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French Wall, Editor
The Guide, p. 6, May 1996
of the excuses submitted for circumcision ...reveal anti-sexual attitudes
(and) are ...at odds with the goals of gay liberation."
Circumcision still happens to over half the male babies born in the United States. A variety of reasons are offered by those who support the practice, but there is no justification for mutilating a penis without the consent of its owner. Furthermore, many of the excuses submitted for circumcision are fallacious and reveal anti-sexual attitudes at odds with the goals of gay liberation.
Some cultures have claimed that parents have the right to have clitoridectomies (the surgical removal of the clitoris, done often with the explicit purpose of desexualizing females) or foot binding performed on their children. We reject the notion that parents can decide for their children whether they will be able to enjoy sex as adults or walk without pain. And while removal of the foreskin does not impair one to the same degree as an excised clit or bound feet, it does lead to decreased sexual sensitivity (involving loss of what would grow to 12 to 15 square inches of nerve-rich skin), a significantly altered visual and sexual esthetic, and potential complications that accompany any surgery. Parents sometimes need to make decisions in their children's interests, but circumcision is a matter involving permanent, significant alteration of one's body. Such a procedure is unconscionable when performed "electively" on anyone without their explicit, informed consent.
The medical reasons offered for circumcision are weak. Some proponents suggest that uncircumcised men suffer higher rates of penile cancer, venereal disease, and even HIV, but better foreskin hygiene would be a less drastic, equally effective alternative to surgery. The American Association of Pediatric Medicine [sic] agrees that there is no medical reason for circumcision and acknowledges that the foreskin serves to protect the sensitive head of the penis. If someone does have medical worries (or the rare condition wherein the foreskin is so tight it can't retract), they can always opt for their own surgery when they are an adult. To anticipate possible medical problems with the foreskin by routinely lopping it off is as nonsensical as advocating wholesale mastectomies to prevent breast cancer.
parents have the right to offer their children religious instruction,
they do not have the right to force surgery on them
to make their bodies conform to scripturally divined specifications.
The feeble medical rationales for circumcision suggest that other reasons account for the prevalence of the practice. Indeed, the campaign for infant circumcision in the United States (begun last century when the practice was rare) has been accompanied by claims of curbing sexuality. Retention of the foreskin, according to Dr. N.B. Risa, writing in 1906, "leads to erection and release through ejaculation, to enuresis [involuntary discharge of urine], to onanism, and pederasty, and finally to moral crimes." The circumcision industry was founded by exploiting the notion that dicks are inherently dirty, dangerous, and in need of the restraint and purification promised by foreskin removal.
Circumcision also has served as a cultural marker for Jews, Muslims, and others. While parents have the right to offer their children religious instruction, they do not have the right to force surgery on them to make their bodies conform to scripturally divined specifications.
...(I)t reinforces destructive anti-sexual attitudes that we as gay people need to oppose.
A baby's first memories of his penis should not be those of excruciating pain. Nor should we encourage the notion that our sexuality needs to be violently restrained and our god-given bodies cleansed by bloody removal of the dirty parts. Infant circumcision should be abandoned not only because it violates a defenseless person's rights, but also because it reinforces destructive anti-sexual attitudes that we as gay people need to oppose.
Adults who want to endure the pain and disfigurement of circumcision should retain that right, but they should not be able to force that decision on howling babies.
June 1996 Letter to the Editor in response to this editorial
July 1999 article in The Guide about foreskin restoration
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