It’s a matter of time. The boys will be cut and Filipinos don’t even ask why it is necessary. In summer, boys drop their pants and line up to get circumcised. Circumcision is part of growing up.
Some wait to get circumcised when they’re grown up (It’s like cutting stubborn meat), but many consider it unthinkable to grow old uncircumcised (It’s like a life in darkness). Being a “supot” is almost like a handicap. You are a marked man for life once your secret leaks among your friends.
People don’t normally ask if you’re circumcised or you’re a supot. But boys and men love to recall and share with others this great experience that Filipinos consider a rite of passage into adulthood. What can a supot say? The likely answer is: “It’s been dark from my point of view.”
Many men also have uncanny ability to detect a supot in the course of the conversation. If you have been quiet all the time, they look at you with suspicion. One of your friends would probably glare at you and tell you bluntly: “You are a supot.”
Then somebody starts explaining the difference between a supot and a baldhead. “A bald man can make people laugh,” he sweeps his eyes across the room looking for an example. Unable to find a possible model, he continuous anyway: “It’s easy to sympathize with a bald man. But a supot? He suffers alone.”
But now the winds of change are blowing. The supots are fighting back in the other side of the world. It’s a matter of time. The messenger of change could be on his way to the Philippines.
In Santa Monica, California, a group has collected more than 7,100 signatures needed to get a measure on the November 12 ballot that would make it illegal to snip the foreskin of a minor within city limits. Press reports said if the anti-circumcision activists, who prefer to call themselves “intactivists,” have their way, cities across the country may be voting on whether to criminalize a practice that is common in many U.S. hospitals.
“The end goal for us is making cutting boys’ foreskin a federal crime,” said Matthew Hess, the activist who wrote the bill. Other activists said the measure was intended to protect children from what he describes as “male genital mutilation.”
We presume that all of them are supots or they would not object to circumcision. Will the circumcised fight back?
Press reports said Jewish groups see the ballot measure as a real threat, likening them to circumcision bans in Soviet era Russia and Eastern Europe and in ancient Roman and Greek times. The circumcision of males is an inviolable requirement of Jewish law that dates back to Abraham’s circumcision of himself.
Many medical groups in the United States take a neutral stand, according to the report. They said circumcision is not harmful but studies have linked circumcision to the reduction of the spread of HIV. They leave the decision to the parents and their doctors.
The prevalence of circumcision is worldwide, across various cultures and religions. Circumcision is considered a commandment from God in Judaism and customary practice among Muslims and Christians.
If you ask the non-religious why they undergo circumcision, the answers are varied. The macho type says circumcision helps ensure virility and enhance sexual pleasure. Others say it is an aid to hygiene and the process is a demonstration of one’s ability to endure pain.
Circumcision is done by doctors in the hospital or clinic today. But in the past, the ritual is performed by an obliging barber with a razor, or a respected elder who has experience with cutting boy’s foreskins. The circumcision is done in the river. His tools include a tapered board inserted under the foreskin, a sharp knife and a stick used as hammer.
The boys are ordered to soak in the river to soften the skin. When their turn comes they are made to chew guava leaves, which they should spit into the open wound before bandaging. Many boys get so nervous they swallow the leaves and somebody else has to spit on their penis.
The suffering does not end in the river. At home you wear a skirt without underwear because you cannot wear your pants. It’s part of the ritual. It’s difficult to get to sleep at night because of the pain. And it is even more painful in the morning because it seems to have a life of its own. It greets the day swollen and hard as a rock and the poor boy has to frantically fan it with a newspaper to cool it down.
Many Filipinos describe the ritual as a beautiful experience and they don’t get tired retelling it. If the intactivists come, they would be blunt with their comment” “You are all supots.”*