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Scents and Sensitivity
The hunt for my foreskin and other tales...
XTRA! West, No. 83, October 17, 1996
Letters to Editor follow
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Foreskin March: November 1994 anti-circumcision rally in Seattle. Photo: James Loewen
|I remember my
circumcision. But I don't remember giving my permission. So, 30 years later, I returned to
Winnipeg to ferret out those individuals responsible and demand some form of redress.
I want my foreskin back!
The first stop - my parents. I was three when it happened. Right after I was born, the family moved from Singapore to Winnipeg. It took awhile to set up house and find a general practitioner. And it was our family doctor who eventually threw my innocent little foreskin in the dust bin.
Supposedly, when the bandage was removed, I thought they had removed my penis as well. This may be apocryphal, but I have no qualms in using it to torture my parents: "My circumcision was so traumatic," I hiss at the guilt-ridden septuagenarians. "That's why I'm gay." Of course that's bull, but they deserve it.
They tried to wash their hands of the incident. Like most people in the 1960s, my parents barely considered the significance of circumcision at all. It was just one of those things that happened after childbirth, on par with cutting the umbilical cord. By the 1970s, around 80 percent of newborn males in Canada were being circumcised.
on popular fears... the medical establishment deftly wielded the blade
as it cut its way to the top
The modern history of non-religious circumcision, the most commonly practiced surgical procedure in 20th century North America, is fascinating. In a 1994 article in the Journal of Social History, John Gollaher documents the dizzying growth of its popularity after 1870. Without any real proof, circumcision was seen as offering protection from all manner of medical and social ills.
Preying on popular fears over penile cancer, STDs, masturbation, insanity and other evils prowling the underclasses and the underside of men's penises, the medical establishment deftly wielded the blade as it cut its way to the top in terms of professional status.
"So it happened that the foreskin," writes Gollaher, "despised by the medical profession, came broadly to signify ignorance, neglect, and poverty." And these attitudes remained, even as the science changed.
By the 1980s, medical opinion turned against circumcision. And in Canada, its popularity declined somewhat.
...an added bonus, uncut men have more penis to play with.
I would like to think the decline stemmed from people's sense of natural beauty. Uncut cocks just make more sense. You don't see any other animal chomping off bits of its own genitalia. And as an added bonus, uncut men have more penis to play with.
The current accepted opinion is that circumcision is medically unnecessary. Doctors are advised to spell out the risks and benefits of the procedure to parents and let them decide for themselves.
The myth that newborns don't feel pain has long been dispelled. In the US, where non-religious circumcision rates remain the highest in the world, numerous anti-circumcision groups exist, They focus on the barbarity of the procedure: How little boys are placed in plastic molds and strapped spread-eagled with velcro, how the babies shriek and almost pass out with pain during the operation. And while more and more doctors are using local anesthetic, there is little medical consensus over its effectiveness or its long term effects.
Recently, some studies coming out of Africa indicate that uncircumcised men have a lower incidence of AIDS. These studies, however, failed to prove any causal connection. Nor do they address factors like social and economic status or other cultural influences. The studies present an interesting echo of the STD scares at the turn of the century.
Medical and aesthetic debates notwithstanding, the biggest factor in the decline of circumcision is money. In the UK, male circumcision rates dropped from 95 percent to near zero after the procedure was dropped from the national health plan.
|Canadian provinces are
following the same pattern. In BC, circumcision has been de-listed from basic coverage and
now carries a price.
Sadly, it's all too late for me.
Our old family doctor had disappeared-lucky for him. Undeterred, I decided to go the hospital where I was circumcised. Again, no luck.
The Old Vic is no more. The building has been turned into apartments called The River Manor. Nary a used band-aid could be found.
Undefeated, I recalled an interpretation of ancient rites of passage-how boys became men by testing their strength and endurance. Being circumcised symbolized exposing the most vulnerable parts of your body to the jaws of wild cats who prowled our ancestral homes.
So, I wandered over to the Assinniboine River, along the path where Winnipeg's homos cruise more regularly than the Paddle Wheel Queen. There, I completed my rite of passage with wilder cats.
Letters to the Editor
XTRA! West, No. 84, October 31, 1996
|Gordon Bowness' article, Scents
and Sensitivity, brings an important topic from the shadows, where lies the secret of
sexual violence within our society. It's entirely
appropriate that gays would wrestle a cruel and dysfunctional social norm from the medical
closet, where it's evil can be evidenced.
The current medical lineage has long been an enemy of gays and of sexuality. It's only within a decade or so, that homosexuality was forced from the medical category of psychiatric disorders. The anti-sexual hysteria of Victorian times gave surgeons license to recommend and perform extreme solutions to childhood masturbation - removal of the morally offensive organs.
Circumcision is an ongoing, pathological vestige of medical complicity in attempted sexual control of people. The perils of masturbation were proclaimed by men of science as insanity, blindness and further nonsense. Gay male sexuality, under attack again during the 1980s and 90s, forces us again to stand our ground. We have had to challenge physicians and medical scientists on their failure to behave ethically, and have scrutinized the often shaky evidence pleading for scientific plausibility. Our activism remains a necessity. Who, but gays, dares to cast a cold, revealing light upon the medical closet?
|Thank you Gordon Bowness
and James Loewen for your article (Oct 17/96) "Scents and Sensitivity."
Being an intact, uncircumcised male in North America is a rare thing and any information
on this important topic is great. People's genitals are best left alone!! Thank you Xtra!
West for providing a voice and a choice on the subject!!
PS: I love my foreskin!!!
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