Trigger warning for talk about female genital cutting and antisemitism
One of the things that people don’t realize is that queer potential parents go through a lot of the same silly to serious things that heterosexual couples who are planning on children do. Sure, we have some unique issues (Deciding on whether or not Jaime should halt her transition briefly so that we could have children of our own, or adopting, or asking one of our male friends to give us his sperm, deciding where to live that is safe for both queer couples and children, and picking a school where the chance of a child being harassed for her parents being two women is minimum) but we also grapple with the same ones as other parents or parents-to-be. Jaime are about 10-15 years away from having children, but we still talk about these issues in the theoretical, because hell, we’re both planners and have this need to have these big conversations before we’re scrambling to think of what to do. So we’ve already had conversations on whether to put our children in a public school, a Waldorf school, a Reform Hebrew School, or a Montessori school, what to name them, how to best raise them if they show signs of autism, and what values we wish to raise them with, and how to make sure we love them unconditionally.
One of the more pressing theoretical issues on my mind lately has been circumcision. Originally, my plan was to, if I had a boy baby, give him a brit shalom, rather than a brit malah, and have him remain intact, as far as his foreskin was concerned. Jaime is not Jewish, and Canadians don’t practice routine infant circumcision, meaning that the idea of circumcising our children was downright preposterous in her eyes. I thought the same too, and happily went along with the idea of not circumcising, which seemed easy enough to do, since I’m not all that religious and it isn’t done in Canadian hospitals.
But as I proceeded happily along, two things happened in my life. One, I started taking my culture more seriously, and secondly, ugly pimples of antisemitism and extremism began popping up in the “intactivist” movement. I was happy enough when it was limited to a discussion of children’s rights, involved bumper stickers that said “May the Foreskin Be With You”, and encouraged doctors to think critically about whether circumcision was really necessary unless it was a medical emergency. But when comics with antisemitic caricatures of Moyles began to be a staple of the movement, and the petition to ban circumcision in San Francisco took place, I began having my doubts. But then, I really began to distance myself from “intactivists” when they started comparing circumcision of infant males to female genital cutting, or FGC (I know the standard term is FGM, for female genital mutilation, but survivors of FGC have told me that they prefer the term “cutting”, so I am trying to respect their wishes) That was, for me, the last straw. I have friends who underwent FGC, I know bloggers and activists who have undergone it, and they told me that it was common for Men’s Rights Activists to hijack conversations about FGC to talk about male infant circumcision in the U.S. They said that the comparison made them physically ill, and I can hardly blame them. One of them said it was akin to comparing a pimple to a cancerous cyst, and I’m inclined to agree. Also, if there’s one thing I am leery of, it’s Men’s Rights Activists. To cut to the chase: 90% of them are pure scum, and nothing is going to change my mind of that. So I no longer felt safe as a feminist in a community which employed tactics of MRAs and felt comfortable depicting antisemitic caricatures in their literature.
But that wasn’t enough to compel me to rethink the circumcision issue for my own theoretical children. I have also become much more serious about my culture as I get older, and I have been wondering about raising my children Jewish. I had an uber-secular, assimilated upbringing, and I always felt like something was missing from my life, because my father and paternal grandparents never spoke Yiddish, didn’t practice the High Holy Days, and generally hid any outward signs of Judaism, out of fear and embarrassment. Could one blame them in a world where the Holocaust happened, where Jews were routinely denied jobs, promotions, or positions in predominantly goyishe communities? Growing up, after my father died, I became closer to Judaism both as a way to be close to him and that missing piece he hid from me to protect me, and as an act of rebellion: It is a radical thing to be proudly Jewish in today’s world still, a rejection of the assimilation of the past, a rejection of the idea that uniformity is more desirable, of the idea that cultures should be shed for convenience. Naturally, being queer and in love with a trans woman, I would need to find a radically reform synagogue to accept my children, and they may or may not require circumcision in order to be welcomed. But there is a part of me that fears that I would be denying my sons the chance to be Jewish, not out of fear like my father and grandparents did to me, but out of a desire to be seen as progressive and forward-thinking. Circumcision is so closely tied to Jewish identity and traditions, so basic, that I have been having a hard time wrapping my head around rejecting it. I keep feeling like I’m being asked to choose between my culture and modern values, which is always a rather rotten tug-of-war. In the words of Tevye, “If I try and bend that far, I’ll break….”
I’ve tried talking with other modern, forward-thinking, progressive Jews who plan on being parents about this, mainly men, since they’re the ones who have the experience I’m looking for in this matter. The basic consensus was that it was too important to give up. It’s a matter of keeping Judaism alive, in a post-shoah world where we’re more than 6 million short our original numbers and need to do what we can to keep Judaism alive. They assured me that they didn’t remember the procedure, and that they experienced no major loss in sensitivity and sexual pleasure from being circumcised (Which was my biggest worry) I also went back to A.J Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically. I recalled in the book that his wife became pregnant during his experiment, and one of the tenants of Judaism he was supposed to follow was circumcising his son (his wife was expecting a boy) which he followed through on, in spite of the protests of more secular relatives. He didn’t regret it after it was done, it made him have some more interesting thoughts on his experiment, and the nature of his Judaism, along with the rest of the experiment. No word so far on what his son, who is probably in elementary school at this point, thought about it, but I sure would be embarrassed if I were a boy and my father wrote about my circumcision in a bestselling book (ahem)
I’m still on the fence. Tonight when talking to Jaime about it, I nearly had an emotional breakdown, feeling that in order to be a good parent, I would have to give up my culture and raise my children secular, since they wouldn’t be accepted as Jews without the circumcision. I tried to put on a happy face about it, assuring myself that I was doing the right thing, that I was being a good future parent, that my children would be glad I put that aside for their sake. But then Jaime told me, “Leah… I can hear your soul shattering from here.” She was right. I was crying buckets, breathing heavily, trying to gain control of myself, shivering and shaking like a tambourine. She put aside her values for that, and said that she would consent to any sons we had being circumcised. At that point, it wasn’t the fact that she was granting me that, it was that she was putting aside her personal values and convictions because she loved me which made me start crying harder than before, but out of joy, not sorrow or mixed emotions. It was a revelation of how much we loved each other, because we were willing to sacrifice our convictions which meant so much to us in order to make the other one happy. I wish I could have hugged her then and there, but alas, two months until I see her again.
I’m still genuinely unsure as to where I stand, but I am leaning towards letting my sons make the decision for themselves when they are old enough, and looking for a congregation that can see that though my sons wouldn’t be circumcised in the flesh, they would be Jewish still, or rather, circumcised in the soul, if you want to be corny. Doesn’t that matter more? But I’ve come to understand how it is indeed a very private, very personal, deeply cultural matter which is not easily untangled from yourself through science, reason, and rationale, especially if you are Jewish or a Muslim. I have ten to fifteen years to make up my mind, and I may yet be lucky enough to have only daughters and avoid the whole ugly business of deciding whether or not to have a bris. But one thing’s for sure: I won’t be swayed either way by pamphlets depicting rabbis and moyles as white-eyed evildoers, accusations of being backwards and barbaric, being called a child-abuser, nor accusations that I’m not a “real” Jew, that I’m a whore to modernity, or that I’m committing a second Holocaust if I choose not to.