I recently read a devastating article in the New Yorker about a botched circumcision. Gary Shteyngart is to be admired for articulating, with searing honesty, the life-long pain and devastation after what happened to the most private part of him.
His tale involves a move from the Soviet Union in 1979, when he was seven, uncircumcised; a father who came under the influence of a Hasidic sect going door to door in Brooklyn and Queens, telling Soviet Jews that they had to circumcise their boys; being teased by American boys in his school for not being circumcised; the need to belong; too little foreskin removed; a skin bridge; improper healing; infection; pain; problems urinating; a disfigured penis; shame.
Although it settled down once the infection had subsided the problems returned with a vengeance in 2020, when a tiny hair formed a tourniquet around the skin bridge and became infected. The problems mounted as various doctors tried various treatments and he had second surgeries. And now he suffers constant sensitivity, pain and inflammation in the most tender part of his anatomy; his whole identity under siege.
The religious background to circumcision is covered in the article; it was news to me that it originated in much the same way as Female Genital Mutilation — as a way to control (male) sexuality.
Imagine the trauma of a seven year old, in order to please his father, allowing “the forcible removal of a part of me that had been intended by nature as a nexus of pleasure.”
Circumcision is an unnecessary dangerous life-changing (and sometimes fatal) operation performed on male infants and boys. Parents and governments around the world are reconsidering the practice. Denmark and Iceland’s parliaments have debated banning the procedure.
It is now time for Ireland to debate whether, along with FGM, the circumcision of any male under the age of 18, where not medically required, should remain a legal practice.
Let boys born in Ireland decide for themselves when they become adults. If this is what they want to do, for religious reasons or otherwise, it should be their decision, not their parents. Hear this Jewish woman's words to her son when he asked why he wasn’t circumcised: “You are a Jew in your head and your heart, not your penis.”
We don’t allow parents to (make arrangements) to chop off the tip of their son’s finger. Shouldn't we also not allow parents to (make arrangements) to chop off part of their son's genitals?
This is a delicate matter regarding a traditional religious practice; but by not talking about it the problem remains underground.
© Alison Hackett, 26 July 2022
I have written this opinion as a blog as none of the mainstream newspapers in Ireland wanted to print it as a letter to the editor. Perhaps the topic is too sensitive for their readers; or there is a legal issue and they would be open to litigation if they published it; or they didn't find it of any interest. Here's hoping it is the first or second reason 🙏
Alison Hackett — Director and founder of 21st Century Renaissance; author of The Visual Time Traveller 500 Years of History, Art and Science in 100 Unique Designs