I had a lot to learn about foreskins. I didn't know that the pink region just below my circumcision scar was what was left of the mucosal tissue whose job it was to shield the most sensitive area of my penis, the glans, the little fireman's helmet at the tip, the part that I kept trying to protect with ever-tightening undergarments (and more severe measures that we'll get to later).
I wouldn't learn about the protective function of the foreskin until I was 29-years-old, and I read a book by a guy a lot like me, a guy born in the '60s who'd been circumcised as a small child and gone through a lot of the same same physical and psychological torment that I had.
Long before I ever read that book, I read another book that touched upon another function of the foreskin, the sexual function. That book was Myra Breckinridge.
"Myra Breckinridge?" you say. "Wasn't that the trashy movie with Raquel Welch?"
Yes, that's the one. It was one of those adult-themed movies that all the grown ups would talk about in hushed tones when they were picking us up at the day care center. We had a few of those in the 1960s.
But before it was trashy movie, it was a book, by Gore Vidal, and I decided to read it during Winter Break of my sophomore year in college. I was 19.
What I didn't know when I checked the book out of the Houston Public Library was that Myra, a male-to-female transsexual (We didn't use the word "transgender" in those days.) who does most the narration, had some strong opinions about circumcision. She was opposed. Vehemently opposed. As vehemently opposed as any broadly drawn Gore Vidal anti-hero was ever vehemently opposed to anything.
"Wait," you say, "but Myra was a male-to-female transsexual? Doesn’t that mean…?"
Look, I didn't write the book, OK? I'm just telling you what I read.
And what I read reinforced the anger, shame and grief that I felt around the issue of my circumcision. What Myra told me, in a mocking, pitiless tone, was that circumcision had robbed me of tens of thousands of specialized nerve endings, had in fact taken away the most pleasure-receptive part of my penis. To hear it from Myra, all the sexual experiences I'd had in my life up to that point, either alone or with a partner, were nothing but a shabby imitation, a sad counterfeit of what a whole man experienced.
A whole man, something I would never be.
And now at age 19, I found out that not only did I not have the appearance of a whole man, not only did I not live in the body of a whole man, but I would never have the sexual experiences of a whole man.
It was a lot like the time I first learned that part of my penis was gone, the first time I felt that horrible, bewildering sense of loss. But now I felt a new kind of loss, a loss of something that little boy in Mr. Hoezel's room could never have conceived of.
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