When your husband wants to circumcise

One Mom’s Journey to Intactivism

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to meet many of my heroes in intactivism, among them James Loewen.  James has a YouTube channel called Bonobo3D where he interviews real people in intactivism, and this is his interview of me.

In this video, I discuss how my husband and I decided not to circumcise our first child.  It was not a pretty process.  I confronted my husband head-on, announcing that we would not do it.  As you can imagine, a fight ensued.  He claimed that our baby needed to be circumcised to fit in with his family.  I countered that I had never seen my husband and his brothers sit around naked, comparing penises.  In fact, my husband had never even seen his father’s penis.  He said that the baby was his, too, and I couldn’t make all the choices.  I said that my son’s body was not a bargaining chip.  It was tense, and we screamed and fought.  After a while, I read The Vulnerability of Men, about the psychology of why men fight so hard to circumcise their sons, and it gave me enough perspective to be quiet and leave my husband alone.  As Mr. Bach says, “Men who have been circumcised have an extremely difficult dilemma. For them to acknowledge that the practice is unnecessary and harmful means that they must acknowledge a painful personal reality.”

I stopped trying to convince my husband.  I realized that his anger was not mine and it was not directed at me and I didn’t have to do anything to fix it.  I felt terrible for him, but I respected him as an adult and the man I loved to let him have his space to work out his feelings in his own way.  I put a few articles in the bathroom for him to read at his leisure, and eventually he did come back and say that we would not circumcise our son.  It took him three years and two sons for him to stop thinking that their penises looked weird, but now he is intactivist, too.

When parents disagree on circumcision, often the wife gets panicked to change her husband’s mind.  For some, it’s not enough that the baby not be circumcised; they need their husbands to be thrilled about it.  This is not realistic for many men, though.  The truth about circumcision is a bitter pill to swallow.  Not circumcising their sons means that a man has to face that he is missing part of his penis for no good reason.  That’s a horrible thought, and it is natural that a man would not want to face that.

Nevertheless, sparing your husband emotional pain is not a valid reason to inflict physical pain and damage on your child.  Your husband has no right over his son’s body.  He had a right to his own body all those years ago, and that right was denied, but that does not mean he now has the right to hide his pain by having his son circumcised.  As mothers, we need to stand firm, because in this situation, we are the only ones who can stand for the baby’s rights.  If we are trying to keep our husbands swaddled in denial, who will defend our sons?  Our husbands are adult men and they have the ability and the responsibility to face and deal with their own emotions.  This is their process, and we can be supportive, but we cannot rush or force it.  We may have to weather our husband’s misdirected anger while the painful emotions are being worked out in him, but we are strong, and we can do that.  The alternative is to allow our sons to be circumcised, knowing all the while that it is wrong.  If you think this is a viable alternative, read these stories of women who regret allowing their sons to be circumcised.

It is fundamentally unjust for a man to privilege his own denial and raw emotions over his son’s inherent right to bodily autonomy, but they cannot see this yet.  As wives of circumcised men, we have a narrow line to walk: we need to defend our sons because they cannot defend themselves, but we also need to treat our husbands with respect and kindness.  We cannot talk them out of their pain and we cannot force them to think what we want them to think.  This is their journey, and it is not an easy one, but we need to trust our husbands, and be patient, and love them.

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