#203: Penile Servitude

August 14th, 2013

His earliest memory was realizing his penis looked different than his brothers’.

“The doctor who did my circumcision has been called incompetent,” the now-white-haired man said as the crowd whipped by to get to the Red Line Grand stop.

He’s old and chubby, bearded and all in white save a floppy hat protecting him from the sun. In one hand he holds a retractable rectangular sign complete with handle on the back like a shield. In the other, like a sword, if you want to complete the metaphor, he holds a sheaf of brochures.

The point of shield and sword the same. He wants the American Medical Association, in whose downtown courtyard he stands, to speak out against circumcision.

Infants can’t consent.

“If you don’t own your own body,” he said. “you don’t own anything.”

Dan’s usual spot isn’t in the courtyard by the AMA HQ. For the last nine years, he’s protested circumcision by the University of Chicago, where his parents once worked and where since retiring he’s had a nice routine of leisurely swims followed by flipping his retractable sign open to tell strangers that circumcision is immoral and dangerous.

But they’re doing construction there, so he’s hitting the AMA for a few weeks.

It’s insane and heroic, both. If you want to continue that shield-and-sheaf knight metaphor, he’s Don Quixote. If you want a different visual reference, with his white beard and roundness round tum, he looks like Santa Claus talking about cocks.

We talked for a while, this man and I. He gave me information I don’t feel comfortable sharing sans alternate, as if linking to opposite sites would somehow find the truth.

As if throwing two darts meant the bull’s eye was in between.

So who is this guy?

Who is he, readers? What is this man whose first memory was a botched practice no one can defend beyond “tradition”?

Is he a victim taking the time to educate others about a practice we hold onto for some unknown reason that cuts and wounds our young boys? Is he part of a future that will wonder why we as a society had greater outrage at cropping dogs’ ears?

Or is he another madman in a city of madmen, the genital version of a street preacher, spreading a gospel of avoiding what hurt him most? Nine years of protest. Nine years of swimming and signs.

I don’t know, readers. But this madman or victim got me asking some questions of myself, questions I wouldn’t even be thinking of had he not stood by my path from work to bus.

And I think he would like that.

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