How Circumcision Intersects With Identity
The intersectional identity created by genital cutting
Critical social justice has a lot of forms of identity: gender identity, racial identity, disability status, etc. Modern social justice movements also hold that identity is intersectional, meaning that each identity someone has intersects with the other forms of identity they have to create a new experience.
To explain the concept of intersectionality: if someone is a white cisgender male, but they are blind, they obviously experience the world differently than they would if they were a white cisgender male will full sight. Disability intersects with their other forms of identity to create an entirely new experience. In other words, they don’t just have the experience of being male plus the experience of being blind, but the experience of being a blind male, which is different than either experience individually. There might be unique challenges that blind males face which are different than those that blind people or males face.
Add another form of identity - white - and the intersectionality multiplies. They are not just having the experience of being white but also the experience of being white, blind, male, white male, blind white, blind male, and white blind male. Again, there might be unique challenges that white blind males face which are different than any of those other categories individually.
As discussed in a previous article, circumcision is a form of identity that I refer to in Children’s Justice as imposed identity, meaning that it does not describe anything inherent to the person, but what society imposed on them as children. You can tell circumcision is a form of identity, because people use identity language to describe it. (“I am circumcised” rather than “I had” a circumcision.)
If circumcision is a form of identity, then it doesn’t just change one aspect of identity, but every other form of identity it intersects with. This means that there might be unique experiences or challenges that circumcised people face which intersect with and transform their other forms of their identity that are invisible to us unless we not only understand the experience of circumcised people but how that form of identity intersects with every other aspect of their identity.
Adding one new piece of identity changes everything about our understanding of a person. If this identity is invisible, as circumcision is physically when a person is clothed and epistemically through the ways that society hides this impact of circumcision, then significant parts of circumcised people’s experiences might be rendered unseen and impossible to understand by the dominant culture. In critical social justice, when someone’s experience is impossible to communicate or understand, this is a form of epistemic injustice.
We have barely even begun to understand circumcision as a form of identity individually, let alone map the margins of how it intersects with other aspects of a person’s identity. Understanding this will require people to do the epistemic work of observing the impact of this issue in their lives and the lives of others.
To understand how this identity might impact someone: suppose that because a man is circumcised, he experiences pain during sex and struggles to reach orgasm as a result. Due to social standards and his beliefs around masculinity, he can’t admit a sexual problem without appearing “weak” and therefore less masculine. Instead of admitting pain, he describes himself as “fine” with his circumcision and compensates sexually through increasingly extreme porn and fantasies.
This is an intersection of circumcision identity and gender identity. The sexual problems are due to circumcision, while the inability to admit problems is due to social constructions around gender. The intersection of both creates a new challenge that would not exist without both intersecting. If the circumcision aspect is invisible, his behavior will be attributed to “toxic masculinity” when it is actually the intersection of masculinity and circumcision. There might be hundreds of examples we could create like this, yet they are only visible when this form of identity is as well.
This intersection could even occur in an intact man. Suppose a black man is intact in a cutting culture. The stereotypes that exist around the foreskin being “dirty” or “unclean” might intersect with racist beliefs about black sexuality or black bodies. There is a long racist history to American circumcision that exists at the intersection of racism and circumcision identity. The challenges a black intact man might face around circumcision are different than the challenges a white intact man might face or a black circumcised man.
The implication of this intersectional identity is that everyone experiences the harm of circumcision differently based on their unique identities and this harm even extends to intact men in the form of cultural harm. As a form of identity, the only way that anyone will be spared from this harm is if the social constructions around circumcision are themselves deconstructed and dismantled. The only way to end the harm of circumcision is to ensure the practice itself and all cultural constructions around it are abolished.
For more on circumcision as a form of identity, read this: