Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Can Lesbians Ethically Circumcise Their Sons?

My wife and I have had incredible intensity about this subject in every possible direction. We came to this issue from the perspective of sex positive lesbian feminists who couldn't imagine doing something to our son that would cause him pain or possibly diminish his sexual experience. At the same time, Laura couldn't imagine, despite her politics, having a Jewish son who wasn't circumcised. This is way more complicated than I can begin to explain in this blog, so I'll leave it at that.

As a non-Jew, I don't have any of the cultural and tribal associations with the procedure but really get how deep some of that is for Laura and many other Jewish people. Through this process, I made it clear to Laura that, while it's not 100% her call, she gets a lot of weight inthis one. We would never choose to do this for our son if neither of us were Jewish but we are a Jewish family. ALSO, I would not be contemplating this if, given the information I had, I thought it would be a horrendously traumatizing experience for him. I'll get to that later...


We went round and round but were just unable to make a decision. I was about 80% sure that I didn't want to (and she was probably that close) but we couldn't shake Laura's relationship to Judaism and the intention we have of raising our son Jewish and how circumcision is tied to that for her. We were definitely leaning further towards the decision not to but still, Laura really couldn't feel in her gut whatwas the right decision so we just started talking to everyone we couldthink of that might have something useful to contribute.

We talked to Jews who didn't circumcise (found a bunch) and lesbians who did (also found a bunch). We wanted to talk to men who had and men who hadn't been circumcised (chatted with a few). We obesessively read Berkeley Parents Network, both about how people decided to do itand not do it and about reports on Moyels in the community who might do ours. It became clear from zillions of posts and in person comments about Chanan Feld, that if we were to do this, this would be the guy. Parent after parent reported that at their son's bris, he cried when his diaper was taken off and barely flinched when the actual cut happened.

Honestly, I was shocked. This was nothing likeI had imagined- no reports of hysterical infants, lots of blood or just general awfulness. It definitely didn't sound pleasant, but at least the reports from those who worked with Chanan made it sound quick and relatively uneventful. I also have been thinking a lot about the work that has been done about the neurobiology of the trauma of circumcisions. I can almost guarantee that the studies were done on infants circumcised in hospitals, where they're taken away from their parents, in a cold room with strangers and have the procedure done by someone with less than stellar skills than most moyels. Hell yeah, that would be traumatic, but in my mind only a fraction of that would be because of the actual cut. That's part of what a bris is to me- a bringing together of community to support and surround this new person in a time of some discomfort caused by transformation.

We still needed more counsel, so we made an appointment with Jhos Singer, the FTM Rabbi who married us almost 3 years ago. It was during this conversation that we both got clear about a lot of things. Jhos has 2 boys so we talked about his decision making process with this issue and his own kids. We talked about Laura's very complicated relationship with Judaism. We talked about how this is just the first of so many decisions that we will have to make and to choose not to do something is also making a decision. We talked about what might happen 20 years from now, when our son comes to us, so angry that we made a decision for him and what would we feel better having decided and what we might say to him. We talked about Chanah Feld, the moyel we would possibly use, and about the collective experience of a bris versus a baby naming or other type of ritual. We talked for about 2 hours and at the end, we decided that the best decision we can make right now, knowing all that we know and feeling all that we feel, is to circumcise him. It might not be the right decision but it just might be and only time will tell for us.

We're also totally getting that this is just the beginning of hard decisions that we may have to make as parents that people won't always support. Vaccines, circumcision, TV, junk food, psych meds...the list is endless and so varied in terms of magnitude.

I write this, not to justify our decision, as much as to share our experience. The end result of this journey is not at all what I expected when we learned we were having a boy 5 months ago and I think Laura would say the same...

3 comments:

Oz said...

I think what gets left out of these decisions often is the man one's son will become. It's easy to think of this mainly as your decision to make, amongst so many others. But there's a difference with circumcision because your son will live with the results every day of his life. And the choice is irreversible.

I realize it's hard to argue against what somebody believes is required by their religion. Still, there is a case to be made.

First, your son may not share your religious views, at least to the extent of genital cutting.

Second, there is a Jewish movement recognizing the harm of this ancient practice and the need to modernize:

Jewish Circumcision Resource Center

Jews Against Circumcision

Brit Shalom

You may not be aware that the male foreskin is highly erogenous. As such, assertions that it's acceptable to remove it are dubious. We know a lot that we didn't know thousands of years ago.

There is a medical study which shows that circumcision removes highly sensitive tissue:

Penile Touch-Test Sensitivity Study

I applaud you for considering the ethical ramifications in addition to the cultural ones. Circumcision is something those who experience it must live with forever. It is not to be taken lightly.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to social media, the anecdotal evidence that circumcision is sex negative, is steadily growing. It is sex negative not only for the man it is done to, but also for the people with whom he interacts sexually. Many Bay Area gay men will attest to this.

A California synagogue liberal enough to welcome a lesbian parenting couple is also liberal enough to accept an intact male congregant.

Anonymous said...




stole both the foreskin and frenulum. yes ??

you terminally eradicated - amputated a functioning part of the body.

the hypocrisy of doing what's good for you.