Voices — David Arnold

David ArnoldI am 77 years old. It has taken me a lifetime to deal with the consequences of the trauma of my circumcision as a newborn infant in 1942. For most of my life, the earliest memory I had of my mother was when we were traveling on a railroad train across the western plains  from Louisville, Kentucky to the coast of Oregon to visit my father who was serving in the Coast Guard during WWII. I was two years old.  As the train sped over the prairie, we needed to move from one car to another. The shaky and narrow walkways between the cars were open, windy and scary.  My mother wanted to carry me, but I fought against her and insisted on walking on my own. I felt I had to do it myself because I could not trust my mother. This feeling hindered a close relationship between us for most of our lives. I was afraid of her. Fortunately, I had great attention and care from close relatives who were always available to and engaged with me for the first three years of my life while my father was absent, and my mother and I lived with her parents and older sister. I am forever grateful for their attention to me.

My first career was as an officer in the Coast Guard.  However, in 1985 I turned down a significant promotion and many appeals and inducements by senior officers to remain in the Service.  I had begun to pursue my interests in depth psychology and experiential approaches to self-individuation. I had become increasingly concerned about the Coast Guard and the competence and authoritarian style of its leadership, and I no longer wanted to be a part of it.

I decided to pursue a second career in clinical psychology. I recognized that I was suffering from PTSD and moral wounding, and that I was unable to trust or take in the satisfactions and further opportunities offered to me as the result of my accomplishments. I sought to avoid further injury and to obtain personal healing for myself.  During my career change, I obtained effective, ongoing personal therapy that enabled me to communicate and heal my relationship with  my mother. I was very glad to be able to express to her my love, understanding and appreciation of her while she was still alive.

As I explored academic programs in clinical psychology and counseling, I decided to take a self-indulgent year off and enroll in a new massage therapy school in Connecticut that was integrating aspects of experiential and body-centered psychotherapy. During this time, while receiving massage and while deeply relaxed and mindfully observing, I had body memories of my infancy.  I felt hunger and the impulse to nurse along with the beginning of a penile erection. This rapidly turned into intolerable pain in my genitals.  I realized I must have had some experience as a nursing infant that had required me to turn off feeling in order take in nourishment and survive, and that resulted in my associating the pleasure-seeking fulfillment of my needs with unbearable pain.  I had developed an ability to strive, to accept and tolerate dangerous and painful circumstances.  I became increasingly curious about my vivid body memory and its possible effects on all aspects of my life.  I wondered if my mother, while holding and nursing me, had perhaps checked my diaper and accidentally stuck me in the genitals with a diaper pin.

When I was 43 years old, I asked my mother if she could recall any accident or difficulty when she was nursing me in infancy. I was shocked by her immediate explosion of emotion and the specific details. She named and swore at the obstetrician, telling me how he had nearly cut off the end of my penis and then sewn it back on with five stitches. She exclaimed how the doctor had insisted that newborns did not feel pain, that the circumcision process did not hurt and could not be the cause of my distress in her frantic attempts to feed me. She told me how the doctor said that her difficulties in comforting and nursing me were due to her breasts being too small and her milk inadequate,  She told me how agitated and terrified she was in her attempts to care for me. Her powerful feelings of inadequacy, regret, helplessness, guilt and rage were evident as she told me things she had never before spoken about.

My mother’s account clarified and furthered my understanding of my early injury and its consequences.  It increased my confidence in trusting in the power, depth and consequences of “body” memory” existing before “conscious” memory and the subsequent physical and psychological consequences.

I decided to train and became a body-centered psychotherapist, and had a second career in  private practice with self-paying clients for over two decades until I became severely physically disabled due to compression fractures in my thoracic spine and, resulting spinal cord injuries resulting from a rare cancer throughout my spine, liver, and lungs. The cancer was caused by exposure to Agent Orange while I was skippering patrol boats in Vietnam in 1967-68.

My mother’s revelations to me about my circumcision confirmed my body memory and explained the basis of a vast number other beliefs and behaviors resulting from the experience. This understanding helped not only in my personal healing journey, but also in working successfully with clients suffering from severe physical and psychological issues that not had not been successfully treated with conventional medical treatments or talk therapies.

The answers to basic questions such as “Am I lovable?” “Can I trust others?”. “Can I get my needs met?” and “Is this world safe for me?” are fundamental in the development of individuals and cultures.  The increasing incidence of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) resulting from our rapidly changing culture and the deep feelings of betrayal arising from the actions of authorities upon whom we rely are critical issues we face  as individuals and as a nation.

The trust in the power and depth of the body memory of each individual and the use of body-centered psychotherapy and many wholistic practices have been of life-saving value to me, as well as to many of my clients. I am grateful that the complexities and difficulties in the paths of possibilities in my life journey are ongoing.  I attempt to share what I believe might be beneficial to others.

Many find the topic of “circumcision” too painful to discuss, or even consider. I believe that the present conflicts between systems of human authority, privilege and control (including religion, politics, economics, science, and communication systems) are causing great harm, carried out by individuals attempting unsuccessfully to overcome their own deep personal insecurity and developmental traumas.

I am grateful for the critical work that Intact America is doing to recognize and end the trauma of genital mutilation of infant males.

David Arnold

Interested in lending your voice? Send us an email, giving us a brief summary of what you would like to write about, and we will get back to you.

Redesigned website

Intact America is proud to announce that we have launched our new website! It took a long time, but it looks FANTASTIC! We are grateful to all who made it happen: Stephen Patterson, Intact America’s Director of Constituent Outreach; Erica DeJoannis, a Washington-based consultant who helped us to conceive of the site’s look and feel, and to organize the content; Dan Bollinger, IA’s stalwart volunteer, content contributor, and strategic consultant; and Adam Zeldis, also a volunteer who so generously helped with both content and technical issues. And most of all, We are grateful to YOU—Intact America’s followers and donors, who inspire us every day to do our best work.

The new website has all your favorite features and more. You’ll find links to IA’s Voices essays and our “Do You Know” series; you’ll find Intact America’s Statement of Principles, and our well-thought-out positions on the bioethics of genital cutting; and you can read about our various campaigns and ways you can take action and spread the word. Finally, you’ll find the site offers great resources for educating yourself and your community. So check it out — the new IntactAmerica.org — and tell us what you think.

Voices – Marilyn Milos, RN

Since her days as a hospital floor nurse more than 35 years ago, Marilyn Milos, RN, has been at the front of the fight to end forced circumcision in the U.S. She founded the National Organization of Circumcision Resource Centers (NOCIRC), now Genital Autonomy – America, and is a co-founder of Intact America, a member of its Steering Committee, and also serves as its Clinical Consultant.

When I began my work in 1979, I naively thought it would take a couple of years to stop routine infant circumcision. It seemed so obviously wrong, and I’m outspoken and pretty determined. So, I figured if someone put a spotlight on it, rational people would see the truth.

I witnessed a circumcision for the first time when I was a nursing student, and it changed me forever. Before the doctor came into the nursery, the baby was lying on a molded plastic board, struggling against the restraints that held his arms and legs down. I asked the nurse if I could comfort the baby and she said to wait until the doctor arrived. I asked the doctor when he came in, and he said to put my finger in the baby’s mouth. The baby began to suck on my finger. I stroked his little head and told him what my doctor had said to me before my own three sons were circumcised — it wouldn’t hurt, just took a minute, and would protect him throughout life. As the doctor began, the baby let out a scream I’d never heard come out of a human before. It wasn’t like a baby’s cry when he’s hungry or needs his diaper changed. It was primal. He screamed for the next 15 minutes.

My chin began to quiver, and I knew I was going to lose it. I started to cry uncontrollably. The doctor looked at me and said, “There is no medical reason for doing this!” This baby was being tortured, and I was just realizing what had been done to my sons and that my own doctor had lied to me.

After witnessing a circumcision, I began learning everything I could about it. How could I have let this happen to my precious boys? I shared what I learned with other nurses working on the obstetrical unit. I thought, “We’re all learning together. We’ll be educating parents and changing things.”

But in the end, I was forced to resign. That was 1985, and that same year I started NOCIRC. It was the desperate screams of those babies that have driven me all these years. It was in my 30th year that a generous donor asked if his contributions were being as effective as they might be. I had learned that, after three decades, grassroots movements typically step it up a notch, and I suggested to him that I put together a group of the movers and shakers for this discussion. I invited Georganne Chapin to be part of that group.

Our conference call included the leaders of other organizations that formed after I founded NOCIRC — including Attorneys for the Rights of the Child, Doctors Opposing Circumcision and Nurses for the Rights of the Child. This phone call was the beginning of the formation of our new organization, Intact America. Georganne was the perfect person to lead this new level of intactivism. She ran a health care company and knew how to get things done. She was an attorney, a respected expert in the healthcare field and had a network of colleagues and media connections she could tap.

A core group of us continued to plan this new phase of activism in person with support from our donor. The third time we got together we met in Tarrytown, New York at Georganne’s Hudson Health Plan office. During one of our meetings that weekend, the consultants hired to help us organize went over the budget with us. It was based on more money than any intactivist organization had ever had or that I could even imagine having.

So when the donor offered that he planned to donate a million dollars, I burst into tears and cried for 15 minutes. I’d been challenged and discredited for more than 30 years, and suddenly I was being told the thing I hold so dear is worthy. It was overwhelming. And Georganne, bless her heart, was willing to step up and make it happen.

Intact America is the organization that is fighting on a level that none of us ever had been able to fight before.

In the early days of the work, we focused on getting accurate information about the normal penis and the harm of non-therapeutic genital cutting into the hands of parents, childbirth educators, midwives, doctors, lawyers, and concerned individuals. Today, with information readily available, we’re working to challenge those who profit from genital cutting and refuse to put their scalpels down, those who provide misinformation and disinformation to promote genital cutting, and those who advocate for the circumcision-to-prevent-HIV/AIDS agenda, which undermines the programs that truly will end the spread of the disease (for example, education about safe sex and condom use). Education continues to be key and the Internet has helped immeasurably. Intact America’s Internet outreach has been large, productive, and effective. And, now with more intact boys in the United States, our work includes educating parents and their sons’ doctors about proper care of the intact penis, about letting each boy be the first person to retract his own foreskin, and about treating foreskin problems medically instead of amputating them. Our work also includes helping men who have penile problems and dysfunctions resulting from their circumcision years before.

Medical organizations have to be very careful now. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, hospitals and academics who are making their career from the bogus and unethical “African HIV studies” — Intact America is taking on all of them. Georganne has stood up to the powers that be — with strength, dignity, and experience. She is not afraid to ask the tough questions about ethics and human rights, and the medical organizations and the doctors who head them are unable to provide answers that would put them on solid ground.

This is not surprising. No excuse is good enough to allow cutting off parts of the normal genitals of minors. It is time for American medical organizations to join with Intact America, other intactivist organizations, and medical and ethics organizations in Europe — and elsewhere in protecting the bodily integrity and genital autonomy rights of infants and children.

Marilyn Milos, RN

Interested in lending your voice? Send us an email, giving us a brief summary of what you would like to write about, and we will get back to you.

Voices – Joshua Armitage

When I became an intactivist, I found that simply bringing up the subject with others provoked responses falling into one of two categories: disgust, horror, and disbelief; or entrenchment and defensiveness. If this person was a circumcised man, the reaction would be magnified – as though he instinctively anticipated that the topic would bring on strong and uncomfortable feelings better avoided than confronted.Joshua Armitage intactivist

I first learned this lesson in a place of learning and discussion. In 2003, I was working on the general education requirements for my college degree. As a freshman, the options weren’t impressive, but Introduction to Sociology is memorable as the first time I ever gave circumcision any thought. The instructor was new to the teaching world; being young and part of the liberal arts program, she seemed keen to tackle controversy. At this time, the 21st century still had that new-century smell. Liberal arts programs were really ramping up their social studies and analysis work, taking it upon themselves to solve the unsolvable. Three short papers made up the bulk of our grade for the semester, each on some topic of social taboo. Lectures included pre-selected readings meant to expose us to taboos in foreign cultures, to help us identify our own. The instructor had compiled a list of suggested topics, among them recreational drug use and driving restrictions for the elderly. We were not required to stick to the list, though, so long as our topic was approved beforehand and was not being written about by another student in the class.

In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court had handed down its landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage rights within that state. In my senior year of high school, we had staged an exhibition of The Laramie Project, introducing me to the equality struggle faced by my LGBT peers. Unfortunately, though, same-sex marriage as a topic had already been claimed by another student in my college sociology class.

So, I sequestered myself in the library for an afternoon, looking for inspiration. I don’t remember in which section I found it, but the spine of Ronald Goldman’s book Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma caught my attention. Perhaps it was how the sterile objectivity of the block typeface paired the word “circumcision”: with “trauma” in such a matter-of-fact way. At the time, I did not even know I had been subjected to circumcision.

Skimming the table of contents provided more than enough to convince me that circumcision qualified as a socially controversial and taboo subject, and thus a good topic for my first paper. I threw together an outline and e-mailed it to my instructor with the hope of having the A-OK two days later. Silly me. In an after-class meeting, the instructor told me I hadn’t understood what was necessary to meet the definition of controversy. In her words (as best as I can recall), a social controversy had to have heated debate over the merit of the topic, with fervent support and opposition that sees little progress because of the uncomfortable nature of the topic. Circumcision, she said, was simply an uncomfortable topic that lacked any disagreement over its merit. I provided her the book I found at the library; she suggested that the issues anyone might have over circumcision were rooted in a broader controversy of sex and sexuality, and that my efforts would be better focused there. During the talk, she wouldn’t even mention the word “circumcision,” and she never once laid a hand on the book I had placed on the desk. When I questioned the difference between disagreement with a premise and not wanting to learn a premise, she ended the conversation: Circumcision was not “in the scope” of the assignment, she responded. Period.

That was 16 years ago. Women’s studies, gender analysis, sexual paradigms… Liberal arts programs have flourished with conversations and examination of the women’s liberation and sexual liberation movements. Lines previously drawn in the sand were now meant to be crossed. Everything was opened to critique and analysis, and the structural supports of the pre-eminent social order were to be torn down to make room for a new order where appreciation for human identity and human sexuality prevail over the rigidly-defined spaces each person had been expected to inhabit unquestioningly. It was the emergence of an era promoting the natural beauty of the human body in its many varied forms. Every penis was the right size, every vulva perfect as it was. Every body part was great just the way it was made — natural and normal and something to be celebrated.

Every part but one – the foreskin. That part was just too uncomfortable, and it continues to be for many people today.

But in the 16 years since I was prevented from opening discussion about circumcision in a social sciences class, I’ve witnessed events and had conversations that convince me that this is changing. In 2011, the people of San Francisco collected thousands of signatures for a ballot measure that would have banned routine circumcision from being performed within the city. It was, of course, stricken from the ballot, but that it made the popular threshold for inclusion in the first place showed that support for intactivism was growing. The next year, a German court in Cologne ruled routine circumcision illegal within its jurisdiction. That decision was similarly unsuccessful – overruled by the German parliament. But again, legal footing for the intactivist position had been sought and accepted as valid.

When the San Francisco and Cologne cases were in the news, I read for the first time about David Reimer; a Canadian boy who — when he was a few months old — had been subjected to terribly botched circumcision. It was a gut-wrenching story to read because I knew that what happened to him could have happened to me, and it returned me to the topic I had not thought about for a decade.

Since that time, I been seeking ways to reach, inform, and educate those who see nothing wrong with circumcision, without making them want to tune out at any cost. I believe that to be effective, we must focus on the future and not hamstring ourselves by assigning blame for the errors of the past. We, as a society, got it wrong. The work before us requires that we commit to changing it going forward, for our sons. The first step is guiding society to a more complete understanding of what circumcision does, what it forever takes away, and most importantly, why that matters.

Fortunately, the tide is turning where it matters most: people’s attitudes. More and more parents are keeping their newborn sons as nature made them. More and more people are overcoming their discomfort that surrounds this taboo topic, and that is the beginning of the change we want to happen.

Finding that mission in Intact America encouraged me. In June, I attended New York City Pride, and witnessed the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. “Pride” is about refusing to be kept down by antiquated and oppressive social regimes, about standing up and proclaiming that there’s nothing wrong with questioning what society calls “normal.” I saw that proclamation in action at Intact America’s tent at PrideFest. The positive and inquisitive reactions of the many thousands of Pride-goers who stopped to take pictures at the tent, and the passion shown by the volunteers engaging with and distributing information to people from all walks of life, gave me greater hope that this work will be successful. We will overcome.

Joshua Armitage

Interested in lending your voice? Send an email to us, giving us a brief summary of what you would like to write about, and we will get back to you.

Voices – Rev. Vincent Turner

Recently, a longtime friend confided that had his wife given birth to a boy rather than to their daughter, he would not have allowed his son to be circumcised. He had researched circumcision and found it unnecessary and unjustified. After hearing my friend’s revelation, I began to reflect on my own father. My father was intact and by no way or means were his sons going to be circumcised; I don’t believe this was a matter of ego — but, rather, because he understood the harm that cutting off the foreskin would cause. Therein lies a lesson to all fathers: Do what is in the best interest of your son’s future; not to make him look “just like you.” Give your son the rightful autonomy to make his own decisions about his own body.

Growing up as an intact boy put me in the minority. I did not feel out of place, but I do recall feeling happy and affirmed in my youthful mind when I saw other intact boys. Again, we were in the minority, but it wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered how being intact is common and prevalent throughout most of the world.

As I grew older, I became self-conscious about being intact, as a gay man. For me, Intact America was a watershed moment in learning so much about the value and purpose of the foreskin. For some time, gay men believed the intact penis to be dirty. They assumed “smegma” to be penis “dirt”. Only recently through Intact America did I learn that “smegma” is the Latin word for soap — and that it serves as a lubricant to allow the foreskin to retract easily.

The benefits of retaining the foreskin far outweigh the negative myths that are posited by the poorly informed or less informed.

Intact America is an excellent resource of information on why males should be kept intact. After learning more about the procedures for circumcision, I have concluded that circumcising males is barbaric; as if to “punish” the penis. Here, again, Intact America raises awareness about what I deem the horrors and brutality of circumcision.

Another aspect of male circumcision that raises questions, at least for me, as a Christian minister: Why is it that certain Christians insist on having their sons circumcised? The Apostle Paul makes it quite clear: Those who have accepted Christ (the Anointed Jesus) do not need physical circumcision because they have been circumcised “through Christ”. I consider circumcision committed on religious grounds to be a vile form of butchery. Even some modern Jews are opting for different Mitzvahs for their newborn sons in order to avoid circumcising them.

I have yet to understand the American obsession with circumcision. Circumcision is an abomination; that’s why I follow Intact America — for advocacy, for support, and for information.

In closing, I will use a phrase often applied to other matters: “If it isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it”. Think about that! It is not trite. It is right.

Rev. Vincent Turner

Interested in lending your voice? Send an email to [email protected], giving us a brief summary of what you would like to write about, and we will get back to you.

Do You Know: Your voice is needed?

Each year, the month of June marks the national celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride in the United States. This year’s Pride celebration in New York City is anticipated to be the largest ever, in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.

Despite how far the LGBTQ+ rights movement has come since the 60s — and the triumph of marriage equality in 2015 — this social change movement is far from over. So often you’ll hear stories from LGBTQ+ people recounting experiences of “hiding” themselves from others or, worse, hiding any trauma they may be carrying.

What’s unique about the Pride celebration is that it empowers millions of people to take a public stand, to be vocal, and to claim their identity. The importance of standing up for those who don’t have a voice, to proclaim the right to bodily autonomy and to healthy sexual futures are just some of the reasons why the LGBTQ+ community embraces the intactivist message — and why Intact America supports Pride.

We understand how powerful and influential a voice can be, especially when lent to a righteous and moral social change movement. This understanding is what motivated the Intact America team to launch our Voices” series last year.

Just recently, the BBC published an account about a young, intact man who took his own life after being circumcised. Part of what makes this story so tragic is that his family and friends were unaware of his circumcision, and of his suffering.

In the weeks following the article’s publication, men started to comment publicly, sharing their own circumcision experiences.

For some, this was their first time opening-up about their struggles; many said that even their intimate partners don’t know the feelings they’re harboring.

Unfortunately, this paradox is common. So many circumcised American men … and so many others aren’t able to share their feelings about having had their genitals cut when they were children.

If you’re reading this and feel that child genital cutting has negatively impacted your personal life, or your sex life, you are not alone. Every day 3,000 baby boys have their genitals cut in the United States.

Your own experience with child genital cutting is unique to you, but these stories share a common theme. What we want our community to know is that there’s power in your story — power to encourage, power to educate, power to heal, power to influence, power to mobilize — but that power is relinquished once you refuse share it.

We cannot hope to change the way America thinks about child genital cutting — about circumcision — if we’re unwilling to talk about why a change is needed in the first place. Our allies in the LGBTQ+ community would have never claimed their rights if they hadn’t spoken out — loudly.

“Hiding” from our circumcision experience(s)…

• gives this abhorrent practice the appearance of normality/compliance.

• is unhealthy and prevents the healing of emotional trauma.

• will not help the intactivist movement to reach the tipping point.

Without your support and your voice, the intactivist movement will languish. Take pride in your identity and your beliefs. Use the power of your story, the power of your voice.

(If you or someone you know is feeling depressed or suicidal please seek emergency care, consult a licensed therapist, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255)

Bitnami