Monday, January 3, 2011

Confessions of a Circumcised Woman

Photo © Joseph Lewis. View his full photo essay here: 
http://guggiedaly.blogspot.com/2011/07/who-would-you-cut.html
© V. Burns 2011, published with permission:

The other day I had one of many debates that I have with a particular man in my life. This debate is on how he tried to defend his newborn circumcision and his reasons why all boys should be circumcised. His final argument when he realized none of the standard careworn and overused ones were working?

 "You are a woman without a penis so you really have no right to weigh in on this circumcision debate anyway."

It was then that I knew it was time to step forward and to stop hiding. I am thirty years old. I am white, not Middle Eastern or from Sudan or Malaysia or of the Muslim faith. My father is Irish Catholic. My mother is a Jewish woman who converted to Catholicism when she married my father. Both of my brothers are circumcised and my mother is adamant in her defense of their circumcision.

I step out of the shower and I stand in front of the mirror and I look like your average European American, pale skin, red hair, green eyes. I am not your average woman though.

I am circumcised.

I am a white American, non-Muslim woman who was circumcised as a toddler by the same pediatrician that circumcised my brothers and at the same hospital at which I was born. I have no clitoral hood and only a V shaped scar and the tiniest bit of inner labia they were kind enough to leave behind. I always knew something was different. I have a half sister seven years my senior and she had a normal looking vagina. Mine always looked wrong to me but I never said anything because after all, every woman is unique and different.

I also have this vague and disturbing memory from when I was two and the most uncomfortable sexual feeling even at a young age around male doctors. When I married young to my now ex-husband on our honeymoon he said, "I have never seen a vagina like yours! It is amazingly perfect, too perfect, like something is missing." That too perfect vagina was most certainly missing something, and would cause me serious sexual issues that I chalked up to a sexual assault at the age of eighteen. If only I had know that it had been assaulted by a knife long before that perhaps I could have come to terms much sooner.

It was only as I was nearing my late twenties, had been divorced and had other sexual partners all of which commented in some way or another on the difference of my vagina, that I had an uncontrollable urge to dig deeper. Then at a well woman check up with my now favorite Ob/Gyn he told me or rather asked me why I was a circumcised female. He felt awful when he realized that I did not know and he had assumed I had consented to vaginal cosmetic surgery. As an aside I am happy to report that because of my experience and continued dialogue with him he is now against MGM (Male Genital Mutilation) a practice he used to support. 

After months of demanding, digging, and putting my foot down I obtained the records from my birth that told me nothing but did lead me to my childhood pediatrician. Those records revealed the ghastly truth of a two-year-old girl circumcised at her mother's request. In sadness I confronted my mother and was adamantly told that she had always done what was best for her children and had no regrets but did not want to speak of it.

I made an appointment to speak to the now retired physician only to have him move away before I could speak with him. I am still searching for him. I know he was an old friend of my parents who also did my brothers' bris. Surely he will know why my mother would request such a thing for her daughter. My father remains largely silent on the issue. "You know your mother," is the only answer I receive from him.

When my son was born I was young, I had familial and societal pressure. But I did NOT allow him to be assaulted with a knife . As a mother all that was in me cried out to truly research and know that genital mutilation is not okay. And now I know that not only as a mother but also as a survivor of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) every instinct told me not to allow him to be cut.

I will speak out against MGM because just like those innocent baby boys my prepuce has been removed. Can I orgasm? Yes I can. Within about sixty seconds of sexual contact I orgasm. Sounds good right? WRONG. After I orgasm I experience oversensitive raw pain for the duration of the sexual contact. There is no hood to protect my clitoris. I may very well be the only woman out there who is looking for a partner who is a "one minute wonder" to spend the rest of my life with. Even now, years later, clothing, undergarments, contact... all of these irritate my overexposed clitoris. I also have to deal with the fact that if I choose to have a new sexual partner I will deal with the inevitable comments and questions which leave me feeling unattractive and just plain wrong down there.

So I say: I DO have a right to speak out against MGM and I will continue to do so. I know the continued frustration and all that is missing due to being circumcised and no baby, boy or girl, should ever have to live with this choice being forced upon him or her.”

~V. Burns


48 comments:

  1. An incredibly moving message from a strong & brave woman.

    I shared this on my facebook. Thank you so much for coming forward with your story.

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  2. Thank you for your bravery and courage in sharing your horrific experience.

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  3. Thank you so much for coming forward with your story. Since Americans are generally opposed to female circumcision, your story will likely affect them in ways that male circumcision does not, and hopefully cause them to make the connection that there is no difference.

    I am an intact female, like most in America, with a circumcised husband, like most in America. He and his first wife had their oldest, my stepson, circumcised. I asked him why, and he said he thought that was what you did, get baby boys circumcised at the hospital when they are born and then get their shots.

    I am one of those people who think about things and never just go along with the crowd. Our three sons are happily intact (and unvaccinated and not born in a hospital). When our oldest was born, my husband was concerned about him "looking different." I knew nothing about the wonderful functions of the foreskin, but common sense told that it would be lunacy to cut off part of my new baby's penis!

    I have since learned far more than what most doctors know about the foreskin, and my husband is now very upset that he was circumcised. I can only hope that my stepson will not continue the cycle of violence. He told us that he wouldn't want a foreskin, but what teenage boy would want to think that something is wrong with his penis? As he grows older and may one day have children, I will do everything I can to fully inform him of the truth about genital mutilation.

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    1. your experience rings true here. in my marriage, we birthed a son and started learning about the functions of the foreskin. we are proud to have protected our son, but also we feel grief for the pain and loss imposed on previous generations.

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  4. my goodness, v... i too was c'd... "the rape of innocence" is my book. where were you raised? how old are you now? i was born & raised in kansas and am 64 today.

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  5. Thank you!!! I truly hate the double standard and you showed hoe doubled it is. I circumcised my first son and regret it deeply. My second son is Intact. I am so sorry you have had to deal with being circumcised.

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  6. What an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I hope that you will find answers.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it will make others think differently about circumcision (male or female).

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  8. Male and female circumcision are one and the same. Yes they are.

    Men too can feel like women and feel grief over a violation of their bodies. Yes they can.

    Taking a healthy, non-consenting individual and cutting off part of the person's genitals in whole or in part is the exact same violation of principle, the exact same violation of human rights, no matter what age, no matter what sex.

    Yes it is.

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  9. Is this the only inconvenient?
    Don't you suffer during autosexuality?
    On the other hand, can't you try avoiding clitoral contact when making love?

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  10. What a brave woman for writing this article!

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  11. There is NO difference between MGM and FGM and I can only imagine the grief of a man who was violated in this way as an infant or child must be as intense as the grief I feel. The only difference between myself and all of those violated boys is the fact that it is socially unacceptable ( for the most part ) to circumcise a girl.
    Am I brave ? I do not necessarily think so. To avoid backlash in the event my family were to read this I used my middle name instead of my last...hopefully one day I will not be so afraid to use my full name. But one thing I am not and never will be afraid to do is to stand up for the right of baby boys to remain intact and free from harm by the knife. Every person ( irregardless of whether they have a penis or not) has not only the right but the responsibility to stand up for survivors of MGM just as well as survivors of FGM

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  12. Thank you so much for telling your story.

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  13. Firstly - thank you for sharing your life story with everyone, your courage to speak out is remarkable!

    I have both a daughter and a son, they are the foremost important people in my entire world and when my son was born, the idea of MGM never once entered my mind. When my daughter was born, I never even knew that FGM existed and even if I had of been aware back then, the idea of it would have repulsed me and riled me with anger just as much as it does today.

    My utmost respect to you and may you along with all of the other brave men and women of the world who have suffered such barbarity, work alongside one another and all others who are highly opposed to both FGM and MGM, in order to eradicate it from the world.

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  14. Thank you for sharing your story!

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  15. Thank you for sharing this experience. I hope it helps people wake up to the reality of genital cutting.

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  16. I was pro-MGM. Had I not miscarried in 2007, my son would have been mutilated.

    One day I came across the "peaceful parenting" Facebook page and met an onslaught of intactivist resources and information that one simply cannot ignore. I tried. I tried to justify why I thought circumcision was normal, why all infant boys should have it done. I argued endlessly with members of the page and wasted lots of time talking to a brick wall. (A very smart brick wall, however.)

    But the more I read, the more I couldn't justify it. I felt horrible at meeting harassment for being pro-MGM. I felt wronged and fought tooth and nail to get people to realize that "it's a parental choice".

    But after reading this, I realize that it's not fair, and it is these infants subjected to sexual abuse that were wronged. And that I was lying to myself the whole time, trying to rationalize something so evil that no child should have to endure.

    I think this entry has officially made me an intactivist. I read this and I bawled my eyes out, thought of all these infants who were circumcised in the name of "cleanliness" or "to look like Dad" or even in the name of religion, and now I cannot see it as anything but unnecessary abuse that no child should ever have to endure.

    Thank you so much for writing this . . . you have saved my future sons.

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  17. Randi ,
    Tears come to my eyes as I read what you have written. Every child ( boy or girl) has a right to be safe from harm including the harm of genital mutilation. I am so happy to hear that your future children will remain intact .So happy that they will have a great mother who will ensure that they will be safe from abuse. Many blessings to you.

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  18. This is a wonderful article. Thank you for being brave enough to speak out about your experiences and to bring it to the public's attention.

    I'm very sorry that you've had to endure genital mutilation. However, I am glad that you are using our own tragedy to help enlighten and wake up others to the horrors of ALL circumcision. Human rights are human rights. Males and females are EQUALLY human. We should have no gender biases towards favoring the mutilation of one gender and not the other.

    Thank you again for sharing your story. I hope it helps wake up many, many people, and saves many childrens' genitals from being mutilated.

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  19. Thank you for sharing your story with the world.

    You are a very powerful writer with an amazing story to tell. I am glad that someone has the gall to stand up and say what needs to be said.

    I hope one day I can be as educated and brave as you, and be able to shout from the rooftops that a penis is perfect just the way it is.

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  20. http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_672270&v=pvX5J7lAv4g&feature=iv

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  21. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this testimony!
    I am Middle Eastern (Egyptian) and I know why girls are circumcised here but I just can't understand WHY your mom circumcised you. I believe you deserve an answer!

    I don't know how you can stop yourself from slapping that physician on the face! You could even sue him. When you find him, sue him.

    I am so sorry you've to go through this. You ARE unique for having the courage to defend both girls and boys from genital mutilation and you should respect yourself big time for that.

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  22. Vburns I thank you for being so eloquent. For being so tactful. If it were me, I am not sure I could have maintained any sense of decorum. I sincerely hope you receive the closure you seek.

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  23. Besides that this post is very hard to read because of the white lettering against the white background, it was an amazing, empowering story. It definitely has encouraged me to continue in my fight for genital integrity for ALL!

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  24. i was reading online about young mothers taking their infant daughters for "sunnat" i think it is what you had done, they remove the hood but leave the clitoris intact,i have no idea why they would do this except they have pressure from their husbands, they seem to think because they baby doesnt bleed or cry much it wont affect their lives, perhaps because they themselves were done they dont know what it is to be intact~so sorry this was done to you~

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  25. I feel so ignorant and privileged saying so, but I never ever knew this was done on young (white) women here in the Americas. It was always an "over there" thing in my mind, it was Othering and it was terribly ignorant of me to think that way. Thank you for having the courage and strength to write about this publicly. You've opened my eyes on this issue in a big way.

    I hope one day you have an answer, and I hope that through this incredibly harsh journey of self-discovery you are able to regain some control of your sexuality in a way that is gentle, enjoyable and intimate for you.

    I'm also sorry for all the ignorant comments and questions that have popped up, and probably will continue to pop up in your future about, "Can't you just" or, "why don't you" as if you haven't ever tried in your 30 years of living with this.

    - Babs

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  26. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I hope that it will help people to see that forced circumcision is mutilation whether the child is a boy or a girl.

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  27. The 1996 ban on FGM was clearly needed, but why it took so long to enact is disturbing. What we need now is a ban on MGM, also well overdue. Both awful practises date from an era when ignorance reigned, and far too many still suffer the consequences.

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  28. @ Patricia Robinett Do you have any words about female restoration?

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  29. your message has really hit home I am a cc'd male who for years in my teens and 20's had confidence issues with my genitals and subsequently girls. I know the job done was not good due to the scarring it has left. I was not until I met my second wife who made me realise I was not small and ugly there. I thought she was just being nice until some of her friends said she had shown them a photo of me and asked them to give an honest judgement on what they saw. At first I was embarrassed and a little angry. But became less self concious as a result, and a little flattered at the consistent 'good reports'.
    It really should never have got this far over something so simple that few have realised can cause so much damage.
    For 30 years I thought I was small and until my wife measured me at 8", and told me that that coupled with being perfectly rigid is nothing be sneezed at. Yes it may be hard to believe but I had confidence issues over it.
    Funnily enough she has said in years since, that on occasion the odd friend of hers has asked for another look at the photo.
    It has taken years of understanding by my wife to help with this.

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  30. OMG... WHY??!?!

    Thank you for sharing... I'm so, so sorry. :(

    Blessings, sweetie. Peace to you.

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  31. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    My reaction:

    You need to confront your mother. There is simply no way around that. Confront her. Keep bringing up the subject until you find out why she did it. Just do it.

    Next, you need to retain a lawyer and sue that doctor for malpractice. There are lawyers who specialize in this now (go to www.nocirc.org to find one). Make sure the settlement includes enough money for you to get reconstructive surgery, if you want it.

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    1. VBurns should definitely confront her mother. But she should do so armed with the sort of letter I am about to describe. She should be examined by a gynecological surgeon, who then writes a letter to her mother describing the damage to Burns's genitalia, and state that that damage was completely unnecessary and harmful to normal female sexual sensation. I am very very disturbed that Burns suffers from the female equivalent of premature ejaculation.

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  32. One further thought: based on what you wrote and the when this was done to you, I'd say your mother did this to you because she observed you masturbating and this disturbed her. At the time, it was published medical dogma that circumcision prevented masturbation, so her doctor would have recommended it. This would also explain, in part, why she is reluctant to discuss it with you today. Of course, this is an educated guess; I could be wrong.

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  33. Thank you for sharing this. You are extraordinarily courageous. I had no idea this was done in the West.

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  34. Thank you for sharing your story. Many people have never heard of female circumcision (I had only heard of it through stories of the Middle East)and knowing about this horrific act may help people reexamine their attitudes toward the circumcision of males.I had never heard of people in this country (not of first or second generation middle eastern descent) engaging in female genital mutilation and would be very curious to know why your mother chose to do this to you.
    As for male circumcision in regards to religious doctrine, I've always wondered why God put the foreskin there in the first place, if he just wanted people to cut it off. It never made any sense. I'm glad people today are questioning this practice instead of mutilating their sons just because that's how it's always been.

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  35. i m here just for curiosity now i know this topic and i only think it s an atrocity againt humans. i hope you can get back a clitorid from sysntetic organs created in laboratory with staminals i dont know if it s going to be possible. also i think male mutilation is barbaric is more than killing a person. be strong!

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  36. I did not receive any answers...the pediatrician has since passed away, but I continue to educate in any way that I can in regards to infant circumcision of both males and females in our country. I have also been able to start a process of restoration that is ,while a seemingly slow process, helping me with my self esteem as far as feeling so different than other women. It is a work in progress :).

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  37. Would you be willing to let me interview you? I can share more about my reasons/interest through email. I've talked with Patricia several times now, too.

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    1. Kitty I would be more than happy to have you interview me...please pm me via Facebook at Valerie BatDavid.

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  38. As for me - in scanning the comments today - My physician is long dead. My lawyer felt there was no way to process a case since he's dead and what he did was legal in the U.S. until 20 years later. My medical files would be 50 years old and destroyed long ago. Also, I would have to sue my mother for her part in it and that just gets extremely messy for everyone in a courtroom.

    As for reconstructive surgery - it makes my gut heave and my legs clamp together to even hear the concept. The last thing I need is another go under the knife with someone who believes they know everything about how to fix me. And yes, whoever above said it was most likely done as a cure for masterbation - I believe that was probably the case. And no, I'm not planning on asking. I'm so angry about the stupidity I can't even ask my mother for details. The deed is done. Why do I need to hear the gory details as she remembers them? It's enough to absorb the fact that it was done. You can easily go online at nocirc and see photos of the tool and how it was used. That's enough to short circuit my brain.

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    1. "Anonymous" I am so sorry for your pain. And I know exactly what you mean. What was done to me was legal at the time as well. I think suing would result in more trauma than good at this point. My heart goes out to you .

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    2. Anonymous ...I feel so badly for you. Yes, what was done to me was legal at the time as well. I have since learned it was done for all of the bogus reasons baby boys are done...yeast infection, uti prevention, cleaner, nicer looking etc.... I believe suing at this point would cause more trauma than healing as well. I am so sorry for you pain and my heart goes out to you in love.
      warmly,
      V

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  39. The genitalia of both genders include highly enervated moving flesh whose purpose is to make vaginal intercourse much more pleasant. And those tender bits are sometimes hated by persons of the same gender. In Africa, adult women cut girls. Ms Burns and Ms Robinette were cut by male doctors, but only at the insistence of their mothers. The vast majority of American and Canadian boys were cut by male doctors. Even stranger was that before WWII, the typical circumcising doctor in the USA and Canada was himself intact. This irony extends to women: I bet the mothers of Burns and Robinette were intact. In both cases, having a prepuce in no way guarantees that one appreciated the sexual value of the prepuce.

    This war against the natural genitalia, mostly perpetrated by people having the genitalia in question, is grounded in atavistic fears of normal sexual expression. It simply has to stop. And I believe it will stop simply because high school and college students grow up nowadays seeing normal genitalia on the internet. I may not like that as a parent, but nevertheless the cat is out of the bag...

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  40. Thank you so much for publishing your story for others to read. It is so important for other American women & men to understand that genital mutilation is genital mutilation regardless of which sex it is done to. I am against the genital mutilation of male, female & intersex. I will be sharing your story.

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  41. I am a woman who wants a prepucectomy and has had a hard time getting one.

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