The Kindest Cut


photo of a bald man standing with the Golden Gate Bridge in the backgroundLast year, I became castrated impotent sterile. That is, I had a vasectomy. While it’s actually a very common procedure (nearly 500,000 are performed every year in the US), it raises eyebrows – and a lot of questions.

The first one is always simply: Why?

Although this was a very personal decision for me, it was also a choice I made out of larger societal, political, and environmental motivations. I consider the environmental ones paramount. In an economic system that demands infinite growth with finite resources, not doubling my own consumption is one small stone in a big river.

More importantly, I live in the US, and any child I had would have been raised here and would consume (despite my best efforts) far more resources than I am comfortable accepting. Living even a modest lifestyle in the US comes as a direct result of the oppression, domination, and deaths of many unseen people, not to mention the exploitation of natural resources at rates that threaten the ability of our planet to sustain life. These facts shouldn’t be cause for guilt or shame; instead, they should spur us to organize to confront the systems and institutions that have created these problems. On a personal level, contributing another person to the system that I have spent my adult life fighting is just not something I’m willing to do.

The next question is usually: But what if you change your mind?

I view my decision as permanent. As I see it, I already made the decision years ago not to have children, based on sound, rational reasons. If I change my mind in the future, I believe that change would be fundamentally selfish, and I am comfortable committing myself to rational reasons now.

People typically follow up with: Aren’t there other forms of birth control?

Yes, of course, and most of us here in the US are lucky to be able to choose the form that is best for our lifestyles, our preferences, and our relationships. A vasectomy fit my needs best.

I guess there’s always abstinence, but that’s no fun, right? I suppose the rhythm method is an option, but almost everyone knows how (in)effective that is. Condoms are fine and dandy in many situations, but they have their downsides as well, and can seem pointless if you are in a monogamous relationship.

All the other common birth control methods have one aspect in common: They place the onus on women. Not only does our society expect women to deal with the logistics of birth control, but these methods also have severe physiological drawbacks, from roller-coaster hormonal changes to intensifying menstruation cycles to weight and skin changes. Although these methods have come a long way in a few decades, they still burden women and their bodies. Is it any coincidence that in a male-dominated society, the medical establishment has thus far focused on birth control methods that leave the burden solely on women?

For men, vasectomies are simple. There are almost no side effects and no long-term impacts; it’s a quick, low-cost, outpatient procedure. Having decided that I want to take an active role in birth control, a vasectomy is fair, easy, and it confronts my privilege on this issue.

What if you decide you want children in the future? people ask.

Many of my friends whom I deeply respect have chosen to have children or will do so in the future. Some people do feel that there is something special and important about having a blood-related child. I just don’t share that feeling.

There are thousands of beautiful children all over the world who need parents, and if I ever decide that being a father is something I want in my life, I would be remiss to ignore the existing children needing support and love. For me, adoption is the best option. We need more parents in this world, not more kids.

Finally, But don’t we need the smart, progressive people to reproduce?

I’m of the nurture-over-nature camp. I think the whole “passing on genes” obsession can sometimes border on eugenics. I’m fairly confident there is no gene that instructs your child to fight for justice, peace, and sustainability. That comes from living those values and instilling them in the communities we are a part of. That’s what I want to prioritize in my life – and I feel I can share those things more effectively without a child.

And besides – I’ve got messed-up teeth, I’m legally blind, bald, and have a history of heart disease. Let Matt Damon pass on his genes instead.

Matt Leonard lives in San Francisco, where he works on climate justice and energy issues, rock climbs, rides his bike, and eats yummy vegan food. He currently works with Greenpeace and Rising Tide North America.

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