Circumcision in Real Life and in Slash - Mo's Journal
Circumcision in Real Life and in Slash|thelastgoodname
had an interesting post a while back about circumcision (or not) as depicted in fanfic and fan art. She wondered how authors and artists decided whether or not their subjects were circumcised, given that in most of the source texts we deal with in fandom, the issue is never discussed and the characters’ genitals are not described. It segued into a bit of a discussion of circumcision in general, and I toyed with the idea of giving my views in a separate post. I was reluctant, though, because of the really hyperbolic and downright abusive anti-circumcision comments one tends to find on the ‘net.
Anyone who has ever tried to discuss this issue online knows that there's a lot of very strong anti-circumcision sentiment on the 'net. I don't think it's such a pressing issue in real life, where it's generally considered a valid parental choice either way. However, saying one circ'ed one's son is likely to get a parent called "abusive" in much of cyberspace and googling circumcision is bound to find a plethora of what I would consider quite extreme and unsupported claims of harm. There are (in my opinion, after careful research into these claims) some crazy ideas out there about damage to men physically and psychically, due to neonatal circumcision. I think it's pretty scary to prospective parents because the cybervoices are so loud they drown out the voices of reason and real research. So, having been down this road before I was reluctant to open myself up to crazy accusations again.
I decided, though, that it’s my journal and I can control comments. I’m not going to screen but will delete any comments that are not written respectfully (and, as the owner of the journal, I alone get to decide what’s respectful). I recognize that some people – including some people I admire greatly – are unable to discuss this issue with any respect for those of us who choose neonatal circumcision, and I just ask that if that’s you, please don’t comment. You might do better not to read at all.What is Neonatal Circumcision?
It’s the removal of the prepuce or foreskin from an infant’s penis. It has been done as a ritual practice by Jews for thousands of years. Muslims practice circumcision as well, but often not neonatally. As a non-religious practice, it became popular in the US – and to some extent in other countries – in the latter half of the twentieth century. A belief that circumcision is more hygienic and prevents disease was the original impetus for the post-World War II growth in the practice (many of the assumptions of disease prevention were later disproved). The next generation had a lot of circumcisions because it had become common practice and men often wanted their sons circumcised because they were. This wanting the son's penis to have the same circumcision (or not) status as the father's seems to be a powerful motivator for many men. On the other hand, it should be noted that it was not always a deciding factor or there wouldn’t have been that huge growth in neonatal circumcision in the post-World War II era.Circumcision in Judaism
In Jewish tradition, circumcision is done by a mohel – a trained ritual circumciser – who may or may not be a doctor. The ritual is called brit milah (or bris) and it is a celebratory one, with friends and family in attendance, and is also when the baby boy’s name is announced to the community. It occurs on the eighth day after birth (barring medical issues that would prevent it) and is generally followed by a reception of some sort. It can be held in the home or in a shul or other gathering place.
Circumcision has been pretty universally practiced by Jews throughout our history. In many times and places, the Jewish practice of brit milah (ritual circumcision) was dangerous because it was a physical mark that a man was Jewish - he couldn't pass, at least when naked. A good memoir of a Jewish man trying to pass as a non-Jew in Nazi Germany to escape the death camps is called Europa Europa. In it he talks a lot about having to hide the fact that he was circumcised. The Hasmonean rebellion (which Hanukah celebrates) was in part because of the ruling by the Seleucid Occupation government that Jews could not practice circumcision.
I think that bris is kind of a bizarre ritual, if we look at it objectively. After all, what else is there that's both a party and a surgical procedure? But I do feel it's a real disservice to a boy to not circumcise him and
to raise him Jewish. Judaism is very varied, as I'm sure anyone with knowledge and experience of the religion knows. There are very few things that all the major movements within Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist) agree on. Circumcision is one of those very few. I think if it is very important to someone that a son not be circumcised then s/he should consider withdrawing from Jewish community participation altogether. I find Judaism such a rich and fulfilling culture that I have trouble relating to giving it up for a foreskin, but I think for those for whom this is a major issue, that’s a legitimate response.
I think that neonatal circumcision is not a big deal, really. It's a very safe procedure and there is fleeting pain but no lasting discomfort, ime (as judged by the baby being perfectly happy shortly thereafter). I researched carefully before my son was born and found that there really is no basis for believing in the horrific effects anti-circ people claim it causes. There are some health benefits of circumcision (the benefits in reduction of HIV risk are significant and have been proven in some large scale trials) but none that I personally would view strong enough to warrant a surgical procedure. I think if I were not Jewish I would not have circumcised my son. But I think the belonging aspect (and allowing him to have a bar mitzvah in a shul and - should he choose to - get married in a Jewish ceremony) were sufficient reason for me to decide to do so.
I know that some people say that if you don't do it now, the boy can choose to do it as an adult, so that's the safer choice, but I don't think that's really true. He can't choose to have been neonatally circumcised; he can only choose to do it later. If he decides that he wishes he were circumcised, he may well wish he were neonatally
circumcised. It is a bigger deal later, both medically and in terms of body image and sense of self. I do know some boys whose parents chose not to circumcise and then the boys themselves had to decide whether to have the operation in order to have a bar mitzvah. I think 13 is not an age to be deciding whether to have surgery on one's genitals.Deciding on Neonatal Circumcision (or not)
Circumcision is a very brief procedure and generally, in my experience, seems to cause very little distress to the baby (less than other common activities, like some messy diaper changes or waiting to nurse for a few minutes while mom is in the shower). It also does not appear to have long term negative effects of any kind. On the other hand, it is a permanent alteration of the body, and it’s worth thinking about why one wants to do that and whether the benefits are worth the (small, but real) risks of any surgical procedure. As said above, I find the benefits significant for a Jewish boy, but I don’t think there are such clear benefits for others.
I recommend the American Academy of Pediatrics statement on circumcision. The AAP is against routine infant circumcision, judging that it is not necessary medically, but it is also reassuring to those who choose to circumcise their infant sons. The summary statement says
"Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision. In the case of circumcision, in which there are potential benefits and risks, yet the procedure is not essential to the child's current well-being, parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child. To make an informed choice, parents of all male infants should be given accurate and unbiased information and be provided the opportunity to discuss this decision. It is legitimate for parents to take into account cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions, in addition to the medical factors, when making this decision. Analgesia is safe and effective in reducing the procedural pain associated with circumcision; therefore, if a decision for circumcision is made, procedural analgesia should be provided. If circumcision is performed in the newborn period, it should only be done on infants who are stable and healthy."
The whole statement is available at http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics%3b103/3/686
. It should be noted that this statement was made before the results of large scale studies on HIV risk reduction and circumcision.
Some people are concerned about “the locker room effect” – the idea that their son might be mocked for having an anomalous penis among his peers. I think that is just not a factor in current USAmerican society. I'd recommend that those concerned about the "locker room effect" look at the statistics collected by the CDC on this. Circumcision rates in the US are at about 64% nationwide and have been there for about 20 years, with variations by region and by ethnic group. In the post-WWII era they were higher, pre-WW II quite a bit lower. These data do not typically include Jews, since we do circumcision ritually on the eighth day and the government records those circumcised in hospitals before mother and newborn go home (typically two days). Jews are such a small portion of the population, though, that I think that doesn't matter for the overall stats. Details can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/hestats/circumcisions/circumcisions.htm
but, in short, there is nowhere in the country where a boy will be an anomaly by being circumcised or by being not
circumcised in terms of the general population. In Jewish or Muslim communities, it's a different story.
Often circumcision is the first hard decision because you make a choice in infancy but based on how you think your child will feel about it many years later. But that's true of a lot of parenting decisions, and not all of them are going to be ones with which we have practical experience (e.g. my elder daughter was born with a birthmark covering her left eye and we had to decide on whether to have laser surgery to remove it). And some where we do have practical experience it can get in the way of good decisions (e.g. parents who were spanked and can't think farther than "My parents did that to me and I turned out okay" don't make thoughtful, careful decisions about discipline). I think it’s good for parents to consider this – and other parental decisions – carefully, but I also think that other than the specific situation of raising a boy within a Jewish community, it’s unlikely that either decision will be problematic for a son. The vast majority of men are perfectly satisfied with their circumcision status, whatever it is. Circumcision in Fanfic
Online fandom is very much dominated by USAmerican influence, and in “adult” fanfic and fan art, men are probably portrayed as circumcised more often than is realistic, because it’s what the authors are familiar with. I think – as with other cultural issues – authors ought to research whether or not circumcision is a likely practice among men in their fandoms. They may also need to do research to realistically write sex that includes foreskins if they have not experienced that themselves. However, I think writers (particularly slash writers) ought to be researching sex that they have not experienced to write it credibly, anyway.
In deciding whether or not a character in my slash is circumcised, I consider primarily
- his cultural background
- when he was born
- where he was born
and make a determination accordingly. So, for example, Adam is of course circumcised but Jean-Paul is not. When they are first getting to know each other and Adam is a bit bowled over by falling in love with a mutant he says to Jean-Paul that he just can’t get used to the idea that he’s involved with someone who can fly
. And adds, “Where I come from, even the skiing is exotic enough. Not to mention the foreskin.” Later on, when they agree to raise their son Jewish, Wendy asks Jean-Paul if he’s going to convert and he says he wouldn’t even consider it because “it would involve surgery that just isn’t going to happen.”
My one anomalous penis :-) is Logan's. I write him as circumcised, in spite of the fact that he was born in the nineteenth century, when the practice was not common at all. I also think he had to have been circumcised as a baby or child, since his healing factor would have ensured that the foreskin would have grown back if he’d had the procedure after he came into his powers. So it’s a bit of a mystery why he’s circumcised.
At some point I will deal with that mystery in my fiction. Scott will ask him why he's circumcised. He'll say "I don't know, why are you?" To which Scott will respond, "Because I was born in 1978 in Indiana. My parents would have been making an unconventional choice not to, and they never made unconventional choices." And then they'll think about how it could be that Logan has no foreskin. Clearly it was done before he came into his powers, but why? His amnesia still prevents him from remembering anything of his childhood, so he only knows that as long as he can remember he has been without a foreskin.
|Date:||January 21st, 2007 09:29 pm (UTC)|| |
For my fandom, that's euro-influenced modern North America. Circumision is a given.
Is it? For the past 25 years or so, a full 1/3 of USAmerican boys have not been circumcised. But it certainly varies based on ethnic background.
My experience with anti-circ hyperbole hasn't actually been in fannish circles but in parenting ones and in Jewish ones (with non-Jewish anti-circ people coming into the venue to tell us we're child absuers). I was just concerned that it could spread to anywhere that the topic is discussed, so I thought I'd head that one off at the pass.
|Date:||January 21st, 2007 08:25 pm (UTC)|| |
My handling of circumcision in fanfic is based, mostly like yours, on where and when various characters are born. Ray K, an American in the due South canon, is circumsised while Benton Fraser, a rural Canadian who was canonically 'born in a barn' is not. Logan, of the X-men, I chose to be uncircumsiced, partly because I got tired of so many stories simply assuming that foreskins simply don't exist-I *never* read any stories with uncircumsised men, no matter when/where the stories were set who weren't circumsised. Plus the whole 'foreskins are gross' vibe I get from some fanwriters pissed me off.
In the RL, the thing that irritates me is that circumsicion - a non-medically neccesary procedure - is covered in most insurance policies; even when the insurance policy is supposed to be based on 'medically neccesary procedures only'. But, it's only covered if you have it done neonatally. I had to handle a grievance when I was working health insurance from a parent who had the 'locker room' fear and wanted to have her 13 year old circumsised. It wasn't eligible as it wasn't medically neccesary. Made no sense to me, obviously.
|Date:||January 21st, 2007 09:14 pm (UTC)|| |
I've found the opposite to be true about insurance companies - I'm sure it varies from insurance company to insurance company and by time and place. But when my son was born, neonatal circumcision was not covered by our insurance, but circumcision later for medical reasons (e.g. phimosis) was.
Hmmm, I don't even know how I would write a scene differently if it included uncircumcised, as opposed to circumcised, men. I've had sex with both and I haven't noticed any big difference. I mean, I guess you could add some description of the foreskin, but I don't find the word "foreskin" terribly erotic. I think "cock" is hotter and I guess my preference would just be to stick with it and not get all clinical and specific.
Interesting post, though. I just read in the paper last week about how circumcision was seen as almost better than a (in the future, possible) vaccination for HIV for men in Africa.
|Date:||January 22nd, 2007 12:26 am (UTC)|| |
Well, first of all I do think that the author ought to know a lot more about the characters than she necessarily writes into each (or any) scene. And I'd include for someone writing explicit sex, what the characters' genitals look like as something to know.
I also think it's possible to write sex scenes that are specific without being clinical. A foreskin can be referred to much as the head of the cock is or the shaft or talking about balls. It can be referred to in terms of how the owner of the foreskin feels to have it played with, or how it feels or tastes to his lover.
Also, some men (and women, too, but since I write slash I think in terms of men) have strong sexual preferences for uncut or cut, and that can come up in the narrative. Someone might speculate before he has sex with a man he's interested in or he might (depending upon how they know each other) see him naked in a locker room and know whether he's circumcised or not, and have feelings (positive or negative) about that.
In What's Past is Prologue, for example, I have Jean-Paul picking men up in gay bars for sex in the back room. He meets a guy and says that he's looking for someone who wants to suck his cock, and the guy replies "Cut or uncut?" To which J-P answers something like "Un-. Does that count for me or against me with you?" I think that's a pretty realistic exchange, but it's not a clinical one.
On the other subject, of course since we don't know how effective a vaccine would be it's all speculation, but circumcision is really remarkably effective, from a public health POV. Whether it will be adopted as general practice remains to be seen, though. It's sooooo culture based. I've actually been very surprised by how accepted it's been in the clinical trials.
I came here all ready to stomp and say that Harry Potter is British and intact and got distracted by the interestingness!!
But I cannot imagine a 13-year-old boy - or a prospective groom - would have to prove he was circ'ed - surely he'd just need his parents' marriage documents, to prove he was Jewish and he could have his bar mitzvah or wedding?
|Date:||January 22nd, 2007 12:36 am (UTC)|| |
I'm sorry to lose you an opportunity to rant about circumcised Potters! Please feel free to do so just the same.
As to Jewish boys and bar mitzvahs, I suppose it's possible for a family to move just before their son turns 13 and then just join a shul and have a bar mitzvah, no one the wiser, but it seems a lot of trouble. In general, boys are being bar mitzvahed in a shul community in which they grew up. What I've seen with uncirc'ed Jewish boys is one of two circumstances:
- the parents make a conscious effort to deceive the community about their choice. They don't hire Jewish babysitters when the boys are babies/toddlers, don't change the baby at shul if anyone can see, teach him as he gets older not to use a urinal or change in a public locker room lest anyone know. This induces imo great shame around the genitals and is very bad news. It's also possible that the rabbi will catch on and will ask the parents if the child was circumcised. They can, of course, lie, but again I think hiding this choice and lying about it is not a good thing for the kid.
- the parents don't hide their choice and it is a controversial one and known in the community. The rabbi discusses it with them and reiterates that brit milah is necessary for bar mitzvah. As I said, I do know kids who needed to make that decision and although the parents felt they were empowering the child to decide for himself, that's not how the kids viewed it.
As to a wedding, I think it's actually *more* likely that a man would be asked to produce a certificate saying that he had a bris than his parents' marriage certificate. But you're right that he'd likely be able to get away with getting married if he was doing so in a community where his family was not known. He would likely be asked if he's Jewish, if his mother was Jewish when he was born, if he was circumcised, etc. But it's quite true that someone who is willing to lie about any of those can likely get away with deceiving people, since no one is going to inspect his penis.
My main fandom is Rent. One of the main characters, Mark, is Jewish. So when I write anything involving Mark's penis, he's always circumcised. The little we see of his family in the show, I've always gotten the impression that they had a relaxed point of view of religious practices (at one point his mother says that their family will miss him on Christmas, something that brings up a lot of argument in the fandom), but I've never seen any reason why he wouldn't be circumcised.
Though, I will be the first person to admit that I know very little about Judaism. :)
Another one of the main characters is Roger, whose religious upbringing, or any of his upbringing, is never brought up. If it comes up in a story, I do tend to write him as uncircumcised. Why? I personally like the look of an uncircumcised penis, and when I'm writing a sex scene, I find it attractive.
And, there's also that I tend to write Roger having sex with Mark, it just brings another difference between them. Something else to show that they come from very different places, and are very different people, and, yet, here they are. It's subtle, though, and I don't always bring up whether or not they're circumcised. It often doesn't fit in with the story, but I standardly see Roger as uncircumcised, and Mark as circumcised. What the reader sees, if I don't mention it, is really up to them.
|Date:||January 22nd, 2007 12:38 am (UTC)|| |
That's pretty interesting. I like the idea of it being yet another difference between them. And yes, I think even very unaffiliated Jewish families usually circumcise their sons.
Oh and I love Rent (the Broadway show and the movie) but had no idea there's Rent fanfic!
|Date:||January 21st, 2007 11:46 pm (UTC)|| |
Personally (and I may be oversharing), I wish my parents hadn't had me circumcised. I don't really bear them any resentment, but had I been consulted I would've elected not to have it done. I imagine I'd feel much different if I was Jewish. It's such a part of the Jewish identity. I honestly didn't have any strong feelings about it until I actually saw one. I decided right there that no one is ever doing that to my kid. From what I've read studies have shown that the circumcisions performed by a mohel is apparently far less traumatic than circumcisions performed by a physician. But since I don't have that option, or any strong cultural incentive, I'd just as soon not.
It doesn't so often crop up in the fanfic I write, since I don't often write explicit sex scenes, but it is something I keep in mind when I read fanfic and it will often throw me out of a story if a character I've decided in my head should or shouldn't be circumcised (mostly due to the criteria you mentioned) turns out to be otherwise.
|Date:||January 22nd, 2007 12:43 am (UTC)|| |
It's not oversharing. I think it's pretty interesting. As I said elsewhere, some people have strong preferences in partners, and others have preferences in themselves. But the preferences are unpredictable - e.g. some will wish they were if they aren't and some will wish they weren't if they are. Some gay men and straight women prefer a circumcised partner, and some prefer an intact one. And since we don't know what our sons will prefer when they grow up or who their partners will be and what they'll prefer, we have to kind of make this decision blind. As I said, I think it's an easy decision for me because I'm Jewish, but if I were not raising a son Jewish I kind of think I wouldn't have done it, feeling that the medical reasons just aren't sufficient. And then I'd be second-guessing myself now that the HIV data is in.
A young gay man I know well (longtime family friend since his childhood) made the decision while still in high school -at about 17 or 18 years old- to be circumcised. He made the decision for esthetic purposes, not health, as far as I know.
He was in the awkward position of explaining his elective surgery choice to his friends (why he wouldn't be available for Spring Break fun with the gang.) He was teased a little bit, but not much. Most of his young friends figured it was his business, after all.
I think that their acceptance of that choice made it much easier for him to "come out" to them a few months later.
BTW, he does not regret the choice to be circumcised, even though as an adult it was indeed quite uncomfortable, with an extended recovery time. (If I remember correctly, he had not been a healthy infant, so his parents deferred the proceedure, then never revisited it while he was a baby. His family's insurance did cover it, although it was elective.)
|Date:||January 22nd, 2007 12:44 am (UTC)|| |
That's so interesting how it's tied to coming out. I'm glad he's happy with his decision.
Here by some link or other (don't remember)
As an European Atheist I think Circumcision for healt is ok and still acceptable if for religion if the family really believes.
If the family just does it because it is expected or it is done for esthetic reasons I see it as something that should not be done.
(I know a family that Circumciced the baby boy for estethics, but did not allow the 6 year old daughter get her earlobes pierced a few weeks later because she should wait to damage her body until she is an adult. Very WTFy, IMO)
I recently also talked to a Turkish friend of mine about Circumcision in his religion, and he said that it is not really part of the Moslem religion, and people on the countryside are doing it mostly because of heat and hygienic reasons, why it's not common in cities with their high western standarts)
As for Fanfic:
It may not be a big diffrence in sex (unless there is a condom involved - but that happend hardly enough), but that extra bit of skin can be quite fun to play around with during a blowjob (perhaps that was a bit TMI)
|Date:||January 22nd, 2007 01:48 am (UTC)|| |
Hi, there. Welcome to my journal :-). If you do remember where you saw a link please let me know. I was surprised to see unfamiliar "faces" commenting.
Anyway, I find it interesting that you are an atheist but deem other people's choices on circumcision "acceptable" only if their religious beliefs are to your mind "real" enough. Does that seem as strange to you as it does to me :-)? It's kind of like someone who eats meat commenting on whether or not vegetarians should eat milk and eggs or just be vegan, yk?
FWIW, I think that in Judaism it's at least as much tribal as religious a practice and will be more of one for some and more of the other for other people. Many Jews who are mostly unaffiliated with Judaism as a religion still feel enough of a connection to the cultural/ethnic/tribal aspects that they want to circumcise their sons. In addition, for a lot of non-religious Jews it's an expression of faith - not in G-d but in their fellow citizens, that it is safe to raise a boy who is visibly Jewish.
I don't know about your Turkish friend, but certainly there are many authoritative Islamic sources that state that circumcision is now and historically has been a Muslim practice.
Thanks for commenting! And I'm an ex-librarian - we librarians don't believe there's such thing as TMI.
90% of the characters I write live in places and times where only Jews are circumcised. So my default setting is "of course not". Only twice has it been a plot point -- once in X Men, in my prequel way back how Magneto and Mystique got together in movieverse, because of course Erik is, and once in my novel, which is in the ancient world, and Egyptians like Jews circumcise. I guess it doesn't really occur to me that it's as common today as it is.
|Date:||January 22nd, 2007 01:52 am (UTC)|| |
I guess it doesn't really occur to me that it's as common today as it is.
It's funny how people's perceptions are all over the map, from those who think that almost all men in the US are circumcised to those who think it has become a rare choice in recent years.
0% of the characters I write live in places and times where only Jews are circumcised.
That's interesting. I thought you were mostly an X-Men writer, but I guess not!
I've never really focused on this in fanfic! None of the boys in my family are circumcised - my dad is Scottish, it never really was that popular in Australia and is pretty rare these days outside the Jewish and Muslim communities. So my default assumption would be "no", unless there was a particular reason for that character to have undergone this.
As for Logan, parts of his comics backstory have him living with a Blackfoot tribe - I wonder if they practice adult circumcision?
|Date:||January 22nd, 2007 02:14 am (UTC)|| |
Hmm on Logan and the Blackfoots (Blackfeet?) about whom I know nothing :-). I will have to come up with an answer to my mystery before I write that scene, I suppose. I don't use his comics backstory, although I take elements from it (e.g. my Logan has a Japanese period, but it's considerably earlier than the comics one).
I've never really focused on this in fanfic!
I haven't much, either. It would make an interesting content analysis project to take a large sample of slash sex scenes and categorize them according to whether the characters are circumcised, uncircumcised, or undetermined from the description. My guess is that the largest number would be in the third category.
Funny! I was just having to decide on foreskin-states for the chapters I'm reaching. I'll say that Bobby and John are not the same and that's all I'll say for now. I'm of two minds about Lance...
One comment to add to an above thread. Circumcision is so important to religious Jews that if you are converting to Judaism and you are already circumcised, you have to be pricked and a drop of blood produced as a symbolic brit milah.
I'm personally more fond of intact penises, although different foreskins, even with proper hygiene, produce different scents and tastes and not every one is appealing to me. The major difference sexually is in masturbation, frankly. It feels totally different to jerk off an uncut dick. Preferable to me.