|Photo © Joseph Lewis. View his full photo essay here: |
© 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.”