I also had to figure out if any of my manhood was caught up in my ability to reproduce. I didn't think that it was -- I don't have dreams of being like actor Tony Randall, who had a child with his wife at 78 years old. But I'm also not immune to the "locker room conversations" where men often encourage other men to completely define each other by size and potency. I put quotations around the term "locker room" because these talks don't just happen in those spaces. They happen in bathrooms, at sporting events, at the office, and in buses on the way to TV appearances. Locker room conversations are like church in the Bible: anywhere two or more men are gathered, a locker room conversation can occur.
And I have engaged in and enjoyed my share. But I don't treat them as the Gospel of man. I think this is most likely because as a kid, I would go home to my single mom who was great at deprogramming -- or maybe reprogramming -- me after those conversations. She, and others, helped me understand how to separate my sense of identity from what society says a man should be. I'm not pitching myself as some sort of evolved, new age man. I'm just aware that, because of how I grew up and who was around me, I have been able to separate who I am from what I am.
Growing up, there was so much talk about "challenging manhood:" "YOU GONNA LET HIM LOOK AT YOU LIKE THAT?" The most freeing thing I learned was to be able to just respond, "Yeah." And then just keep it moving. Bruce Lee called it the Art of Fighting without Fighting. We could fight. Maybe I win. But why would I want to do that? I could be home watching TV and not fighting.
So in this case I guess that means that, no, my ability to procreate is not connected to who I am or how I define my manhood.
Then I had to decide if I was afraid of the pain. That one was a yes; I was 100% afraid of the pain. When you are born with a penis and testicles, you learn early on how sensitive that area is and to protect it at all cost. One of the weird bonding rituals of boys when I was a kid was constantly threatening to kick, punch, slap, cup check, or destroy each other's twig and berries. And when someone did manage to render said violence, you would just collapse in a heap on the floor, slowly rocking back and forth, trying to stop the tears from rolling down your eyes, while choking out a forced laugh.
And this isn't just limited to little boys. Adult men engage in this behavior, too. I guarantee you that at some point Eric Trump has stood over Don Jr. in the Oval Office laughing while Don Jr. sputtered out, "You… got… me... bro."
But again, I did some research online and talked to my wife's friend's husband (who I'm not naming here because he is not a public figure, and having a vasectomy was not something he wanted on page one of his Google search). I learned that the entire surgery is about ten minutes, and the pain isn't "that bad." Obviously "that bad" is subjective, so I asked for a range. Currently, the worst pain I've ever had was a root canal… at a dental school. I was assured that this was closer to a "deep cleaning at the dentist" level of pain.
But what about after the surgery? How bad is that? How many days would I be out of action? Well, apparently the reason that some guys have the surgery on Friday afternoon is so they can take the weekend off. And for many, the best prescription is ibuprofen and frozen peas. You don't eat the peas. You sit on the peas. I guess I could handle that.
There was also something else. As a black man, I have read about all the things that America has done to black people because America didn't see us as humans. One of those is forced sterilization.
It has been used to control the population of black people as well as others that America was suspicious of, including Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, Indigenous peoples and prisoners. A lot of this has even happened in my so-called liberal home state of California, and I'm not talking about ancient history.
So even though I knew this was a personal decision, I had to reckon with the fact that for some black people, me submitting to a vasectomy is a loss and giving in to a country trying to destroy black masculinity. I had to reckon with the fact that for some white people, one less sterile black man is a part of America being great again. Once again in my life, I had to reckon with the fact that America has a funny way of making white people feel like individuals while making people of color feel like we are forever members of a group.
But I know that if I always play into America's narrative of blackness, and if every decision that I make is always in response to that narrative, then I wouldn't really be living at all. This vasectomy is about my life and my family. And yes, technically I could have it reversed, but from what I've learned, that surgery is way worse than getting a vasectomy. It is around two to four hours, much more complicated, requires general anesthesia, and worst of all it isn't covered by my insurance!
So, I went ahead with it. I scheduled the surgery. I chose to do it now because at the same time I was considering it, I was also working on a very special episode of "United Shades of America" in Jackson, Mississippi.
I spent a week in Jackson learning about the fight for reproductive justice. It is an episode filled with mostly black women who, although they are well aware of the redness of their state's politics, are unfettered in their struggle to make their state recognize each woman's human, civil, and reproductive rights. It may sound intense, but it was also incredibly inspiring, and inspiringly filled with laughter.
If those badass women can stand up in the face of all that, then I can lie down for a ten minute surgery. And in an effort to get more men to talk about their private parts in healthy and helpful ways, we filmed the whole surgery -- you can watch it right at the top of this page.
Spoiler alert: It was way easier than a root canal.