Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Fight for the Foreskin

When writing a blog about any controversial topic, in this case circumcision, here are the steps:
  1. Write a well thought-out, intelligent argument.
  2. Post blog.
  3. Open can of worms.
  4. Dump on your head.

There was a joke when I was pregnant that I loved talking about baby boy penises (penii?). Namely, my unborn son's penis.
This was the biggest [rational] argument that Mark and I ever had: to snip or not to snip?

On each side, we had our reasons. Even good ones, at that. Mark started finding reasons to circumcise online, but I found many, many studies refuting those reasons.
  • Penile cancer is rare, and mostly only found in the elderly. Rarer than breast cancer in men, actually.
  • Urinary tract infections, while slightly more common in intact boys, is not common overall for males. It's much more common in girls, and we Westerners certainly don't krunk up infant girls' bodies over it.
  • Phimosis, or a foreskin that doesn't retract, is also quite rare and can be treated with a topical steroid cream. Or by the boy "massaging" the area as he grows up. What boy doesn't do that?!
  • The STD studies go back and forth on this. Though I will say that most of them in the past have been done in Africa, where HIV is more prevalent than the U.S., and some studies compare circumcised men (generally practicing Muslims) with intact men (the non-religious). I'd say religion might play a part in those men's behavior, wouldn't you? A recent study suggests that it's the number of prostitutes in a population that better determines the rate of HIV.
In most cases, the "problem" with leaving intact is so rare that it simply does not warrant genital mutilation at birth. Or as one anti-circ Web site calls it,
Circumcision is a solution in search of a problem.

But circumcision can be a touchy subject for men, and Mark was no exception. When upset about it, he even wondered,
What, you don't like the way I look?!

Ahh. To question the benefits of cutting off part of an infant boy's body is a reflection of how I feel about your virility. Got it. Plus Mark? You're mom is certifiably crazy. I won't base any choices for my boys on what she chose for her sons.

Needless to say, the "discussion" was quite heated and went on for weeks.

While I was despairing that this still wouldn't be settled by the time Elijah was born, friends offered advice.
One told me to look into the plastic, non-surgical method of circumcision. Apparently there's a device that looks like one of those dog funnels, and you put it around the penis head (so it doesn't lick itself?!) and eventually the foreskin falls off. I'm not even sure if that's true. Too freakin' weird, and that doesn't solve me wanting my son to keep his foreskin.
Another had this creative advice, which worked on her husband:
Tell him that he can do it two weeks after the baby is born. That you don't want it done after going through the feat of childbirth, but if it's that important to him, he finds the doctors, he pays for it out of pocket, and he takes care of it after the surgery. That's how my son is still intact!

Mark didn't fall for it: "If I'm responsible for everything, of course it's not gonna happen. I'm not stupid, Cate." Oh well. Nice try. Damn! And to think I loved you for your intelligence.

I wish I could tell you that my counterarguments and clear, rational points were how Elijah is still intact today. Not so.

A couple things happened.

First, Mark found out that his best friend since age 8 is intact. I gave the ol', "Seems you don't all stand around, checking each other out, eh?"
The other was that he found out that someone close to him has a son with a botched circ: there's still a bit of the foreskin left on there, and Mark's friend is not sure that if he had the chance to do it all over again for his son, that he'd choose circumcision.

Mark was bending, but still not on board. The doctors didn't help. All the idiots--er, doctors--at the OB office (bitter much, Cate?) were hands-off. Blah, blah, blah, "It's your own decision. Yes we perform it. No we can't medically recommend it." Our ultrasound doc, who we'd been seeing for weeks for non-penis-related issues, was someone Mark trusted. "He'll trump Cate's arguments," he thought. Sorry, bud. That doctor was anti-circ. Very clearly, he gave a firm, "No!" as to whether we should snip the boy. He even chuckled when I joked about chopping off the baby toe or giving the baby an appendectomy, as those body parts are also "not needed" and "possibly problematic."

Finally, I needed to break my stubborn man. I couldn't chance an argument while pushing Elijah out. I did what any rational, reasonable woman would do: I pulled crazy mama bear on him.
If you insist on mutilating our son right when he is born, I cannot have you present at the birth. I will not be able to labor properly if I worry the whole time about his well-being right after he is born.

Yikes. I know...pretty crazy! But it worked. Mark grudgingly gave in. While he doesn't regret not circumcising, it is still a touchy subject between us.

I bring all of this up because in February, I wrote 3 blogs for Eco Child's Play on circumcision. One was "recycled" and edited: "Put Down the Knife! 11 Reasons Not to Circumcise." (That post has since been re-posted in two other venues. Yay!) The second was, "Caring for the Intact Penis," because of the argument that "boys don't bath, and you must keep the foreskin clean." The third was where I rounded out the series with some humor and posted a video I'd previously blogged about on Nature's Child: Penn & Teller's take on circumcision from their "Bullshit!" show. It debunks a bunch of circumcision myths, yes, but with gratuitous phallic images and penis jokes. Hilarious.

But the pro-circ people still weren't biting. This is what I've realized from the discussions in the blogs' comments sections: If you are not complacent about circumcision, you are passionate about it one way or the other. There's little room to argue. Though the commentators certainly did!
And I thought, foolishly perhaps, that my "11 Reasons" might help some people look further into the matter and make a better choice for their sons. (Yeah, Cate. You couldn't even convince Mark without making crazy threat, and you think you'll convince complete strangers?!)
I kept it pretty simple, pretty basic, and was called "ignorant" by one poster for even arguing against the certain silly reasons people give for it, like "I want him to look like me," or "He'll be a freak in the locker room." Are those credible reasons for what could be considered a form of genital mutilation? No! Are they some of the most common layman's reasoning you'll hear? Hell, yeah.

Luckily, there are Intactivists. I think it is pretty creatively hilarious that these men (usually) call themselves this. And boy, if anyone can argue the point, it's them. I had approximately 4 or 5 come down hard on all the ignorant posters. They moved between the 3 blog comments' sections debunking every myth and sorry study that got in their way. They were articulate, educated, and most importantly, civil.
So I write this blog to officially thank them. Thanks, guys, for stepping in and educating the masses where I failed to do so. I can't speak personally about foreskin removal or regeneration, so thanks for sharing your experiences and knowledge.

My knights in shining armor. That is, flesh-colored armor.

Images: The first is via Jen from Cake Wrecks, who e-mailed me this cake after I linked to her blog in one of my circumcision blogs. And who said that cakes and circumcision don't go together?
The second is what Lucian recently drew on his wall. Those boys...they love their fire hoses!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Poetry Pick of the Day: Objets D'Art

April is National Poetry Month, so I'll be posting some of my favorite poems over the next few weeks. I used to send this poem to my chick friends, especially after a breakup.
This one has a dual purpose. I actually wanted to link to it from the Nature's Child blog, but I couldn't find it online. I found others by the author online, but it's puzzling: this one was nowhere to be found.

Objets D'Art by Cynthia Macdonald

When I was seventeen, a man in the Dakar Station
Men's Room (I couldn't read the signs) said to me:
You're a real ball cutter. I thought about that
For months and finally decided
He was right. Once I knew that was my thing,
Or whatever we would have said in those days,
I began to perfect my methods. Until then
I had never thought of trophies. Preservation
Was at first a problem: pickling worked
But was a lot of trouble. Freezing
Proved to be the answer. I had to buy
A second freezer just last year; the first
Was filled with rows and rows of
Pink and purple lumps encased in Saran wrap.

I have more business than I can handle,
But only volunteers. It is an art like hypnosis
Which cannot be imposed on the unwilling victim.
If you desire further information about the process and
The benefits, please drop in any night from nine to twelve.
My place is east of Third on Fifty-sixth.
You'll know it by the three gold ones over the door.

Wait a second. I guess it's not so puzzling I couldn't easily find that. But shouldn't it be on the NOW site page or something? The Ani Difranco Web site? The badass sassy feminist page? Oh, wait...now it is.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Customer Service in a Web World

Recently I bought a few pendants from an Etsy seller. I loved them. One was a barn owl, another some purty wildflowers, and the third was a vintage encyclopedia-looking octopus.
But the octopus was too dark in color for the recipient. Then my beloved barn owl broke because I made the mistake of wearing it in the shower.

I sent a very sweet (yep, from me) e-mail to the seller:

Hi there,
I purchased 3 lovely pendants from you about 2 months ago. One has broken (because I wore it in the shower, thinking I was wearing a diff necklace). I understand if you're not willing to replace it b/c of my mistake. I just recently gave the octopus as a gift, and the recipient thought it was too dark in color. I was wondering if I might replace that one? I of course would love to replace both that and the broken one, butI understand if that is not possible.
Cate Nelson

To which I received this puzzling reply:

Dear Catherine,
If you had received the wrong pendant or the pendant was broken when it arrived to you I would have replaced your pendants - but due to the pendant being worn into the water - and it is stated in my shop they are not waterproof - and because your friend does not care for something you give as a gift - I am unable to replace pendants.

Wait, what? When I received the package in the first place, this seller asked that I contact her directly with any problems before leaving seller feedback. That's what I did, right? I followed directions and used kind words! Why wasn't I getting my way?! (I'm sure Lucian would be just as puzzled as I was.)

I wasn't looking for a freebie, just an exchange for the octopus. I would even ship it back with my own money; no prob, Bob.
Next step? I left seller feedback. Nothing nasty, though I have a special "flair" for words when I'm upset. (Ask Mark.) I simply checked the "Negative" box and said, "Seller would not allow me to exchange this after recipient said it was too dark."

You'd think in this day and age, people--especially those who provide a service--would be wary of pissing customers off. All it takes, then, is a blog or a Tweet or a FB status change, and bad publicity spreads by word of type.
And when companies mess with me, I fear they should watch out. Last time HughesNet screwed up my service, I joined a class action lawsuit against them in a few clicks of the mouse. It's a different world than it used to be, folks.

Almost immediately, the seller received my less-than-stellar review and shot me this e-mail after having refunded my entire purchase through PayPal:

Dear Cate,
I have sent you a full refund in the amount of $18.25 Please email me with the name of the pendant that needs to be replaced and which pendant do you want for a replacement of "vintage octopus"? You do not need to return any of the pendants but I would really appreciate it if you would please click on the links I sent to you via Etsy called 'kiss & makeup" which allows you to have a change of heart and change your feedback from what you left for me to positive. I hope you will find it in your heart to do so.

Well! Certainly wasn't expecting a bunch of freebies! And wouldn't want it; this is a crafter who makes her own wares.
We did kiss and make up. But it was the initial slobbering that left me wondering about the entire experience.

I heart Etsy. It's a great way for those with WAY more talent than I to hock their wares and make some cash. Heck, if my wonderful sister Amy will hop on and post new pics, I'm sure she'll rock that site out.

But whether it's handmade or mass produced, don't service providers know this is the brave new world of social networking?

Image: dramafreezone on Flickr.