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Voices — Kay Zugar

There’s a piece of my body missing. That’s a big deal.

You wouldn’t have known this growing up in my family. Circumcision was a laughable topic and only regarded as a joke; never in a serious tone, and certainly never condescended upon. Like if we were having hotdogs for dinner, the crude comments would inevitably come up. My older relatives thought it was very funny for some reason, and I could not understand. My mom might wrinkle her nose and softly say something like “That’s nasty.”

Through gritted teeth, I tried not hearing the words—blocking them out as a chilling cocktail of disgust, horror and disbelief coursed through the back of my head and down my spine, seeking refuge from the words that the Grown Ups were saying. How could they not see that this is wrong?

I was circumcised as an infant in a routine hospital procedure. If they had done the right thing and left me alone when I was a baby, I certainly believe I would be a better version of myself than how I actually ended up. Things like trimming my nails bother me to this day; my best friend who trims and styles my long, golden hair probably doesn’t know why I wince at the metallic sound of her scissors.

When I was young, I had a recurring traumatic dream. It’s like I’m watching the scene from above. I’m a baby and something disturbing, something painful is happening to my body “down there,” and I don’t know what it is. I see a blue cloth and a lot of blood. I see me being passed around by family members, presumably at a table, in a room in a house. I’m swaddled up in a blanket and I’m screaming my lungs out and they are saying to each other, he’s just cranky. The same things always happened in the dream.

I don’t know what this means. I find it hard to believe I can remember something that’s impossible to remember, but having that dream over and over when I was little seems significant. I do know the dreams stopped after I figured out what had happened to me.

I didn’t know what circumcision was until I was 13 or 14, when I saw the word in the Bible that my parents had given me. I looked it up in the dictionary because I’ve always been bookish. I told my parents, “Please not to do this to me,” and their answer was something like, “Well, don’t worry, we already did,” followed by a blind parroting of the same shallow arguments of hygiene and tradition that my frantic and terrified reading through medical almanacs and Bible footnotes had yielded. Dad got angry shortly after he realized I wouldn’t back down. Mom sat in front of the computer searching for a web page that would prove her right with little original thought on her part.

I have my own theories about why my family always joked about it and got defensive when I objected. Everybody deals with pain in their own way. For me, the pain of circumcision and then being ridiculed in my own family for speaking up has shaped my life in profound ways. I’m 30 now. For years I had pickled my thoughts and feelings with alcohol and drugs (mostly alcohol) so I didn’t have to think about that part of my body. If that thing hadn’t happened to me, hadn’t been done to me, I might have been able to stay away from it.

I sought out therapists and told them my struggles stem from circumcision trauma, and they just wrote it off. “Deep down, you’re hurt by something else,” “You can’t be that upset about a piece of skin,” “Don’t you understand they just wanted to help you?” Always being met with resistance by people you trust, starting with your parents and just going forward—that does something to you. It makes you doubt yourself. How could I be wrong for wanting to keep my body the way it was designed? How does someone inflict such harm and horror on their child, and claim it to be an act of love?

Luckily, I’m surrounded by so many friends who are also against cutting baby boys. We’re a very close-knit group. I don’t talk about my feelings or experiences with most of them, but we have a mutual understanding that circumcision is wrong. I was happy when a friend who recently had a baby boy kept him intact.

I want that for every boy. No one should grow up thinking that they’re somebody’s property, or that their wishes for their body don’t matter. Think about it: If boys don’t understand that, when they start dating, they’re not going to understand consent, and a lot of bad is going to happen out of that. Teaching our boys consent starts with protecting their rights to their body.

In our family, I was told there was something wrong with me for wanting to be left whole and being outspoken about it. I was supposed to stay in line and be OK with being cut. But harm is harm, no matter what twisted motivation is used to justify it. People need to remember that whatever they do to a child, they’re not the one who has to live with that. The child is, and they’re going to be an adult one day…still having to live with someone else’s decision.

Kay Zugar

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Voices — “Glenn”

I was born to a 17-year-old nursing student in the deep Southern Baptist South. She chose not to have me circumcised and kept me intact. To say this was unusual in the South is an understatement.

My earliest memory of being uncircumcised—and that it was unusual—happened when I was 3 and 4. My aunt, who was four years older, and my uncle, around 12 at the time, noticed how different I was and started playing doctor with me. They retracted my foreskin to show that I could look just like my circumcised uncle.

My parents learned of this practice and there were swift repercussions. Although I was only 5, I felt ashamed and different, as I knew the fact that I was different had piqued their curiosity. When my brother was born soon after, he was circumcised. When I asked my mom why I was different from everyone else, she said, “When I first saw you, you were perfect and I couldn’t imagine changing you.” That was the last of it.

In the locker room when I got older, I hid my penis or pulled my foreskin back before anyone could see me. On dates, I was never with a woman who had been with an uncut partner, so I always received questions. Occasionally, I even got questions from her friends. I remember one date who, upon seeing it for the first time, paused and said, “Um, I’m really not sure what to do with that.” As if I wasn’t self-conscious enough! It’s not so complicated that you need an instruction manual!

I married young. My wife had been with only one other person, and he was cut. She had her own sexual insecurities, so finally after 20 years of marriage, we decided to stop hiding and threw caution (and our clothes) to the wind and went to a nude beach. It seemed I had the only foreskin on the beach. I told my wife that each time I got out of the water, I felt the music stop and everyone stare. I asked her to prove me wrong, so we tested it. She laughed and said, “Well, yes, there are some lookers. It’s just that you are so uncircumcised. It’s very noticeable.” (The last day of our trip, my wife did notice another uncircumcised man. He turned out to be from France, where circumcision is much less common.)

A few years later, when our marriage began to deteriorate, we tried spicing things up. I bought some porn featuring European men, who would most likely look like me. However, she wanted to see “something a little different” (cue my insecurities), so after a little research, I found a ring that we could use during sex that would hold my foreskin firmly back during intercourse. She was thrilled to have something that both looked and felt different. Being fully retracted also exposed the glans and offered great sensation for me because the glans is usually covered and protected by the foreskin. The skin of the glans is very soft and sensitive. It was pleasurable for both of us!

After we divorced, I was single for five years. During those years of dating, none of my partners had been with an intact man, and the questions continued. But when I married again, I married someone who has truly embraced my body. In fact, since the foreskin provides natural lubrication, it makes sex comfortable for her because her vagina is smaller.

It’s been quite a journey for me, but despite my insecurities and partners’ questions, I don’t regret one bit being intact. I even kept both of my boys intact, hoping their modern world would be a little less inquisitive. But we still have work to do: My niece just had her baby boy circumcised because “uncircumcised boys were made fun of at my school.”

Still, I am a living testament that insecurities can be overcome. And for the right person, whether it was your mom at birth or your current partner, you’re perfect.

Glenn

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Intact America celebrates 15 years!

Intact America (IA) is celebrating our 15th birthday! “Celebrating” might sound like a strange word to use, when you consider that the practice Intact America is fighting – the routine amputation of baby boys’ foreskins – is still all-too-common in U.S. hospitals. In this introduction, though, I’ll talk about what 15 years of leading IA has meant to me, give you some updates about our new activities, and tell you why I am super-optimistic about the future.

Georganne and MarilynIntact America was created when Marilyn Milos, “mother of the intactivist movement,” brought together a group of people who for decades had been fighting for boys’ rights to keep their intact bodies. Marilyn introduced us to a Texas businessman and NOCIRC donor named Dean Pisani who had told her he wanted to see the movement grow and was willing to fund the creation of a larger organization that could hire professional consultants and staff, launch fundraising and media campaigns, and expand the rosters of supporters. After a months’ long planning process, Dean and others in the group asked me to serve as executive director on a temporary basis. Truthfully, I didn’t think about how long I might stay in that position. I was just enormously grateful that the people around the table believed I could lead the new entity.

Georganne and MarilynNow, 15 years later, I’m still here (with Dean and Marilyn) and I’m still grateful! I’m also totally fired up about the future. Earlier this summer, I completed my memoir, called This Penis Business. It is due to be released on February 20, 2024, together with Please Don’t Cut the Baby, a memoir written by Marilyn Milos. In these books, Marilyn and I have told how our (very different) life stories led to our involvement in the intactivist cause. The books will be available for pre-order shortly.

Just as Marilyn and I have told our stories, increasing numbers of men and the people who love them are telling their own stories about how male genital cutting has impacted their lives. In the early days of my own activism – indeed, in the early days of Intact America – very few people were willing to come out publicly to talk about circumcision. This is so ironic, because doctors promiscuously assault babies’ genitals – as many as 4000 times each day, but nobody wants to acknowledge the harm this custom creates. In the past, respecting the strange and conflicting taboos in our society that govern talking about sex and sexual body parts, even intactivists’ arguments were more intellectual and conceptual than graphic and deeply personal. We spoke of forced circumcision as a “human rights violation,” as “medically unnecessary,” or as “unethical.” All of these descriptors are, of course, true. But they don’t tend to move people; they don’t create compassion and empathy for the (nameless) victims or provoke the outrage needed to “change the way Americans think about circumcision.”

If we look at every other successful social change movement, from the abolition of slavery, to the fight for women’s suffrage, to the Civil Rights movement, to the LBGTQ and same-sex marriage movements, to the more recent “MeToo” movement, we can see that key to effecting change was making public the personal stories, the voices and the faces of the victims. But for the victims and the opponents of deeply embedded injustice, coming out and speaking one’s truth takes willingness to risk the disapproval or hostility of friends, family, and coworkers.

When Intact America launched our Voices series in 2017, it was difficult for us to find even one person willing to reveal their name and send a photo to publish with the story of the damage they had suffered from having their genitals cut as helpless babies or children. Just six years later, we are trying to figure out how to give exposure and justice to the torrent of inquiries and submissions from victims who (it is my view) are not so much brave, but rather have found the price of secrecy and self-repression too great to endure.

SITG
This groundswell of people aching to tell their stories paved the way for Intact America’s new story-telling photo campaign, called SKIN IN THE GAME: Circumcision Cuts Through Us All. The campaign is premised on the same elements of success as the other social movements mentioned above: revealing the human faces of injustice and amplifying the human voices of victims. The photographs for SKIN IN THE GAME were taken in a series of three photoshoots, two in Atlanta and one in Dallas. Most of the participants were unknown to Intact America before they responded to online ads inviting interested people of any race, ethnicity, sex, and body type to have their pictures taken for Intact America, identified as “a nonprofit organization working to end male child genital cutting (circumcision).” Over a period of nine days, those who came were asked why they had responded to the ad, and if they would like to share their stories. Some said they’d been thinking about the evils of circumcision for years; others said they had never consciously considered the harm until they saw the ad. We met men and women of all ages, of every ethnicity and sexual orientation. The atmosphere was magical.

As the hours and days progressed, it became clear to us that everyone in our country has a circumcision story. The resulting photos and quotes of participants in the photoshoots, as you will see over the coming months, are intensely emotional and will be used to promote the two new memoirs and the ongoing work of Intact America. THIS WAVE OF CONSCIOUSNESS AND OF CHANGE WILL CONTINUE TO BUILD.

DoNoHarm logo
Additionally, Intact America’s upcoming DoNoHarm.Report project will provide yet another venue for broadcasting the rampant solicitation of circumcision, the harms of “routine” genital cutting, and the epidemic of forcible foreskin retraction – all fueling the multi-billion-dollar American circumcision industry. Together, our activities, your voices, and your support for Intact America make it clear to me that we are moving toward a tipping point.

YOU, the person reading this newsletter, give me that optimism. The reasons we are still here today are, first, the justice of our cause and, second, the generosity of people just like you who have donated to the organization over the years. We couldn’t do our work without this financial support.

Even if you haven’t thought about it before now, you are likely realizing that you, too, have a story about how this heinous custom has impacted your life, your family, or the life of someone you love. And I hope you will tell your story before too long. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Georganne Chapin, Founding Executive Director

Voices — Luke Davis

When I was born in the early 1990s, my mother chose not to have me circumcised. She did the same for my older brother. She’s a nurse, and she knew it wasn’t medically beneficial the way everyone makes it out to be. But we were unusual for American boys. And even though she had insisted on it at our births, we just didn’t talk about it. We weren’t super-open about discussing these things. (Our father, who had wanted us to be circumcised to “look like him,” was no longer around when we were growing up.)

By the time I got to middle school, an age when kids become more sexually aware, it dawned on me that having a foreskin was unusual. I overheard other kids talking about how gross they thought an uncircumcised penis was. It especially affected me when a girl said it.

When you’re a young boy coming of age, you’re trying to figure out a lot of things. In sex-ed, circumcision wasn’t talked about too much. Everyone assumed it was the norm, but the pictures didn’t look like my penis, and I wasn’t going to raise my hand as a 12-year-old.

It eventually got so I couldn’t change in the locker room because I didn’t want people to see. I was so insecure and shy about being different from everyone that when I was 17, I spoke to my doctor about being circumcised. She was a really down-to-earth doctor, and she told me it was unnecessary to do so. She said, “You’re very used to having a foreskin, and it could be something you’ll regret.” Still, she said if it was my wish, she would put me in touch with somebody. I got nervous and decided not to do it.

In truth, a part of me truly liked being uncircumcised, but I was embarrassed to admit it. It took me a long time to come to terms with it. The turning point came when I was 25 and living with a roommate, a woman from Canada who had been in the U.S. for a little while. She glimpsed my penis accidentally one day. We had a comfortable rapport, and some time later we were talking when the conversation turned to circumcision. She said the procedure is rarely performed in Canada and that she had never seen a circumcised penis. This opened my eyes. That’s when I put it all together. I felt validated, realizing this is not as uncommon or weird as I once thought it was. To hear a woman my age in my friend group say she thinks it’s wrong and can’t fathom why anyone would do that to a child set me on a more confident path. After our conversation, I went online to learn more about how it’s viewed around the world.

That’s where I started my journey to understand the issue from a global perspective, and today I’m 100 percent glad I’m intact. Over time, I realized that I honestly like the look of it. My penis is not mutilated or scarred. I think it’s aesthetically pleasing. I hope anyone who feels alone and weird like I did as a kid knows that they’re absolutely not alone. In fact, outside of the U.S. and a few other places, most of the men in the world are just like you—intact

Luke Davis

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.

Welcome Our New Staff!

Kelly Floyd

Manager of Community Programs
Kelly Floyd
Kelly Floyd began working with Intact America in 2022 after speaking at the 16th International Symposium in Atlanta, GA. where she presented her essay “Scarring Innocence.” Kelly encouraged intactivists to assert their objective moral authority as the primary justification for their ethical stance on the genital cutting of infants, rather than the deconstruction of pseudoscientific and religious myth. She received her Bachelor’s in Journalism from Georgia State University in 2021 and completed a marketing internship with FAIR, The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, in the summer of 2022.

She contributed to setting the foundation for FAIR’s organizational club presence on college campuses across the country and the distribution of FAIRstory curriculum to schools. As Community Programs Manager, Kelly works to nurture the relationships between intactivists and the general population, as well as build up Intact America’s supporter base through strategic campaign initiatives, institutional accountability driven programs, and donor outreach. Her goal is to unite people of varying beliefs, cultures, and identities to work together and abolish child genital cutting, which she believes has detrimental consequences for the entire human collective.

Patrick Montanaro

Manager of Communications & Marketing
Patrick Montanaro
Although professional untangler isn’t a particularly legitimate job title, it does describe the nuance of what I do at Intact America. Every organization is made up of communication lines. You can imagine them like the long strands of Christmas lights that get boxed up and bunched every year. A great organization has clear communication paths, but sometimes those paths get all looped and knotted. My job is to do my professional untangling and make sure the red bulb isn’t cracked, or the wires aren’t tied together, or the plug isn’t overheating. To really bring this Christmas lights metaphor full circle, I essentially want to make all parts of Intact America shine.

But first – the untangling. I will also be handling most of the social media, the newsletter, and a few special projects. If you happen to be at some of the events that Intact America has a presence at, I will probably be there too. If you see me, come and say hi! Tell me about yourself. We can discuss the greatest American folk singer (spoiler: it’s Jim Croce) and share sauce-making secrets. It’s a great pleasure to be at Intact America!

 

 

Intact America Staff

Left to right: Georganne Chapin, Stephen Patterson, Kelly Floyd, and Patrick Montanaro

Voices — Tom Kallas

I am a circumcised gay male, and one of my earliest sexual relationships was with someone who was intact. That was when I found out what a foreskin was and first heard of circumcision.

This was all new to me. Growing up in the U.S., we never learned about the foreskin in school. I just thought a circumcised penis was what a natural penis looked like. I became really curious: Why was the foreskin cut off when I was a baby?

In my initial research about 15 years ago, everything about circumcision online was misinformation about how it’s good for you: It prevents STDs, it’s cleaner, and all the different reasons that Americans have to justify it. So in the beginning, the research made me feel better about it.

But as I got older, I encountered more men who were intact. They were clearly enjoying sex more; it was a more pleasurable sensation for them. So I did more research and came across Intact America and other organizations that try to educate the public on the harms of circumcision. I quickly realized all the things I had read to justify circumcision weren’t valid reasons to do that to someone at such a young age without his consent.

That’s when I started to feel really bad about it. I felt disabled in a way. By now I knew the foreskin has a valuable function; without it, I felt like I was missing a limb. So a little over six years ago, I decided to try foreskin restoration. It was a big decision, and it’s a lot of work. I have gained back some of the mobility a foreskin provides during sex, so the skin will glide up and down the shaft. I’m glad to say it’s increased sensation a lot. And having the skin over the head of the penis has made the glans more sensitive and moist.

Restoration is not easy though. It’s an emotional, never-ending process. So much skin is cut off during circumcision that it can take nearly a decade of consistent foreskin restoration to gain back the amount of skin amputated. It takes a lot of patience, time and perseverance, and at times I want to give up. But it makes me feel empowered in a way to get some of the function that was taken from me. I’m hoping one day in the future I’ll be happier with my body.

A couple of years ago, I talked to my mom about it. I just wanted to share my feelings with her and hear the reasons she gave for agreeing to it. Her reasons were common: It’s just what everyone did. My dad was circumcised. They didn’t think twice about it.

Nothing she said was surprising to me, but I felt like it was good for me to express how I felt about it.

Intact America has provided a supportive community as I continue to heal. I get the newsletters and donate on a monthly basis. Reading about the experiences of others in the Voices column has helped me a lot; it’s given me a sense that I’m not alone. Friends who share the same pain are also a source of comfort. I’ve tried to talk to colleagues and family members when they were pregnant, hoping they would avoid it if I present the facts and how it’s affected me. But people are set in their ways, and they continue to perpetuate it with the next generation.

I’ve been seeing a therapist for years, since I started restoration. One thing I’ve learned is I can’t save the world. But I can do my part, and that’s why I’m sharing my story here.

Tom Kallas

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.