Is Circumcision A Form Of Identity?
The imposed identity of circumcision explained.
When people talk about circumcision, they don’t say “I was circumcised.” They say “I am circumcised.” Why? This is not how we talk about other surgeries. No one would say “I am shoulder surgeried.” They would say “I had shoulder surgery.”
The only surgeries that people use identity language around are those which transform identity in some way. For example, one might say “I had my eyes removed,” but they would be more likely to say “I am blind.” This means that people talk about circumcision as a form of identity.
Circumcision as a form of identity might explain why people often become defensive or fragile when circumcision is criticized. People become rightly upset when other unchangeable aspects of their identity are attacked, like race, gender, age, etc. Yet, circumcision is not an unchangable aspect of identity people are born with. It is a form of genital cutting imposed on them as children.
In my book Children’s Justice, I refer to circumcision status as imposed identity, meaning a form of identity imposed by the dominant culture. While circumcised men might not have wanted to have their genitals altered, the dominant culture imposed this on them as children, and now it is a part of their identity for the rest of their life, whether they wanted it or not.
The fact that circumcision is a form of identity is significant. It means the harm of circumcision extends to the way that survivors conceptualize their own self-image. This imposed identity doesn’t just change how survivors see themselves. It also changes how others perceive survivors. Others’ perceptions of us are influenced by the dominant cultural beliefs and assumptions about our identity. While you might be able to change how you perceive yourself, changing the dominant culture's perception of you can prove more challenging.
Even the identities of intact men are affected by this culturally imposed identity. An intact body might not have experienced genital cutting, yet the identity “uncircumcised” is imposed on them. This identity might come with false or bigoted cultural beliefs, like that their bodies are unclean or more likely to carry disease.
Since circumcision is a form of identity, that identity could be “circumcised” or “uncircumcised,” but it cannot be outside the identity of circumcision entirely. Language like using “intact” instead of “uncircumcised” attempts to shift this frame, yet it is still a form of identity. No one would describe themselves as “intact” if they still had all their fingers and toes, since there is not a common form of imposed identity around removing them.
All of modern critical social justice is based around identity, so much so that it has come to be referred to as “identity politics.” If circumcision is as much a form of identity as race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. but it is an imposed form of identity that is inherently oppressive, then all of the same “identity politics” ideas of critical social justice can be applied to this oppressed identity group and all of the same social justice tools used to understand identity used to help this group achieve power.
To understand how this imposed identity impacts survivors, read Children’s Justice.