Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thousands of cuts

(possible trigger warning for discussions of forced genital modification and descriptions of people defending it)

Half of my family is Jewish, so one of the things my mother asked me when I revealed my pregnancy was if we were going to plan for a bris in the advent of having a child with a penis. I told her no, despite my desire to raise my child with an awareness of their Jewish heritage, I have no desire to subject them to unnecessary surgery. Its hir body, not mine and I will no more get a child with a penis circumcised than have surgery done to "correct" ambiguous genitalia.

I got into a big argument on New Year's with a bunch of people in my family about this. To be clear, I was asked if we were planning to circumcise (it was not presented as though it was assumed we would) and I just said "no" citing that I believed that the kid's body belongs to hir, especially once zie is no longer dependent on my body for survival so I don't feel I have the right to decide that for hir. This has been my stance on everything from forced sexual assignment surgery as referenced in the above paragraph to ear piercings in infancy. Suddenly I'm being forced to defend my stance on this to a roomful of people, some of whom I don't know very well if at all. (As a note, my mother was supportive of me, though not vehemently, and did apologize for bringing it up in a place where I would have to defend it to almost complete strangers.)

My two favorite arguments? "But, you'll have to teach them how to clean it!" Yes, I'm going to have to teach hir how to wipe hir ass too, provided zie is able to. This is different how? And "Well, I just think that cut penises are more attractive/cleaner-looking" Well, that's a wonderful argument. You think I should remove a part of my child's genitalia because you won't want to look at it if I don't? How about this? Don't like uncut penises? Don't look at my child's penis!

And all of this before anyone even knows if the kid HAS ONE YET. Hell, I don't even know!

And this is just part of it. I did realize that most of what was driving the arguments was that my stance made people feel like I was accusing them of being willing to abuse a child for no reason (to be fair, by virtue of explaining my stance, I was) and a feeling of insecurity in the men that were defending the practice. I actually had to tell one guy, who is the same age as my father and whom I had just met that evening, that he was allowed to feel comfortable about the state of his penis regardless of whether he had a choice in that state, but could he please stop trying to use religious law that I don't believe in to argue for me cutting my child.

What sent me reeling the most about the entire thing was that no one batted an eye at being presented with evidence that cutting off the foreskin is not in any way scientifically beneficial to a person that has no medical complications surrounding said foreskin. I mean, I present people with facts in the face of popular oppressive myths all the time. I have a file cabinet in my brain and a list of authors and research papers in my phone that I use as back-up because I believe/d that when presented with enough evidence of a specific "legitimate" type, people would be forced to listen and at the very least, I could plant a seed in their awareness and show them the direction that seed was growing in.

And with most of those discussions, I'm forced to use evidence that is often waved away as "opinion" because its not quantitative "hard" numbers. People regularly respond to my evidence with "well, I think that..." as though their opinion somehow cancels out decades, if not centuries of evolving scholarship, not to mention the detailed and documented experiences of the people actually living through the conditions being discussed. I was actually surprised how even the quantitative evidence was met with "well, I think that..." when confronting a structure like circumcision (good for you! you have an opinion! that flies in the face of both medical evidence and my child's right to bodily autonomy, but hey! We can pretend that those things are equal if it will get you to shut the fuck up and leave me alone.)

I realize I'm relying on a specific social construction of "logical science" as defined by an oppressive power structure to try and make people see the flaws in said power structure and the ways in which that structure is perpetuated based on "we said so" as opposed to anything that actually fits its own definition of "scientific evidence." Maybe that's why it doesn't work.

Its situations like this that make me wonder if there is any tool that will help people see the contradictions in the world around them that lead them to support oppressive power structures. Is just living in an awareness of those structures and living a life attempting to subvert as many as I can enough? Beyond enough, is it all that I can reasonably expect to do? Because it doesn't feel like enough. And it does feel like if I just stretch a little farther, try a little harder, mix just the right amount of information in just the right way, I'll find the cure. Like its hovering on the edge of my consciousness and I can see it in the corner of my minds eye but it disappears as soon as I turn towards it. Like trying to see yourself in a mirror with your eyes closed.