Recovering From Issue Fatigue

Over at Bilerico I have a new essay up on the topic of the recent German court ruling to ban non-therapeutic circumcision of minors. For many years I stayed away from the topic, for the reasons I illustrated in my (now ancient) post titled Issue Fatigue.” In the last six or so months however, I’ve got something of a second wind (or is it a third or fourth by now). 

And the reason makes me uncomfortable: more people agree with my position now. 

When I dropped out of being a really vocal voice for the intactivist movement, things were looking grim. On the back of some seriously flawed research there was a growing push to reverse the downward trend in male circumcision and the AAP looked ready to resume their disgusting and biased support for the procedure at any moment. 

I never stopped advocating one-on-one for wholeness, and the powerful emotional and spiritual joys that could come with leaving your child’s genitals alone and/or restoring one’s own to something much closer to their natural state. I wear my DTR (a foreskin restoration device) openly in clothing optional spaces, and welcome the questions it brings. I talk about my personal feelings on the topic whenever appropriate and remain abreast of new developments, good and bad. 

But other than that, I really stayed away from it as much as possible. Even when I wrote “Issue Fatigue” back in 2007 I had commenters who strongly disagreed with the intactivist position who couldn’t let the topic drop, despite the point of the post itself. I’ve even had fellow BDSM educators imply that as someone who does consensual  male genitorture play (CBT), I was hypocritical to write about or even hold the intactivist position. It was all too much for me. 

Today though, I am far more comfortable taking up the mantle of this issue. Some of that is because I am more confident in my voice as a writer than I have been in quite a long time. But the other big piece is that the tide has turned quite a bit in support of the intactivist worldview. 

This is wonderful, but also makes me feel a bit like a total shit. I feel like a soldier who deserted the battle front when the war got to be too much, but now that the war was looking up, returned to the front to share in the glory. There are truly amazing men and women who stayed behind to slog this one out, and I don’t like the idea that I abandoned them, but the reality is that I don’t know I would have been much good had I kept going at the time. 

There are many issues that are important to me, but this one has always been a big one, and I’m going to do my damnest to keep the momentum going through educating and advocating for the right to bodily integrity of children for as long as I can. There are many more vocal allies in this fight than there were five years ago and together maybe we can really make a difference. 

A Religious Evolution Towards Wholeness

Over the years that I have been writing Notes From a Barking Shaman, I have written about my firm opposition to the barbaric practice of genital mutilation on multiple occasions:

I also have written about my personal experiences around my milk religion (Judaism) and my departure from it:

And one post that details my feelings on the intersection of the two topics:

There were many factors that went into my departure from my milk religion, but the practice and celebration of genital mutilation within it was one of the two biggest; as big perhaps even as the whole “one god” thing (I recognize that many other pagan oriented Jews have done the mental gymnastics needed to “reconcile” those two identities, but I could not have). 

I grew up in a household that cherished the spiritual nature of Reform Judaism, and embraced the teaching that Judaism is a dynamic and “living” religion; one which must evolve with the changing nature of our world to foster and nurture the relationship between people and their god, rather than become an obstacle. Both at home and in synagog I was taught that many of the Talmudic and Biblical laws are at their core about devotion, rather than blind obedience. And that Jews must study Torah, not in the pursuit of memorization, but of understanding, and beyond that, that they must ask themselves “what does this mean to me?” not simply “what did this mean to my ancestors?”

That modern Reform Jewry continues to place the mutilation of their male children’s genitals on a pedestal, while discarding other outmoded biblical proscriptions has long puzzled me. In a tradition that believes strongly in equality saying “women may hold equal place with men in Judaism, and require no cutting of their genitals, but only surgical altered men are Jews” seems to me to be terribly hypocritical. Either genital cutting is a fundamental part of Judaism, in which case women are not truly equal to men, or it isn’t required to be a Jew, in which case men are mutilated needlessly. Mixing the two ideas seems inconsistent in the extreme. 

It should be noted of course, that in the United States the damage or alteration of a girl’s genitals, no matter how minor (perhaps extending even to bloodletting via a diabetic lancet), is legally forbidden, whether for religious purposes or not. Modern Judaism has no choice but to allow their girls to remain unaltered, so perhaps we will never know if some form of female genital cutting might not have been embraced as part of Jewish sexual equality  had the option existed. 

Now however, there is a cadre of Jewish scholars, rabbis, and parents, who are beginning to gain momentum in their quest for Jewish parents to embrace brit shalom – a covenant of peace, rather than the traditional brit milah – covenant of circumcision. There are excellent books on the topic, both scholarly and personal, including:

And their are some amazing resources on the web, including:

This is not going to be an easy road for these dedicated and outspoken activists to travel down. Judaism is an extremely tribal culture. I know many people who only allow fellow Jews into positions of importance in their lives. Their doctor, accountant, realtor, even their car salesman, all must be Jewish. And it is impossible to convey to someone who did not grow up within that tribal community how fundamental genital mutilation is to the cultural identities of many Jews. Samara Cole, in her excellent essayRefusing to Circumcise: A Mom’s Difficult Demandeloquently conveys the frustration she experiences with her husband, who cares not at all for the biblical or spiritual meaning of the practice, yet steadfastly insists that his sons have their foreskins amputated, even after he has come to believe that the procedure has no redeeming value. 

Jewish Intactivism is an exciting and challenging development in the growing and changing nature of modern Jewry. There is a part of me that is sad that this is a cultural revolution that I have to watch as a well-informed outsider. I truly believe, as someone raised steeped in Jewish thought and belief, that intactivism is incredibly consistent with Jewish values and spirituality. I believe with all my heart that in discarding the barbaric mutilation of innocent children, modern Jews can reclaim and embrace the deeper purpose of the covenant ritual. 

I pray to my gods and theirs that these dedicated activists can transform pain, blood, and terror, into peace.