Michael Sabirlar’s story
Listen to Michael’s intense, brave and captivating story about being involuntarily circumcised (above). At birth Michael was named Mustafa, but for personal reasons he has taken a new name.
“This is my gift to you”
40 year old Michael lives in Holland and is of Turkish origin. He explains that his father is strict observing Muslim.
He remembers being circumcised in Turkey at the age of 8. The circumcision happened at a circumcision party, Sünnet, during which families traditionally circumcise their sons. The act of amputating the foreskin is considered a transitional ritual, during which the boy becomes a man. It is a colourful family event where the boy is celebrated, presented with gifts and dressed as princes before being shown off to the town.
Sünnet is celebrated between ages 3-10, but circumstances vary greatly. Normally it is expected that circumcison has taken place before puberty.
Nothing was explained to Michael about the purpose of the sünnet party prior to the day, he was just told that he would receive the biggest gift a father can give a son. As it turned out that gift was the circumcision and the cultural identity belonging to it. In the interview (above) Michael explains about the sünnet.
That story and the consequences and complications following the circumcision are not unique to Michael. They are shared amongst a significant number of boys and men from circumcising cultures, but Michael explains that no one talks about it.
“Boy, aren’t you lucky”
Michael’s circumcision experience did not end there. The man who performed the circumcision made a mistake; the incision was crooked. This meant that Michael and his family had to visit the hospital again to years later in order to correct the complication. Michael had to have corrective surgery.
The circumcision was one of physical and mental trauma, Michael remembers, but that was never addressed by his family or relatives. The experience was swept under the carpet.
As Michael matured and became increasingly aware of his body he started to realise that something was missing. The awareness was stirred by observations of family and friends as well as the occasional pornographic magazine. He realised that something had been taken from him and he felt faulty. That made him raise the issue with his parents repeatedly in vain. His parents and extended family met him with silence and even anger. Michael explains how his father would respond harshly for instance “What a cry baby, you are” and “Had I known you would be such a burden, I might not have done it. Pull yourself together.” It put a massive strain on their relationship and eventually ended in a permanent split between them.
Michael’s mother on the other hand did not respond with anger but with explanations which were intenesely frustrating to him. He rejects rationalisations such as the claimed prophylactic effect related to cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS, hygiene etc. “The hygiene argument doesn’t make sense. I still have to wash myself every day, just like men with foreskin, so what’s the point?” he says and continues “If you wish to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS or something like that, use a condom. Do you want you child to be cleaner? Wash it. Do you want you child to follow you religious and cultural convictions? Raise it. Feel free to raise it according to your convictions, just remember it doesn’t give you the right to cut them into your child.”
The silence and lack of understanding, Michael met, did not only come from the circumcision cultures but also from the majority culture in Holland. He vividly remembers once incident with a Dutch man who had elected to be circumcised as an adult, would send Michael photos of his penis. The man was so pleased to be circumcised that he berated and ridiculed Michael, when he tried to confide that he was not happy to be circumcised and that it had not been a personal choice. That ended their friendship.
It takes courage, strength and will-power to open oneself to other people. Meeting silence, anger and rejection made Michael withdraw into himself for many years. He was silenced, but not anymore.
“What does that have to do with me?”
Non-therapeutic circumcision and the cultures surrounding it infuriates Michael immensely. He cannot fathom why his parents did it and why they would not leave the choice to himself.
Elective surgery such a circumcision should have been his own choice, he feels, never that of his parents, especially given the possible physical and emotional complications. He is not entirely sure what would be the best way for the state to intervene, but is adament that children’s bodily integrity and autonomy should be protected by the society.
It would not be an infringement on the parent’s religious or parental rights to protect children from non-therapeutic circumcision on the contrary it is an infringement of the children’s rights not to do it.
Together we should make an effort to protect all children, in his opinion, because “There is more to circumcision than a knife. The are many facets and processes at play, but together we should make an effort to protect all children. Circumcision is not the answer.”