metastatic prostate cancer with bone metastasis:
- one-year survival: 47 percent
- five-year survival: 3 percent
Metastatic prostate cancer with bone metastasis and skeletal involvement:
- one-year survival: 40 percent
- five-year survival: less than one percent
Holy shit. Survival rate less than one percent after five years. And the cancer can show up anywhere in the bones. Like in the foot, maybe. IMA GONNA DIE!!!
I spent the weekend trying to remain calm. I don’t want to mess around with the early stages of Kubler-Ross – the denial, anger, bargaining bullshit – but to jump straight to acceptance. We’re all going to die. If it’s my time, I’d like to see it coming and get ready, mostly by not denying myself that dessert or second shot of scotch. But it’s hard to be complacent when faced with numbers like these.
This morning I phoned my doctor for the results of the bone scan. His receptionist read them to me, which I supposed she is allowed to do ony if it’s good news. “No persuasive indication of metastasis.” Whew.
Now I feel a bit silly for worrying about it. This prostate cancer thing is an emotional roller-coaster. I got bummed when I was told they were shutting off my sex drive. Then I got really bummed by the statistics on life expectancy. Now I’m almost happy because I’m only going to lose my sex drive.
Whew, I guess.
I went to see my doctor
He said I’ve got some bad news
You’re gonna be singing them
No fuckin’ fuckin’ cancer blues.
A couple of weeks back my doctor informed me that my PSA level was high. I had never heard of PSA levels, but was about to get an education. PSA stands for Prostate Specific Antigens, and a high PSA level can be caused by many things, one of which is cancer. My doctor ordered a second blood test. The result was an even higher PSA level. So my doctor ordered a biopsy. That isn’t something I’d do for kicks on a Saturday night, but not too painful. The doctor and ultrasound technician were wonderfully professional about it.
Last week I got the results of the biopsy. Cancer. High risk cancer.
IMA GONNA DIE!!!
Well, okay, calm down. Prostate cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer. I have friends who went through treatment years ago and are doing fine now. Most people with prostate cancer will die of something else.
I asked the urologist what would happen if I do nothing. He said I will die, but they can’t say when. Maybe in a year. Maybe in five. And the death gets painful when the cancer goes into the bones or lymph nodes. Treatment is obviously a good idea.
Treatment? Well, first they are going to shut down my libido completely. Reduce my testosterone level to zero. So that’s it for sex. Whimper.
Then they will send me for radiation treatment – five days a week for seven weeks, in a city two and a half hours away by car. The treatment only takes fifteen minutes. Travel time would be five or six hours a day. Or I could stay at the cancer lodge at forty bucks a night. Or I can move into my sister’s condo in another city and be closer to treatment but away from the homestead.
Before the treatment starts, they want more tests – a bone scan and an MRI – to see whether the cancer is confined to my prostate. I’m not sure what it means if it isn’t. Maybe I’m toast.
Last week the medical imaging department at the hospital injected me with radioactive isotopes. After a brief delay to let them circulate, they scanned me from head to toe. I’ll get the results in a couple of days.
Through all this I remain oddly calm. I’m symptom free. And happy. I’m either living in the moment, or I’m in heavy denial. Every once in a while the reality that my sex life is coming to an end hits me. Hard. I have always loved sex. I’ve never been able to figure out whether I’ve been any good at it, but if appreciation has any value for my partners there should have been some shared pleasure involved. At least I can’t recall any complaints – aside from one former lover who told me she didn’t like the way I kiss. That was hard to take. But I’ve also been told that I’m a lesbian in a man’s body, which I took to be the crowning compliment of my sexual career.
I suppose this is the way Olympic level athletes feel when they realize they are too old to compete. It’s still possible to enjoy the sport as a bystander and coach. But damn, I’m going to miss it.
When a beloved entertainer or closer to home friend dies, I’m seeing RIP on all the Facebook posts and I simply can’t write that. We need an alternative.
RIP stands for Rest in Peace. But this person is not resting. This person isn’t doing anything. Their body has been reduced to ashes, or filled with formaldehyde and left to pollute some cemetery or crypt. They are just gone. Suggesting that they should rest in peace seems downright silly.
My partner says she thinks of this as “all their pain and suffering is over now so they have no worries” and this is fine, except they don’t exist any more. So they have no worries, but no anything else either. They don’t exist anymore. Reminds me of one of my favourite Phil Ochs songs.
Pretty much sums it all up. When we’re dead we’re just gone. Solid gone.
So what is an alternative to RIP. I’m thinking of something like HBM (He’ll Be Missed) or SBM (She’ll Be Missed) or the gender neutral TBM (They’ll Be Missed) or maybe IFS (I Feel Sad) or GBNF (Gone But Not Forgotten) I don’t know. Any of these work better for me than RIP.
I’ve been politely rejected, with encouragement to try again in June. And that’s okay.
I applied to write for Free Thought Blogs, along with many other aspiring bloggers apparently. It would be a thrill and an honour to be associated with that group. ‘Twould make me so proud to stand with the likes of PZ and Greta and Digital Cuttlefish. But aside from being reduced to a whimpering pile of humble by the very thought of joining them, I’m not sure I would recommend me. One of the things FtB is struggling to achieve is more diversity. Do they need another privileged cis white male voice? I think not.
No matter how witty and insightful my perspective on life might be, or how clever my use of language, my opinion about just about anything isn’t worth a pinch of guano in the grand scheme of things.
As a radical atheist feminist mangina SJW, I really belong on Free Thought Blogs. Except I don’t need to be there, and they don’t need me. I’m perfectly happy with the readership I have. I’m not sure I’d be happier with a wider readership, and I can certainly do without the hate mail that all the FtB people seem to attract. My hate male is… non-existent. Aside from one pathetic old man who wrote in all caps and now seems to have gone away, or perhaps died, I’ve never had any hate mail.
Closest I’ve come to hate mail is being called a hypocrite for declaring that this blog promotes tolerance, while being intolerant of religion. That’s pretty weak tea compared to what the women endure.
Still, I hope that FtB likes my writing enough to offer me a spot when they open up the roll again in June. If they do, I’ll have to decide whether that’s actually a good idea.
Oh who am I kidding? I’d be delighted to join them.
We need a good evo-psych theory to explain this. (So that PZ Myers can rightfully scoff at it as a “Just So Story” ) I love head hair. Long, shiny, or clipped very short, it doesn’t matter. It’s all sensual. Beautiful. Body hair in moderation is also okay, sort of, and what Alan Ginsberg called “fuzzy fucky blondes” are a major turn on. But nose hair? Repulsive. Why? It’s just hair, and has as much functionality as any other hair we sport, serving as a first line of defence against dangerous dust and asbestos particles. Yet it turns the stomach.
Hair that we are not accustomed to can have the same effect. I well remember my first German class at university. It was lead by a jolly overweight woman who didn’t shave her armpits. I had a very visceral reaction to those clumps of black hair. Leg hair on a woman gets the same reaction from most men, but I’m convinced that this is just a cultural thing, like finding a circumcised (read mutilated) penis more attractive than an intact one. I no longer react to armpit hair or body hair on a woman. Somehow I seem to have accepted that it as natural, and I prefer natural. But nose hair is different.
Does anybody find nose hair attractive? Is there a group of nose hair fetishists out there someplace? Probably, but they are being very quiet about it.
I remember my grandfather showing up at our home when I was a child. He was nearly blind, and could be forgiven for wearing nose hair walrus tusks that looked to me to be two inches long. My father took him to our bathroom and trimmed him to a respectable state. No doubt the day will come when I also lose control of my nasal foliage, but right now I’m embarrassed if so much as a single hair shows itself outside of my nostril, which they all seem to want to do.
In “The Black Knight” there’s a scene in which Martin Lawrence plucks his nose hairs and dances around in pain after each pluck. It’s supposed to be funny. I used to cut my nose hairs. Now I pluck them on the, apparently unsubstantiated, theory that they will be slower to grow back. The pain is not that bad.
In the first episode of “Six Feet Under” there’s a scene where the ghost of the father, played by Richard Jenkins, is watching his own funeral from a lawn chair at the edge of the cemetery. The sunlight is sparkling on a nose hair that must extend at least an inch under his his nose. Either the director and cameraman felt this added to the realism of their show, or they missed it. My bet is, they missed it. My bet is there was gnashing of teeth in the screening room that night.
Few people, if any, like nose hairs. Please tell me why.
Some months ago I attended an Imagine No Religion conference in Richmond, B.C., Canada, where, amid a stellar list of speakers that included Amanda Marcotte, Richard Dawkins, and Lawrence Krauss, one of the speakers was Doctor Harriet Hall. Dr. Hall spoke about the dangers of religious beliefs interfering with health issues, a very interesting but horrifying talk during which we learned about parents trying to cure their child’s cancer with prayer. From the audience I asked if she had evaluated the evidence put forward by advocates of circumcision, fully expecting her to scoff at the shoddy methodology and obvious flaws in the research. What a shock and surprise. It turned out that Dr. Hall is not against infant male circumcision. She considers it trivial, with some possible heath benefits.
In a subsequent email exchange, I set out to change her mind. Not a lot. I just wanted to change her position from “It’s up to the parents.” to “It should be up to the owner of the penis.” Apparently I failed. But the discussion was very interesting. Here it is in full:
Dear Dr. Hall
I very much enjoyed your talk at Imagine No Religion 5 this morning, if one can be said to enjoy receiving such information. Perhaps “appreciated” is a better word.
I was, however, as I’m sure you gathered, quite shocked by your stated position regarding infant male circumcision, as were the other men at my table and several others I talked to.
Never the less, I feel compelled to ask you to change your mind. As a man who was a victim of this mutilation (and I feel fully justified in using both these words) I feel it is my duty to stop this practice from being done to others. Having an authority of your stature condoning the procedure is unacceptable.
Some of the facts you quote are simply wrong, and I’m sure you will realize that they are wrong if you give them a bit more critical thought. For example, you state that 10% of uncircumcised infants will require circumcision later in life. I just spent nine years living in China, where circumcision is very rare. If this were true, there would be long lineups outside doctors offices of men requiring circumcision. I asked a Chinese doctor about this and he laughed at the very idea. He told me that they treat infections with drugs and that any other problem with the foreskin can be solved very simply with stretching or very limited surgery.
I suspect that this figure of 10% comes about because doctors in the past have assumed that the foreskin is a like the appendix, just a trouble maker, and the first answer they suggest if there is any problem at all, no matter how minor, is circumcision. My uncle Bill was circumcised at the age of twelve to cure a bed wetting problem.
The ignorance of doctors about the foreskin and how it should be treated is absolutely shocking. For example, my first born son was of course not circumcised. Not having a foreskin myself, I assumed that the foreskin should be pulled back before the child urinated. This is incorrect. The foreskin is normally adhered to the glans until puberty. But when I could not retract my son’s foreskin, I called our doctor who paid us the courtesy of a house call and retracted the foreskin by force. This is the wrong thing to do. It is painful and dangerous, as well as unnecessary. I’m just lucky that no damage was done.
It is of course possible for people of good will to receive the same information and come to different conclusions. But please consider revising your position that this is a decision that should be left up to parents. There is only one person who should make this decision, and that is the owner of the penis.
Dear Dr. Hall:
First of all, let me say how much I appreciate getting such a thoughtful and comprehensive response from you. It was unexpected, and I’m sure most people in your position would have simply ignored my letter, if they read it at all.
With all respect, and with apologies for the implied disrespect of my previous letter, I still think you are wrong about a number of your points. But I’m not asking you to change your mind either. I do understand and respect your position. It echoes the position of many of my family member who consider me a bit of a kook for even being concerned about this subject.
I’m sure you know the theory of cognitive dissonance, which states that a person is most likely to reject evidence against a belief when they are heavily invested in that belief. This is one reason a religious person will cling to a belief in the power of faith, even after causing the death of their child, which surely is a very heavy investment indeed. I’m impressed by the investment, and resulting cognitive dissonance, around this practice. We are asking parents to recognize that they have done damage to their children, asking doctors to recognize that they have done harm to patients, and asking “victims” to recognize that their sexual function may have been compromised. No wonder this is an uphill battle to change social attitudes.
Still, social attitudes do change, if not exactly with the speed I would prefer. When I was a child, infant male circumcision was unquestioned and often automatic. Now at least it is considered a valid question. I anticipate the day when somebody requesting the circumcision of their child will be greeted with looks of horror and disgust.
Waris Dirie, author of “Desert Flower” and one of the earliest campaigners against FGM, nevertheless supported the circumcision of her son and justified it with the same rational used by her culture to justify FGM, i.e. hygiene and aesthetics. She praised the “proud and clean” appearance of her son’s penis. Such irony. To those of us who do not believe that the foreskin was one of God’s mistakes, a circumcised penis evokes the same reaction that one might have to a vagina with excised labia. You may feel this is irrational. Perhaps it is. But for someone who has swung over to my side of the issue, it’s an undeniable feeling and not one that can be argued away.
I have been asked to give a talk at a summer service of the local Unitarian church. Although I am heartily sick of this subject, and feel that I have paid and continue to pay a price for voicing my opinion on it, you have inspired me to make infant male circumcision the subject of my talk. You are quite correct in stating that almost all circumcised adults have no concerns about what was done to them. But it is also true that they do not know the anatomy of the foreskin and associated structures. I regret that I will be the one to educate some of them. Just as campaigning against infant male circumcision can have no benefit for me, since it won’t change the past, there seems to be little value in generating resentment and anger in adult men. But while the rate of circumcision in Canada has dropped from 50% in 1998 to about 20% in the year 2000, this means that there are still a lot of infants treated to a questionable intervention. If there is justification for the procedure, I think it’s worth debating.
Thank you again for your considered and thoughtful response to my letter. And let me add that the work you do in educating people about the dangers of faith based medical decisions and pseudoscience is incredibly important. Despite our disagreement on this one subject, I’m sure we have many more opinions in common.
I hope you will consider me a new friend and supporter.
Dear Dr. Hall:
Thank you again for taking the time to give me your thoughts.
As a result of our discussion I have determined to try to stop speaking with such certainty on this issue.
Embedded in one of the links you sent me was a link to a very balanced article by Jessica Wapner which included the following:
“How can experts who have undergone similar training evaluate the same studies and come to opposing conclusions? I’ve spent months scrutinizing the medical literature in an attempt to decide which side is right. The task turned out to be nearly impossible. That’s partly because there is so much confused thinking around the risks and benefits of circumcision, even among trained practitioners. But it’s also because, after reading enough studies, I realized that the debate doesn’t have a scientific conclusion. It is impossible to get to the bottom of this issue because there is no bottom.”
You have helped me to realize that there is little point in arguing the science. Our largest sexual organ is our brain. I have certainly enjoyed sex, and I confess to making an art form of masturbation. So I am reconsidering my decision to speak on the topic at the Unitarian Fellowship. What is the point of getting a group of, mostly quite elderly, men to feel about their penises the way I feel about mine?
I would like to correct one misapprehension I left with you. The Chinese doctor I spoke to was in fact a practising urologist. He is as resident at a hospital in Wuxi where my wife and I were asked to help the staff with their English. I also mischaracterized his response as “laughing at the idea”. He is not the kind of person to laugh. But he did tell me that he has seen few problems with foreskins in his practice, and that any problems he did encounter were solved simply, without circumcision.
Thank you for sharing this.
I recognize that many of the claims made by opponents of circumcision, grasping for any argument they think might support their position, may be wishful thinking. And I do not think that a modicum of pain is really a problem anyway, if it’s in a good cause. It’s almost beside the point. My son had to endure quite a few extremely painful IV sessions as a child, but this in no way prevented me from delivering him to the hospital emergency department.
I also recognize that my objections to circumcision may have more to do with my sense of having been violated than with any actual harm done, though I found your certainty that sexual function is not affected difficult to understand. When a protective covering is removed, resulting in thickening and keretinization of the formerly protected skin, I find it hard to believe that sensitivity is not affected. (There I go with the argument from personal incredulity again.) That without even considering the possible value of the nerves and cells in the ridged band and frenulum. Perhaps one of the reasons i feel this way is because, though I have fathered three children, I have always had a hard time achieving ejaculation and wearing a condom reduces sensations to the point where I might as well have a wooden penis. As I age this problem is becoming much worse. But sexuality is so dependent on the brain that I can’t be certain this has any connection to my circumcision. Perhaps i just need to find the right therapist.
As the article you linked to stated so well, there can be no scientific answer to this issue. There are too many competing studies and conflicting claims to ever sort it out. We all have a problem deciding what to believe, and what to reject. I could match your statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics with any number of statements from other medical associations. B.C. Medical (our healthcare plan here) says it isn’t necessary and refuses to pay for it.
For me it comes down to some simple principles: Is it medically necessary? (Even proponents only claim slight and speculative benefits. It’s a stretch to claim that it’s necessary, given that so many men do just fine without it.) If it is considered necessary, can it be delayed until the individual can give informed consent? (Yes, it will be more painful later in life. But certainly not nearly as painful as my recent total knee replacement. An adult can chose to put up with some pain if they believe in the value of the operation.) Is there a potential harm? (This question is not settled, but I think you will admit that there is potential harm involved, that it is possible that those who believe sexual function is compromised are correct. And if causing anger and resentment constitutes harm, I’m a case in point.)
I think the question any doctor should ask is this: Is infant male circumcision ethical? Does it violate the injunction to do no harm?
If a doctor concludes that it is not ethical, then it is not a decision that should be left to the parents or to anybody other than the owner of the penis. And it is not an operation that should be performed by an ethical doctor, even if, as you said “because they would just find another doctor to do it, and I was confident that I was very skilled and likely to do a better job than most doctors would.”
Again, thank you for sharing. Please note, I have conceded the point that pain caused to the infant is not relevant to the discussion.
I too have greatly enjoyed our conversation. I seldom get the chance to discuss this with anybody who has the depth of knowledge and experience that you have, so conversations tend to become very polarized and rife with unsupported opinions, wild speculation, and assumptions taken as gospel.
This last question you asked gave me pause: “You say you find it hard to believe that sensitivity is not affected. How do you reconcile that with adults who get circumcised and report that it makes no difference in their sexual satisfaction?”
This actually gives me little difficulty. Sexual pleasure and satisfaction is a very complex and subjective experience. It is influenced to a great extent by expectations and attitudes. In my own case, it took me some time to learn to let go and experience an orgasm, which involves the whole body and is very different from a simple ejaculation. I have met men who have never experienced an orgasm and claim to get as much pleasure from sex as they might get from a hearty sneeze. Guilt and repression figure prominently into sexual responses.
I have never met or talked to a man who was circumcised as an adult. In China I was told by the late middle aged wife of a late middle aged man that her husband “had to be circumcised” late in life because of a problem of some kind. But I never had the opportunity to talk to the man himself. They are Mormons, obviously very sexually repressed, and this same woman told me about a young Mormon man who had killed several women and, when confessing, blamed his actions on an addiction to pornography. She absolutely believed that this was the cause of his murderous rampage. I’m more inclined to believe it was the teachings of his religion. In any event, I would not trust the testimony of her husband when he gives an assessment of his sexual satisfaction.
The only other adult I know of who was circumcised as an adult is the husband of a very dear Chinese friend of mine. I was called in as a counsellor when they had a crisis in their marriage, caused by his work forcing him to entertain clients with prostitutes and his confession that he had used their services. In response to a hysterical phone call from my young friend, I took a “black taxi” from Wuxi to Shanghai, a trip of several hours, specifically to spend time with both of them and help them calm down. It was a breach of trust that almost destroyed their marriage, and a terrible thing to observe.
That was close to the time when we left China. Since then I have learned, through emails from the wife, that her husband had himself circumcised in the hopes that it would help her get pregnant. Go figure, eh. We are hoping to have a trip back to China next year. If that happens, I hope to have an opportunity to ask him about his sexual satisfaction. It won’t surprise me if he reports no difference. The reason, again, is the cognitive dissonance I keep harping on. He has made a huge investment in his decision to be circumcised. For him to realize that it has had negative results will require accepting evidence he will not want to accept.
Finally, my reason for not being persuaded by men who were circumcised as adults and report no difference in their sexual enjoyment is that they are not the only voices. There are legions of men who report the opposite. Of course these reports are coming from the anti-circumcision contingent, and are subject to the same influences that affect the opposing opinion. So again, there is no way to have confidence in their assessment and no way to finally resolve the question. Sigh.
I also buy the argument that we have different types of cells and nerve endings, and that different parts of the body are more sensitive than other parts. As a teenager, I chopped the end off my right thumb while splitting kindling. Our family doctor took skin from the inside of my forearm and transplanted it to the end of my thumb to cover the wound. That skin is still there. It has a very different sensitivity to touch than my other thumb has. I have since read that if the doctor had simply dressed the wound, but kept it open, the skin of my thumb would have grown over to cover it. Apparently a very young child will actually regenerate a finger, providing the wound is not closed with stitches. But of course surgeons want to do what they were trained to do, which is to perform surgery. Our family doctor was an excellent surgeon. The transplant from my forearm took. I’m only left with the question of whether it needed to be done in the first place, and I don’t think it did. I have been tempted to have that transplanted skin removed and give my thumb a few months to repair itself, just to see what the truth might be. But though it bothers me, it doesn’t bother me enough to want to subject myself to that inconvenience in the interests of knowledge.
Anyway, I digress. Tests of sensitivity of the penis were initially done with the assumption that the foreskin was nothing special. Just skin. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that much of the testing and evaluation was done by doctors who had been circumcised as infants., and much of the testing was done on circumcised men. More recent testing of intact men seems to indicate a huge number of nerve endings and receptors in the foreskin, the frenulum, and primarily the ridge band. It seems unlikely to me that removal of this healthy tissue could be an improvement, and far more likely that it degrades the sexual experience, which, after all, was the original goal of the operation as expressed so eloquently by Maimonedes, the Jewish mystic (http://www.cirp.org/library/cultural/maimonides/ This link is amusing, but again it is from an anti-circumcision site so not to be completely trusted.) and championed by more “modern” authorities like Dr. Harvey Kellogg, who believed that all sexual activity should be discouraged except when required for procreation and that circumcision should be done as painfully as possible so that the boy will forever associate pain with his genitals and refrain from “bodily self pollution”.
Oh dear, Harriet. It seems you got me on my hobby horse again and I have spent my morning writing this letter instead of digging out our basement, which is our huge project these days. In closing, let me say that I do not want you to regret having performed circumcisions. Regret is pointless. I do hope for a tiny change in your position, away from saying that it is a decision that should be left to parents and the cultural forces of tradition and religion. I hope you will see that this is a decision that should rest rest with only one person, the owner of the penis.
Warmest regards and all the best
Several months went by with no further correspondence, but I grew increasingly curious about whether my words had any affect at all. So I had to ask. Sadly, the answer was disappointing.
I hope this finds you well and happy.
Some time has passed since our extended conversation about infant male circumcision. Every now and then I think about the things we discussed, and I can say that your point of view has caused me to temper my opinion. I wonder whether my expressed point of view had any impact at all on you. The only person who can answer this question, of course, is you.
My final point in our discussion was this one: “I do hope for a tiny change in your position, away from saying that it is a decision that should be left to parents and the cultural forces of tradition and religion. I hope you will see that this is a decision that should rest rest with only one person, the owner of the penis.”
If you could give me your thoughts on this, I would really appreciate it.
And now I have another request: I would like your permission to post our discussion on my blog. If you would like, I will remove your name and any reference that might identify you. But my preference would be to leave your name and a brief biography on your words, because you express a legitimate position and speak with authority and experience.
Engaging with me as fully as you did was a kindness I didn’t expect and very much appreciate. I hope you will agree to let me share our discussion with the world.
Thank you for the quick response.
I appreciate your position, though I profoundly disagree with it.
But then, of course, I couldn’t leave it at that. I had to fire off one final email, pointing out my rejection of advice that amounts to “live in blissful ignorance.”
Please believe that I am smiling while I type this but: “I think you would have been much better off if you had never read any of the anti-circumcision propaganda. I think that has done you much more harm than the surgery.” is an interesting statement.
Are you suggesting that ignorance is better than knowledge, and that exploration of reality is a bad thing if it causes discomfort?
If so, then again we disagree. I have had moments of anger and regret during this investigation, but I would much rather know what was done to me and explore the issue than remain in childish ignorance that it had ever been done. You must admit that the early justifications for circumcision – religious convictions, anti-sexual attitudes, paranoia about masturbation – approach and pass the point of absurdity. To not know about this history would be a shame.
We had a dog once that had only three legs. It got along fine, and could run and keep up with the other dogs. I suppose if all the other dogs had also been missing a leg, then that situation would be perfectly normal and it would be cruel to explain to them that the legs were missing because of a mixture of superstition and medical ignorance.
For me, I prefer to know why things are the way they are. Even when that knowledge causes a little distress. It holds the hope that things can be different in the future, as indeed they seem to be. The world seems to be slowly swinging around to my point of view, given that fewer and fewer circumcisions of infants are happening now.
P.S. i recently acquired a new friend, an intact man. We have discussed this issue. He is as happy about having a foreskin as I am unhappy about not having one. Damn. Unhappy is not the right word. I am a very happy person. I can accept reality. This is not an issue for me at all, personally. It’s an exploration of social customs and a very interesting study of how attitudes form and change. Please believe that I don’t spend my time moping around wishing I had a foreskin. But on the other hand, I refuse to accept that this violation of my person was trivial, and that I should shut up about it while it continues to be done to other infant boys.
You mentioned Female Genital Mutilation, and put it in a completely different category. I fail to see the difference. Sunat, as practised in Indonesia, is the ritual nicking of the clitoral hood. It is far less destructive than infant male circumcision, yet it is banned in America. And not just because nobody has thought up a medical justification for it, but because it is from another culture that we don’t accept as valid. Sunat is the trivial end of FGM, which ranges all the way from that symbolic gesture to excising the labia, equivalent to infant male circumcision, and excising the labia and clitoris, equivalent to cutting the glans off the penis. But it is all the same thing. It is genital mutilation to varying degrees, with justification based on tradition, religion, and, yes, medical opinion that it is cleaner and more hygienic.
And there I go again, off on the hobby horse. What I will say about everything you have written is: You may be right.
But then again… you may be wrong. 🙂
Addendum: I thought I had published this months ago, but apparently it was caught up in my drafts folder. So here it is.
In the months since this was written, I have often thought of Dr. Hall. In general, I like her. But I also see her as a great example cognitive dissonance in action. She accepts the anecdotal evidence from some – those circumcised late in life who say that it had no affect on their sexual enjoyment – while rejecting the testimony of those who said that it had a profound affect on their sexual enjoyment. She falls back on the authority of one medical group, while totally dismissing the authority of many other equally qualified groups. It seems that evidence presented by those against circumcision is not to be trusted, while those who see it as acceptable, and possibly beneficial, are to be trusted. While she sees those opposed to circumcision as “true believers”, she fails to see that she herself is also a true believer.
Where I find her arrogance particularly galling is in the assumption that my feelings are not valid, and have only been generated by information from the intactivist lobby. I have been angry about being circumcised since I first learned about it, at the age of seven, long before I knew that anybody else in the world thought it a barbaric and harmful practice. Invalidating my perceptions and feelings is not an effective argument for her opinion. In this she is profoundly wrong.
The web series, QUILTBAGS, is trying to get ten grand out of Telus so they can buy some decent equipment and take their productions up a notch.
Please click on this link, find QUILTBAGS “Don’t Bug Me”, and vote. This shouldn’t take much of your time, but it could really help a worthy creative endeavour. Please.