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Foreskin’s Lament

Foreskin’s lament

Before puberty, most Filipino boys undergo tuli — traditional circumcision. New Zealand-based writer Joseph Trinidad recalls his own rite of passage.

By Joseph Trinidad

Illustration by Daphne Simons.

I’d already had my first checkup with Doktor Framil. “Before the procedure make sure to sit on a batya to loosen everything up,” he’d instructed. “We don’t want you too tight when it’s time.”

Papa made sure that I did exactly what the Doktor said. He brought me a plastic batya, normally used for doing laundry by hand, and filled it with hot water and leafy bayabas branches. I felt like a teabag waiting to brew. At this point, Papa was already retired. He had more time for family and fewer meetings to occupy his days. After Dad moved away almost a year earlier, Papa stepped up as my father. Much to my uncles’ jealousy, the father that I got from Papa was patient, suave and always available — a far cry from the workhorse insurance salesman they knew growing up. I didn’t know that Papa.

All I knew was the Papa in the car with me the day of my procedure. He drove slowly. He packed for me: a bunch of old newspapers so I wouldn’t track blood into his Ford Everest (a post-retirement gift from his youngest son), and Mami’s skirt.

Doktor Framil didn’t see the need for the nurses, operating rooms or the admin-heavy bureaucracy of a general hospital. He preferred simple, non-invasive procedures at his home instead.

We arrived at the Framil’s for my appointment fifteen minutes early. Someone was in there with him. Size six Spider-Man tsinelas sat by the screen door (Hey, I have those too!), beside a pair of men’s Rusty Lopez loafers. I was quietly reading my Daredevil comics, a gift from my uncle in the States, when a wail of pain rose from behind the screen door. I tried to ignore it: I felt like I was listening in on something I shouldn’t. If the tsinelas was on the other foot, I wouldn’t want anyone to hear me going through a tuli.

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The child screamed again, this cry harder to ignore. He sobbed at the end. “It’s over now.” Doktor Framil’s droll voice coming through the screen door. “No need for all that crying. See, it’s over now! Apir!”

I heard the faint slap of a pathetic high five. This kid is such a wuss, I thought. That’s not gonna be me. The kid emerged with his dad. He looked down, ashamed to meet our gaze. I would be too if I cried that much. “Your turn, buddy!” The dad said to me, his wire- framed glasses lifting up as he smiled. “It’s not that painful. Renz just had too much sugar today.”

I smiled in Renz’s direction, even waving to get his attention, but his eyes were fixed to the floor.

“Good job, Renz,” I said, weakly.

I watched as they walked to their car, Renz walking with an odd gait, his pants a weird shape. I realised that Renz’s pants weren’t pants at all but instead a long, dark skirt that he kept tucked between his legs. His dad opened the door for him like he was a princess. They drove away slowly, the dad carrying precious cargo.

I’d understood tuli as a rite of passage, a gateway through which I entered a boy and emerged a man. Unlike Renz, I was happy to be here. I couldn’t wait to be tuli, not supot. The day I turned eleven, I asked Papa when I could get it. Papa was the only adult male in the house I trusted. Technically, there was Tito King, but he was always away doing law school things in the city. Plus, I didn’t want Tito King to see my titi; I would never hear the end of it. He would call me burat for the rest of my life. Papa told me, “next summer”. That summer was now this summer, the summer all of my classmates would be getting it.

My dad couldn’t go as he was overseas, so Papa came in his place. My mum couldn’t make it either: besides being a girl, she also had to work. She was so busy that I couldn’t even borrow her skirt, so I had to use Mami’s. It was long and flowery, and scratched my skin: it was made of fabric woven from pineapples. “It doesn’t stain,” Mami told me. “I don’t want your tebong blood on my good skirts.”

“I don’t know why you had a home birth,” Papa would complain to my mother. “He could’ve had it done in the hospital when he was baby like his cousin, Nico. That would’ve been much easier.” The truth was, my mother was still unsure if she believed in tuli. She thought I should have the choice when I was older, not have it made for me when I was a baby. Why would my first act as a mother be to mutilate my son?