Gore Vidal, one of my premier literary mentor, has died at the age of 86.  I credit him with awakening me 40 years ago to the madness and absurdity of  circumcision.

Vidal was brilliant for his precision of words and his fearless way of skewering those he found ridiculous and out of step.   I discovered him in my college days when he  was  a regular on such couch places as the  David Cavett Show or Jack Paar or David Suskind.   The essayist-novelist was acerbic and drew from his deep and erudite grasp of the world.  He was known for his historic novels and his being a groupie with hundreds of celebrities and politicos of his time.  His liberal look at the world meshed with my unfolding understanding of the way things worked and why conservatism equals constipation for civilization.

I was a journalism graduate student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., in 1971 when I read his book “Myra Breckinridge,” which had been released in 1968 and then made into a controversial  film in 1970 with Rachel Welch, Rex Reed, Farrah Fawcett and Mae West.  Before I read his chapter 22, I was only vaguely curious about circumcision — a cruel act imposed on my body when I was too young to authorize it or reject it.

Chapter 22 is short, so I include it in its entirety:

“Just as I expected, seventy-two percent of the male students are circumcised. At Clem’s party I had been reminded of the promiscuous way in which American doctors circumcise males in childhoood, a practice I highly disapprove of, agreeing with that publisher who is forever advertising in the New York Times Book Review a work which proves that circumcision is necessary for only a very few men. For the rest, it consitutes, in advertising’s phrase, “a rape of the penis.” Until the Forties, only the upper or educated classes were circumcised in America.  The real people were spared this humiliation. But during the affluent postwar years, the operation became standard procedure, making money for doctors as well as allowing the American mother to mutilate her son in order that he might never forget her early power over him. Today only the poor Boston Irish, the Midwestern Poles and the Appalacian Southerners can be counted upon to be complete.

“Myron never forgave Gertrude for her circumcision of him. In fact, he once denounced her in my presence for it.  She defended herself by saying that the doctor had recommended it  on hygienic grounds — which, of course, does not hold water since most foreskins are easily manipulated and kept clean.  What is truly sinister is the fact that with the foreskin’s removal, up to fifty percent of sensation in the glans penis is reduced….a condition no doubt as pleasing  to the puritan American mother as it is to her co-conspirator, the puritan Jewish doctor who delights in being able to mutilate the goyim in the same vivid way that his religion (and mother!) mutilated him.

“I once had the subject out with Dr. Montag, who granted me every single point and yet, finally, turned dentist and confessed, “Whenever I hear the word ‘smegma,’ I become physically ill.” I am sure Moses is roasting in hell, along with Jesus, Saint Paul and Gertrude Percy Breckinridge.

“I was not able to find Rusty’s medical report and so do not know whether or not he has been circumcised. I hope not for I prefer the penis intact … in order that it be raped not by impersonal surgery but by me!”

Gore Vidal awakened me that day in 1971 when I read his words. From there, I did my research and quickly discovered that circumcision is a perverse practice with no merit. Now for 40 years, I have written and spoke out against circumcision.   I suspect there are others who first had their eyes opened by that chapter of Myra Breckinridge.

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