I was born in New York to Reform Jewish parents. I was circumcised at eight days in a traditional Jewish ritual circumcision. This means that my parent’s family and friends were all there to witness and celebrate the occasion of my public genital mutilation. I am told that a lovely brunch was prepared for everyone attending.
On the advice of her friends and family, my mother chose to leave the room where the ritual was taking place before the actual cutting of my genitals, and only returned after I was done screaming. Not one Jewish parent I have spoken to finds this remotely hypocritical, a fact that amazes me. The one time I asked my mother about it she said she just couldn’t stand to see me in that kind of pain. Couldn’t see it, but had no problems arranging for it and absolving herself of her clear guilt by simply not being present during it. I love my mother, and I understand that her person faith prevented her from even considered not having me cut, but the fact that she would not witness what she was cheerfully helping to prepare brunch for, makes me hate her just a little bit.
Because my genital cutting was a traditional Jewish ritual, it was done freehand with only a guide plate to prevent damage to the glans (well damage right then, circumcision could be said to “damage” the glans in the form of desensitization). It would be many years before I realized how dramatic the damage to my penis was.
Growing up Jewish, a religion I should disclose that I no longer belong to, I had no idea that circumcision was anything but the norm. I was a sexually interested child (and gay) from a young age and over the course of many sleepovers I saw many of my non-Jewish friends’ penises as well and, this being the early ‘80 they were all altered in the same way as mine.
I still remember the first time I ever saw an intact penis. I was eight years old and attending a Jewish sleep-away camp for the first time. The boys section of the camp had group showers for the different age groups, but the grounds keeping crew used the same shower rooms and they were mostly European college students who would come to America to work for two months and then spend another months touring the US before class resumed. Most of them were not Jewish, and being European, not circumcised. The first time I saw an intact penis I had no idea what I was looking at. The only conclusion I could come to was that the man’s penis was diseased or malformed in some way. It would be until I was a teenager, taking sex ed, and more importantly looking at gay porn that I would realize that his penis was the “normal” one.
Looking back now, I can clearly see that my adolescent sexual development was strongly shaped by the nature of my circumcision. Because so much skin had been removed, having an erection was often painful. As strange as it sounds to others, I had no idea that this was not normal. The only penis I had experience with from the inside was mine and this was how it worked. I also did not find the skin tearing or even bleeding a bit during erections or masturbation to be strange. Since I had always grown up with the idea of a circumcised penis as being the norm, surely I couldn’t be having problems connected to having been cut.
Right before I left for college, I learned about foreskin restoration on the internet. My interest at this time had nothing to do with being unsatisfied with the function of my penis. Rather as I became more and more involved in Neo-paganism and spirituality, I felt that something about my body was just wrong. Then, in several meditations I found that when I tried to visualize my body, I kept feeling that that something had to do with my genitals. Finally when I mediated with the intent of finding out the origin of this feeling I found my body being pictured as having a foreskin and the feeling of wrongness being gone. This was a strange idea for me, that having a foreskin could be more “normal” or “natural” than not.
After getting to college and becoming sexually active I would, of course discover that pain and bleeding are NOT normal parts of having an erection. This strengthened my interest in restoration. The first several months of trying restoration were discouraging to me as I did not seem to have any change in the tightness of my skin or the discomfort of erection. This was until my partner at the time noticed that I was gaining penile length. I would “gain” over and inch and a half of penile length, allowed for by the loosening skin freeing shaft tissue previously pushed back into the body, before any skin mobility would begin to show.
Years later, I am finally getting closer to being finished with restoration and some of the feelings of unhappiness with my genitals have eased. It has taken me years and years longer to restore than most people in part because I choose to go very carefully to minimize the impact of the radical and irregular nature of the mutilation itself. Also, I have at times given up for months at a time because of the knowledge that my restored foreskin will still not be the one that was taken from me (re-desensitization of the inner skin and glans always gets me going again). My partner of five years is intact from birth and the difference in our status caused issues early on in our relationship as I struggled with feelings of jealousy and inadequacy.
The question I find I ask myself regarding the circumstances of my own mutilation is this: how did my mother bath me and change my diaper for the seven days before the ritual and not find herself satisfied that I was perfect the way I was. How did she look at my body and think to herself “He’ll be even better after we cut some of him off.”
My mother considers my anti-circumcision activism to be a personal attack on her. This is fair, since I consider her endorsement and arranging for, my involuntary genital mutilation to have been a personal attack on me.