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

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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

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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

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Voices – James W.

Inspired by the “Me Too” movement, I would like to voice my own victim’s impact statement.

For years, I have written to legislators, the courts, and to other “rights” organizations about the genital slicing that was forced on me shortly after my birth. I have written to tell them that cutting the genitals of little boys is exactly the kind of age and sex discrimination they pretend to be against. I have been ridiculed, ignored, and “thrown under the bus.” “MeToo” never answered my letters. My letters to politicians and to Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Anti-Defamation League, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Amnesty International all have been met with silence. I had thought they supported all humans equally, but it seems I was wrong.

Do boys like me have 13th Amendment protections? Tissues excised from my private parts and those of millions of other similarly situated and objectified infants not only violated laws prohibiting involuntary tissue/organ “donations” (made without consent), but rather than discard the “unusable” tissues, doctors and hospitals used the prepuces (including mine), and profits have been made on male penile “spare parts.” When do we “donors” share in those profits?

Why am I not protected under the 14th Amendment to the U.S Constitution, which states “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall… deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”? Am I not a person?

Why am I categorically excluded from equal treatment under 18 USC, Section 116, which prohibits genital mutilation – but only of girls?

Apparently, for boys the Constitution means nothing. It’s not about the excuses (or intent), but the lifelong impact. Even though I am a male (born a boy), I am a person.
I support, respect and appreciate all the work Intact America is doing. If our legislators and bureaucrats were as heroic and hardworking as you are, we’d all be happy.

James W

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Voices – Mark Wilder

For most of my life, circumcision was not an issue. I was circumcised, and I noticed one of my childhood friends was intact, but aside from that I didn’t give it much thought. Sometime in my mid-40s, however, I read an article about the unnecessary circumcision of American baby boys.

Everything changed for me that day. It was like a light had been switched on, and as the thought stayed with me, I became angrier. Foreskins are part of the whole male infant at birth. No parent has any right to clip away a child’s body part unless there is an immediate medical reason to do so. If he wants to have his penis circumcised when he’s 18 years old, that is his decision.

As the years went by, I became more and more upset that I had been robbed of my birthright. When I asked my mother why she had had me circumcised, she said she wanted to make it easier for me to keep my penis clean. I couldn’t believe it. Young boys can’t be taught to clean themselves? Girls are.

Among the benefits of foreskin are the thousands of nerve endings it contains that contribute to sexual pleasure. Studies have shown that the circumcised penis has less sensitivity than one that is intact. I have restored about 80 percent of my foreskin over 15 years, but it will never act the way real foreskin acts. It’s more of a psychological thing for me, although I also feel better physically.

When I broach the subject with others, both women and men give me many reasons they had their sons circumcised. “I don’t want my son looking like he didn’t come from me” is a favorite among fathers. I have had a hard time managing my anger in those moments, and I found out quickly that confrontation only leads to anger on their part. They feel threatened that I am messing with their rights as parents.

I’ve learned to temper my anger during conversations, but I still find it difficult, if not impossible, to bring up the subject with family members and close friends. I don’t mean to blame—I want to educate, open their eyes—but they usually go on the defensive.

I know Intact America’s goal is to change the way Americans think about circumcision. It’s hard for many parents to agree with the case against circumcision if they gave the go-ahead when their sons were born. But even if I can’t convince them that it’s wrong, I can plant a seed of curiosity. Perhaps they’ll explore the topic further on their own and change their minds, persuade their friends, and help to bring an end to the practice of cutting babies.

Mark Wilder, intactivist from the great state of Washington

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Voices – Damon Favor

“Taking a whole baby home was way harder than I ever thought it would be. Protecting a whole baby was hard, too.”

I don’t know how old I was when I first discovered what the word “circumcision” meant, but from my earliest memories, I knew I didn’t like it. I could never understand why someone would do that to another person, especially a baby…I still can’t. So, I guess the answer to when I first decided to refuse circumcision for my son is, long before I ever considered having children. However, since it is not a decision made by one parent, I had to make sure my wife and I were on the same page.

Initially she was quite surprised that anyone wouldn’t circumcise. She said she had never even thought about the subject, let alone formed an opinion about it, and always assumed it was something that was “just done”. After many hours of talking about my feelings on the topic, and her doing independent research (thank god for the internet at that point), she also decided she was against circumcision for any future children. The final straw that won her over to the pro-intact side was when we were taking a parenting class offered by the local health department, and the teacher, a public health nurse, showed slides of a circumcision being performed and talked about how it was unnecessary.

My son was born at Onslow Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, NC and they tried many times to take him from us to circumcise him. We had met with the hospital administrator before the delivery and they approved and signed the birth plan that clearly said he would not be circumcised and that no one should manipulate or retract his foreskin. They pressured us repeatedly, saying it would be better to have it done before we left. Hospital policy didn’t permit rooming-in, but I never left the hospital and I wouldn’t let the staff take my son out of our room unless I was allowed to go with him. Nurses argued several times that they had to take him to the nursery for rounds and that the doctors liked to have all the babies lined up to be checked at the same time. I refused and told them I’d be happy to sign AMA or they could tell the doctor to walk down to our room. They eventually relented and even allowed me to sit in the nursery with my son while he underwent phototherapy.

I had a similar pro-circumcision experience following the birth of my daughter. She was born in North Carolina also, at Naval Hospital, Camp Lejeune. Shortly after her birth, a doctor stopped by the room and said, “Are you ready for the circumcision?” I replied, “Since we didn’t circumcise our son, we won’t be circumcising our daughter.” They apologized profusely, and walked away embarrassed.

The fight to protect my son didn’t stop when we left the hospital after his birth. Although he was never forcibly retracted, one of his pediatricians wanted to. I had warned my wife about doctors who would try to retract. She didn’t believe it would happen though, so she didn’t say anything about it at the beginning of the well-baby visit. When the time came for the genital portion of the exam, the doctor frowned when he saw my son was intact and started manipulating my son’s foreskin. My wife immediately said “STOP!” and asked what he was doing. The doctor said he had to “pull it back” so he could “see that the urethra was in the right place”. My wife said, “No, you don’t” and the doctor said, “Yes I do, in order to make sure he can urinate”. My wife said, “He’s been urinating just fine for months and you’re not pulling it back”. They argued a bit more, but my wife stood her ground, my son was not retracted, and the bit of manipulation the doctor had done before she stopped him did not cause any damage or discomfort. After that we changed doctors and we always made sure to have the “don’t retract” conversation before any undressing occurred. Fortunately, when we had the conversation with our son’s new pediatrician, his response was, “I would never!”

The “don’t retract” conversation continued with grandparents, caregivers and daycare administrators. We even typed a little info letter, which we had the daycare sign when we registered our son there. It actually started several conversations, because some people had never heard of not circumcising and were curious why we didn’t. Most of the caregivers had never seen an intact male or cared for one. Some thought maybe you had to “stick something in there” and clean it, but after the simple “clean it like a finger and just wipe it off” conversation a couple of them even remarked how much easier it was to clean an intact boy than a circumcised boy.

We moved to Italy nearly six years ago. It is shocking how different public opinion is here about circumcision, and to realize how ignorant most Americans (including physicians) are about basic anatomy. Many of my Italian friends were shocked to learn that so many people in the United States circumcise their sons. Most of them don’t even know it is something that happens and they are incredulous to hear it’s routine.

I first learned about Intact America in 2009. Like many people, I think, I initially approached the subject of circumcision with trepidation and fear of how other people would react. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone my feelings about circumcision until my sister asked me what I thought before her first son was born, and then not again until I got married. It’s strange that even though I am from a very progressive city in California, where almost anything is socially acceptable, I always felt afraid to talk about circumcision. That is why I am so grateful for Intact America. Your message lets other men know that they are not alone and they are not the only ones who stand against circumcision. To this day I am a somewhat closeted intactivist. I have talked to a few friends who asked me for information because they knew I kept my son intact and I tried to share facts and opinion, but for the most part I don’t discuss the issue.

Thank you so much for what you are doing to help people understand how unnecessary and harmful circumcision is, and for helping to educate our healthcare professionals.

Damon Favor

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