What if that someone was a female? What if it was an adult? Would that make any difference to you even if the previous statements all applied? Would someone else have the right to amputate part of her genitals when she was unable to refuse? What if the adult female was left with only an outer labia and a scarred vaginal opening in the same way that an infant male is left with only a glans and a scarred shaft when he grows up? What if that adult female was not some unknown woman from another country, but your Grandma? Would you care about human rights then?
I wrote this sometime back, but because Grandma was a very private person, am only now sharing. She was strongly against circumcision. She did not have her sons circumcised, gave generously to Intact America and other intactivist organizations and broke into tears at the thought of a baby boy going through the torture and life long loss of circumcision. What she did not know was that she, too, had been genitally mutilated. She would want her story shared now if she thought it might protect even one baby boy.
After Grandma’s last hospitalization, because of wearing adult diapers, she developed a yeast infection. As I was cleaning her one evening, I did not see all the female parts I have, but being as her labia majora was larger than mine, I thought they were more hidden and I did not look for more detail. I decided it would be a good idea to treat for a vaginal yeast infection as well, so as I was getting her ready for bed the next night, I inserted the vaginal tablet. It took a bit for me to figure things out. She did not look right. There was no labia minora. Confounded, once I had Grandma tucked in, I asked Mom if parts changed with age and she confirmed she had all she ever had.
The next night as I was cleaning and medicating Grandma, I examined more closely, not just to be sure I was getting the medicine in the right place, but to see if there was anything hidden behind the labia majora or if there were any scars. I was saddened to find that some butcher had removed everything. All that was left was her vaginal opening and what looked like a scar where her clitoris and labia minora had been. I had the same sick to my stomach, weak all over, hurt in my heart, want to cry feeling that I feel every time I learn a parent has chosen to remove the most sensitive and intricate part of their son’s genitals.
I wanted to know for sure if it was genital mutilation or a birth defect, so I asked Mom if she knew anything about any problems or surgeries Grandma had had in that area. She did not. I wanted to know more, but being as Grandma was so private, I was not sure how. Mom and Jim both agreed that I was the only one close enough to ask. Wording was hard because if it was not the way she was born, I did not know if was a painful memory or if she even knew.
The next evening Jim had to take Sullivan somewhere, so I told Mom to stay out of the room while I talked to Grandma in hopes she would open up to me. I tried to keep it light and asked about her hysterectomy, why she had had it and if she had had any problems with her genitals. She said she had not had problems with them. I told her I had noticed she did not have the folds of skin, cracks and crevices I did and asked if she was born that way or had had surgery on them. She said that she did not know that she had had surgery. I asked her if she remembered when she was little, did she notice them then. She said, “Yes, they were there then. Are they not there now?”
I was only somewhat surprised that she did not know as Grandma had always been prudish. Maybe she had not seen herself since; many women never look at themselves. Maybe she had, but shock had blocked it from her mind. Maybe having been so sick numbed her response. I do not know. I was thankful she seemed alright with finding out. Perhaps she figured at that point in her life there was no point in getting upset. I could not help but wonder how much she had missed out on because of it and felt bad for her. Her first two marriages were not good, but her third was to the love of her life. Did she have the chance to fully experience making love with him? I also wondered if her urethra not being protected was at least partly responsible for her frequent UTIs as she aged.
I later asked her if she was ever sick or saw a doctor when she was a child and she said she had not, her Mom took care of everything. You might wonder how a woman could have part of her genitals amputated and not know it. There are several points in her life that it could have happened.
Mom was breech; her birth was difficult and the doctor was cruel. Grandma told me once that the pain was so bad she never wanted to get pregnant again. Maybe some of the pain was from something other than the birthing as female genital cutting was practiced in the U.S. during those years (1930s) for the same reasons male genital cutting is today. In the 1950s Grandma had a hysterectomy because of bleeding. Maybe the surgeon thought he was doing a favor by removing other parts, too. During those years she was also in a very bad automobile accident (her husband was driving) that she was not expected to survive. During the accident she was thrown into poison ivy and covered with a rash. Perhaps being in so much misery she did not notice one more injury. In the 1960s she had a problem that the doctor had to ream her urethra out. Maybe the problem was caused by genital cutting, or maybe genital cutting was the "treatment" as it is for males. In 1997 (The year any form of genital cutting on a female minor was made illegal in the U.S.) she was in another automobile accident (I was driving) and had her entire abdomen opened for exploratory surgery, ending in four inches of her small intestine being removed. I remember her pain, not just from the surgery, but from a broken wrist. I do not remember her telling of pain from her genital region.
Grandma was born in the United States in 1918 to a poor but educated caucasian family with a Christian background, yet her genitals were altered, amputated, mutilated without her consent or knowledge. She would never have said it does not make a difference in order to protect her own self-image or to appease others. She would never have thought it was acceptable to allow it to happen to another person. Most people would agree it is wrong in every way to remove a normal, healthy body part from someone without their consent. They would be shocked and outraged at a woman’s body being violated while she was in such a vulnerable state, especially by a doctor who swore to do no harm. Yet this happens hundreds of times every day right here in the United States and the same people turn a blind eye. The only difference is it is men being violated when they are most vulnerable, when they are babies. As with Grandma, it does not matter if they do not feel the pain (which they do), it does not matter if they do not remember it (subconsciously they do), it does not matter if they do not realize the loss, it does not matter if they never recognize problems, it does not matter if it is done in a medical facility by a doctor, it does not matter what anyone else’s preference is. As Grandma deserved better than to have someone else’s opinion irreversibly carved onto her genitals, so do men.
I am surprised that in all those years, no doctor or nurse questioned it when they examined or catheterized her. It was as though seeing a circumcised woman was as common as seeing a circumcised man. Maybe it is and we just assume otherwise. As with male circumcision, those who do not know or acknowledge the harm do not complain, but think they are normal. And speaking of medical professionals, I think of all the idiots who say baby boys should be cut because it is easier to keep clean and infection free, especially when they are no longer able to wash themselves. I know firsthand an intact male of any age is easier to clean than a female, and circumcision for “hygiene” makes just as much sense for a female. Perhaps that was why Grandma’s genitals were butchered. I also know firsthand that females get more infections than intact males and are simply given antibiotics. There is no excuse to cut anyone and if a medical professional is too lazy or ignorant to do their job, that is to wash or treat a normal body part, hand them a mop and let them scrub the floor. Yes, I am angry. I am angry that this happened to Grandma and I am angry that it continues to happen to boys and even men for no reason other than ignorance, prejudice and denial.
If you knew this was going to happen to your Grandma, would you voice an opinion or remain silent because someone might get offended? Would you try to stop it or consider it none of your business? Why do you think less of little boys? No matter what has been done to you or what choices you have made in the past, if you want to honor Grandma, do not let her loss be in vain. Let it be what opens your eyes to the injustice of any forced genital cutting and ends your apathy and silence while the bodies and rights of others are violated, just as hers were. Would you tell Grandma what happened to her does not matter? Regardless of age or gender, it does matter and you know it does. If a person does not have a right to their own body, what do they have a right to? Grandma cried every time she heard of a boy being violated by circumcision. She was not only disappointed in those who chose it, but those who refused to speak out in defense of boys. Speak up, just as you would have for Grandma. Make Grandma proud.
NOCIRC Answers to Your Questions about Care of the Intact Penis in the Geriatric/Disabled Population