My Circumcision Story


By Jerry Brayton


"I would rather have been raped than circumcised."


It is a great relief to talk about my circumcision. No other event in my life has affected me as strongly as this mutilation done to my body when I was just a few days old. And there is no other event about which I am nearly as angry, sad, and depressed. Even so, this is the first time I have sat down and tried to recount the ways circumcision has affected my life -- physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually.

I was born in 1960. Although my circumcision was not what most doctors would call "botched" (all circumcisions are botched by definition, in my opinion, because they destroy healthy, functional tissue), my circumcision was tight and extensive. My entire frenulum was removed.

Like most other circumcised males, I do not remember my circumcision consciously. In August 1994, however, I attended a workshop using specialized breathing techniques to access intense repressed emotional states. I remembered and relived the experience of being circumcised (with less intensity, however, than I must have felt as an baby).

Most of what I learned about human sexuality during my early adolescence came from a few well-written books, such as Wardell Pomeroy's Boys and Sex. My family was quite repressed sexually. I don't remember their ever being physically affectionate beyond goodnight kisses, nor were they very affectionate with my younger brother and me. Their only attempt to discuss sex with me was rather pathetic. When I was seventeen and already had a girlfriend, my father came into my room and made a painfully awkward attempt to discuss sex with me. I felt sorry and embarrassed for him. I'm sad that my parents gave me no real support or guidance as I entered into the mysterious world of adult sexuality.

As a child, I vaguely remember hearing about circumcision from time to time. I grew up in suburban Southern California, where almost all the boys I knew were circumcised too. Like many other boys of my era, I assumed I had not been circumcised. My penis looked like everyone else's and I assumed I had all of the penis I was born with. I remember feeling glad that this strange, horrible thing had not been done to me.

As I grew into a young adult, however, I became aware of information that made me think that maybe I was in fact circumcised. I don't remember the exact sequence of events, but I think it was around 1985, when I was 25, that I realized for sure that my penis had been surgically cut.

I spent several years in denial about this and the pain and loss it represented. I tried many rationalizations, which were easier than accepting that I had lost so important a part of my identity and self. In 1987, I began attending men's events that focused on support and personal growth. Some included workshops on circumcision. In 1989, I began to acknowledge to myself more consciously my anger and unhappiness that someone had cut part of my penis off when I was a baby.

The following summer, I attended a support meeting organized by the National Organization of Restoring Men (NORM) (then known as RECAP), founded to offer emotional support to men involved in non-surgical foreskin restoration. Restoration entails gradually stretching the remaining penile skin to re-cover the glans. Since that meeting, I have attempted foreskin restoration several times. NORM founder Wayne Griffiths generously and kindly kept in touch with me for several years after I returned to Boston, where I was then living. More recently, other restoring men have helped me in my attempt to restore.

I've had little success, however. I find using the various devices to stretch my remaining skin very draining emotionally because it reminds me of what I have lost. I also had problems with urination and soreness from taping, etc. Because my circumcision is relatively tight, I have to do more to achieve a given degree of restoration than men whose circumcisers left them more skin. My longest period of attempting restoration was two to three months in 1994. I'm not restoring right now. I want to, but I'm not sure when I will have the determination and resolve necessary to see this emotionally and physically demanding, drawn out process through to its successful end.

I talked with my mother about circumcision for the first time in December 1992. A month later we talked about it again. Both times, I was terrified to mention the subject to her. I was sure she would shame me or refuse to discuss it. However, my mother has grown in many ways over the past thirty years, especially since the death of my father in 1990. She listened to what I had to say and even acknowledged that she understood that I was in pain and why I was in pain. Although she didn't say so, it was clear that she regretted allowing me and my brother to be circumcised. She told me she had given the matter almost no thought at the time, as I had suspected. The doctor had advised her that circumcision was "cleaner," and that was enough to satisfy her and my father that I should be circumcised.

In a third conversation with my mother, in October 1996, she told me that my father was circumcised. This surprised me because he was born in Nebraska in 1924, when circumcision in the U.S. was still uncommon. The fact that he was circumcised surely affected my parents' decision to have me circumcised too.

The last time I saw my beloved grandfather alive, August 1995, I noticed that he wasn't circumcised. This didn't surprise me because he was born in Oklahoma in 1904. But I felt sad that he was whole and I wasn't.

Since I first discussed circumcision with my mother, I have frequently alluded to my anti-circumcision activism when I talk or write to her. I don't go out of my way to mention the subject but I do let her know what I'm doing when it fits into the flow of the conversation or my letter. I still usually feel somewhat awkward and nervous about mentioning circumcision to her, but I continue to share my thoughts and feelings about this with her.

I often wonder if being aware of the damage I have suffered hasn't made me enjoy life less. I wonder if I wouldn't have been much happier if I had remained unaware of what I have lost. This, of course, is like asking what it would be like to be a fish. It's futile. I did in fact come to understand that my circumcision had removed a significant, irreplaceable component of sexual pleasure possible only with a foreskin and rendered me incapable of ever experiencing it.

This loss is what upsets me most. I can deal with the appearance of my circumcised penis. But knowing that I never have experienced and never will experience the full range of sexual sensations and pleasures intact males enjoy and take for granted is very hard for me to accept and deal with.

My own sexual history has contributed to my turmoil about all this. I was 26 before I developed enough self-confidence and worked through the sexuality issues I had from my childhood enough to begin enjoying a fairly normal, healthy sex life. So my grief at realizing I have been denied the the full range of pleasurable sensations possible only with a foreskin and frenulum is compounded by my loss of roughly a decade of sexual activity and enjoyment.

Before I learned that there were other men unhappy about being circumcised who had started a movement to end routine circumcision, I had already thought about circumcision as an extreme form of rape. I would rather have been raped than circumcised.

I am reminded of my loss several times a day every day of my life. It's a kind of torture, from which I can never escape. I can never get it out of my mind. Every time I urinate, every time I have an erection, every time I dress or undress or take a shower or walk down the street, I am reminded that part of my penis is missing. Every time my naked glans touches my clothing, I am reminded that I have no foreskin. Bicycling is especially troublesome because my glans touches my pants almost every time I raise and lower my legs. When I was a child I wondered why the head of my penis was the first place I felt pain when it was cold.

Like many other circumcised males, I rediscover the horror of circumcision firsthand every day. I have noticed a dramatic, heartbreaking loss of sexual sensitivity during the last couple of years. This is caused, of course, by the continuous build-up of layers of keratin over the mucous membrane tissue that remains on the penis after the foreskin is removed.

Because my ongoing experience with circumcision affects my life so strongly, it has fueled my commitment to the struggle for men's rights and male equality in our society. My circumcision constantly reminds me that I am not crazy in thinking that our society oppresses males as well as females. This is not yet the conventional awareness and may not be for a long time. But circumcision reminds me that many of our ideas come from cultural prejudices and blindnesses, and reaffirms for me the importance of thinking for oneself and not just blindly trusting and accepting preconceived notions.

It hurts and angers me deeply that our society shows so much compassion for women and children yet so little for the concerns and struggles of men. The signs of this are all around us: the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in a society where three-fourths of all victims of violence are male. Almost as many males as females are the victims of domestic violence, but much more help and support are available to females. Men around the world are systematically forced to sacrifice their bodies and lives in war. We are also forced to give our bodies and lives in the workplace; 94% of all Americans who die at work are male.

I have come to believe that the numbness in our circumcised penises parallels and even contributes to our emotional numbness that those in power, and society in general, regard as necessary in order for us to fulfill our roles as producers.

I would give everything I own to have my foreskin back, to know how I was meant to be, to have my body whole and natural. I would give up my music collection, probably my single most valued possession, and everything else I own, including my house and life savings.

Circumcision without the consent of the circumcised, regardless of the parents' wishes or religious beliefs, should definitely be outlawed.

I feel much more anger toward my circumciser than toward my parents. Considering when and where I was born, my parents would have had to have been unusually questioning people to have saved me from the knife. Actually, they were quite typical for that time and place and would never have acted against a doctor's advice. Given the kind of people they were, I had no hope of remaining intact.

I feel some anger toward them for not questioning this terrible violation of their firstborn's physical integrity, but I feel much more anger toward the doctor, who should have known, and perhaps did know better. It is criminal that he advised thousands of parents to have the genitals of their newborn, perfect baby boys cut.

I definitely think that my circumciser should have been stopped by force. I wouldn't go so far as to say that he and others who cut off healthy foreskins should receive the death penalty. I do think, however, that life imprisonment would be morally justified, because he significantly harmed thousands of lives.

Many babies have died as a result of circumcision, and many others have lost their entire penis and then been cut even more to turn them into "girls." This strikes me as absolutely outrageous.

Another unfortunate effect of my circumcision is the anger I feel toward society for its refusal to recognize male pain and male suffering. These feelings have affected my friendships and romantic relationships and have made it difficult at times for me to sustain certain connections. When a potential friend or lover can't or won't recognize or acknowledge the horrors of circumcision and/or the other forms of oppression and pain most males in our society are forced to endure, I can become quite emotional, sometimes at the expense of the relationship. Once I became fully aware of how circumcision has harmed me, this was almost inevitable. It's another way circumcised has harmed me indirectly.

Recently I talked about circumcision with a Jewish friend who is the mother of a boy who, like most other Jewish boys, is circumcised. Her open-mindedness, for which I was grateful, surprised me. I know that because of my own turbulent feelings about this issue, I did not present my point of view as calmly and effectively as I might have.

I feel extremely frustrated that in 1998, in a developed country, we have to spend time and energy even discussing this. Do we discuss why babies' arms and legs should not be cut off? Do we weigh the medical advantages and disadvantages of amputating women's breasts? It is only because of our peculiar cultural history of practicing circumcision for the last century that this horrible mutilation is even an issue. In a truly civilized society such discussions would never even arise.


Copyright 1998 Jerry K. Brayton

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without express written permission of author


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