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Lesbian Moms Confront Circumcision

Phyllis Burke
Family Values: Two Moms and Their Son, p. 19 & 24, Random House, 1993

From Page 19

We had already done cloth diapers versus Pampers. That had been very controversial. This time it was circumcision. (Eight of the ten couples were pregnant with boys.) We nonbiologicals hovered near the doorway, and as I listened to the women, I realized it was probably the first time in history that circumcision had ever been debated by a group like this.

I contributed the observation "Don't you think this is funny? A roomful of lesbians ardently debating whether or not to circumcise their infant sons?"

Not a laugh. Not a smile. Not even from my Cheryl, who was at least used to me. Cheryl was furious at one of the other biologicals, who was adamantly against circumcision as barbaric and, at the very least, patriarchal, a way for the patriarch to cause the first betrayal by the mother, who must turn the child over to the men for the circumcision and the pain. She was informing Cheryl that Cheryl should not even be considering it. Cheryl couldn't stand it when anyone told her what she could or could not do.

I had absolutely no information about or experience with foreskins, and was not terribly confident of this particular group's range and depth of knowledge on the topic. I suggested that we ask some men what they thought, but this served only to inflame tempers all around. Cheryl and I did, however, consult our fathers, brothers, male cousins, and friends. They all had their varied reasons why you should or should not be circumcised. The basic nonreligious reason was that the son should match the father, which did not apply to us, but the most compelling reason was that other boys would laugh at you in the locker room if you were uncut. This amazed me. How had we created a society where a normal piece of skin could be the cause of peer torment? I even received a long-distance phone call from my cousin Richard, encouraging me to consider doing circumcision for athletic reasons. We decided to delay our decision. Cheryl was, after all, just two months pregnant.

From Page 24

Mid-May, we had to make the Decision. Dr. Robertson lent us a videotape of a hospital circumcision. Cheryl lay upon the open couch in the living room, and I sat at her feet, facing the television. I popped the tape into the VCR. There was a mellow male voice, very reassuring, very informative. He explained the technique of circumcision. He stressed that the infant boy would not feel any pain during the procedure, that babies do not feel pain like adults. This seemed to me profoundly illogical. A smiling nurse brought in the infant and strapped him into a white bucket-like plastic seat. Then the doctor took a pair of scissors and started to cut. Cheryl started to cry, tears streaming down her face, and I could only gasp in wonderment at the screaming infant, the steady stream of blood, and the calm medical voice-over explaining that the baby felt nothing as the blood and skin fell away from his penis. I started to scream along with the baby, and then clicked off the television: I didn't want Cheryl to go into labor. So that was it for Jesse's circumcision. We were trying so hard to get him into the world in one piece, the idea of snipping something off him when he got here seemed unconscionable. My bottom line was, I couldn't put it back on. I had also seen a very remarkable thing in a local newspaper a few weeks before. It was an announcement for a "Foreskin Restoration Support Group" that included working through the grieving process. That finished it for me.

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