There’s a scene early in the film version of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that illuminates an important lesson within the journey to full protection and respect for the genital integrity rights of all people. (Warning: Minor movie spoiler ahead.) Early on, Henry Sturges trains Lincoln to hunt vampires. It begins with chopping a tree down. Sturges asks why Lincoln wants to hunt vampires. “So, tell me, Mr. Lincoln, what do you hate?”. Lincoln answers and begins to chop at the tree. Sturges continues talking with every chop, forcing Lincoln to refine his answer. “Tell me what you hate.” “Inadequate.” “Pathetic.” When Lincoln finds his motivation, Sturges explains: “Power, Lincoln, real power, comes not from hate, but from truth.”
This resonates with me. I hate being circumcised. I hate it so much that I avoid writing or saying “my circumcision”. It is not something I want to possess or own. I express my hatred through semantic choices. But that can’t be the driving motivation for me.
Likewise, I hate that my parents thought this was their choice, or that I’d be thankful for it. I hate the doctor who circumcised me, although I have no idea who he or she is. I will never understand why someone thought it was acceptable to mutilate me. My only comfort there is that, being almost forty years on, that person is probably retired and unlikely to circumcise anyone else. To be fair, I’d like to express myself directly to that person, like this, but there’s little reason for me to focus on that now. It can’t drive me forward. It also can’t help me convince others to respect their son’s body and choice.
I want to focus on truth. I don’t even hate circumcision, considered independent of scenario. I don’t understand why someone would want it, but context matters. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical. That much I know. I don’t need to assume anything. I can assign good intentions to anyone considering circumcision for their son (or anyone who has already circumcised). That doesn’t mean I concede it could be (or was) a valid choice, or that the decision is defensible based on the ignorance that supports its continuation. The moment I learned of circumcision, I knew it was wrong and why. I don’t think it’s too much to expect others to reach this obvious conclusion. But I want to convince people who, for whatever reason, haven’t reached it yet. To do that, I need truth, not hate.
Yesterday I saw a tweet that said “The most disgusting thing ever is a female doctor who enjoys her own intact prepuce, but happily cuts a baby boys off”. I can’t think of a scenario in which this sentiment – and stated in this manner – eases the path to full genital integrity rights protection. Even ignoring the hyperbole and misogyny, this focuses on something hated rather than truth. It’s a good way to convince a doctor who fits that description that she may ignore the person saying it, that she doesn’t need to reconsider her decision to participate in circumcising healthy children. It’s a good way to convince parents that our activism is based in emotion rather than truth and facts. They can think the only science involved is that which shows some potential benefit somewhere down the line for some tiny minority of males, except they can also ignore absolute risk and assume circumcising their son saves him from some inevitable harm. It might feel good to say, but do we want to feel superior or do we want to protect children?
Instead, we should show that our position is based in a broader, stronger grasp of science. Healthy children do not need surgery. There are more effective, less (or non-) invasive ways to achieve the same protection. The risks of a normal foreskin are similar to any risk inherent in simply being alive, whether male or female. A normal foreskin, whether male or female, has functions. Truth is on our side. It’s more powerful than hate.