In 1910, I was eleven years old. It was the same year the Boy Scouts of America was incorporated in Washington D.C. as a British import. King Edward VII, King of Great Britain died while my parents were visiting London that spring. His son George took power to become King George V. Thomas Edison introduced talking pictures for the first time to an American audience. As an eleven year old my memory of this year is very keen because I, like the rest of the world around me, was going through tremendous changes. My parents’ trip to London would have an everlasting effect on my life. I was left in the care of my Aunt Margaret for four months while my parents were away. It wasn’t until their return that I began to realize the implications of this time in my life.
I was happy to see my parents upon their return. It was the first time we had been separated for more than an evening. At first I had been reluctant to stay with my aunt, because I remembered all of the criticisms my mother leveled at her behind her back. I soon found that the basis for my mother’s criticism was the foundation for my new found freedom. I never understood how oppressed I had been until my Aunt Margaret allowed me to be a child. 1910 was the year of my liberation coinciding with my entry into puberty. In four months I was able to grow up and undo the damage my well intentioned parents had inflicted upon me. It took my mother less than four months to understand how to punish my intentional irreverence though. She had come equipped with all of the puritanical garbage our British relatives could stuff into her brain before her departure back to the wilderness of America. Even the alliance I had formed with Aunt Margaret could not save me.
My mother caught me masturbating in the bathtub. I had become careless because my aunt had respected my right to privacy. My mother, however, had been warned of the dangers of leaving an eleven year old boy alone naked to the world. I really think she plotted the sudden arrival. Perhaps she was even looking through the keyhole to time her entry just right. I was terrified when she jerked me out of the tub and wrapped the bath towel around me. She was screaming hysterically as she slapped me across the face several times until my cheeks were on fire. I sat on the hallway floor as she phoned the family doctor to make arrangements for an emergency visit. I had no idea that what I had discovered was wrong. I had been masturbating for quite some time with no noticeable side effects. From the way my mother reacted I was sure the doctor was going to tell me it was fatal or that I would go blind as I had heard rumored.
I was taken directly into the examination room while my mother remained in the waiting room. The doctor asked me to undress and put on a gown. I climbed onto the examination table and spread my legs and arms as I was asked. I was surprised when the doctor tied my hands and feet to the table. I heard the clanking of instruments then felt a cold liquid burning the tip of my penis. The doctor came to the edge of the table without speaking a word. I felt the cold steel touch my penis. I began to scream with every bit of sound I could muster.
"Please don’t cut it off!" I screamed. "I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do that!"
The nurse came into the room in response to my screams. The doctor instructed her to keep me quiet. They were laughing at me as they prepared to cut off my penis. I was only able to move my head so I sunk my teeth into the nurses hand. With that I felt the doctor carving into my penis which now was half erect in his hand. I raised my head and could only see blood between my legs. With that I lost consciousness and did not awaken until the next morning.
I wasn’t quite sure what others had been told, but a strange silence had descended upon our household in the days that followed. No one came to explain what had been done to me. I was able to figure out on my own, of course, that my penis had not been removed entirely. I was under the impression that what had been done was a deliberate attempt to punish my actions though. I stopped the practice of masturbation until my wound had healed. My first erection was very painful. I had to spit into my hand for lubrication to compensate the missing foreskin. The head of my penis became less sensitive through constant exposure. I felt that my whole being had been altered by this act of violence. I never spoke to my mother unless it was absolutely necessary, even until the day she died. This was one mistake I could not forgive her.
When I went to the showers after football practice in high school I was ashamed to be seen nude. I was the only boy on the team without a foreskin. I felt like a freak in a sideshow. No one had to say anything for I could feel the eyes upon me and hear the whispers behind my back. It may sound strange in this day and age, but I was so embarrassed I had to quit the team. I also became a sexual cripple with the idea that a sexual partner would laugh at the sight of me with an erection.
It was in the autumn of 1946 that my mother died at the age of sixty-seven. My Aunt Margaret and I were going through my mother’s belongings when I came across a book about child-rearing published in London in 1905. Inside the book was a letter from the wife of my mother’s cousin in London. The letter described in detail the circumcision of her son as punishment for masturbating. This letter was neatly inserted into the chapter entitled, "The Moral Effect of Circumcision." I had returned from Europe where Nazis had sent men to concentration camps to die when they discovered they were circumcised. I wondered how this thing that had been done to me could play such an important role in wartime, yet no one seemed interested to hear my story or to even debate the merits of a procedure that had ruined my life in many ways.