Voices — James F. Verrees, M.D., FACOG

A number of years ago, I remember delivering a baby boy, and the first thing the father asked me was, “When can he be circumcised”? The father seemed panicked. I’d never seen anything like it before. He truly seemed in an uproar that something was terribly wrong with his baby.

I told him that he would need to talk with the pediatrician.

In retrospect, I think I might have been more effective as a physician if I had replied, “You have a beautiful baby who only wants to love you and his mom. He is perfect.”

January 15, 2020 was a defining moment for me. I started a new Locums tenens (temporary) obstetrics job that day. While seated at the nurses’ station on Labor and Delivery, my body jarred at the sound of a most horrible screaming – a screech followed by the coughing sound of spittle and saliva choking a baby followed by more screaming. It was deafening. I looked at the nurse seated across from me and asked her, “What are they doing in there?” A “treatment” room was right around the corner.

The nurse replied, “They are circumcising him”.

I looked down at the ground and said, “This is just horrible. It is so unnecessary.”

More screaming and choking followed by crescendos of screeching and coughing came from around the corner. I felt sick.

The Nurse replied, “You are right”.

Shortly after that day, I began to hear a baby scream uncontrollably at night in my dreams. A horrible screaming and howling. Sometimes I hear myself say “No.” and at that point my legs jerk together and my arms also move and I wake up. Sometimes I wonder if the screaming that I hear is from the baby who was assaulted on January 15, or … is that me who I hear crying? Sometimes I have the sensation that I see bright lights, and my arms and legs suddenly cannot move. There is muffled talk, I am screaming and I have this sensation of terrific pain and more crying, but I can’t get away.

When I left this last assignment in Nevada, I remember visiting a new couple during postpartum rounds. They had their first baby the day prior. It was a truly enjoyable time as I didn’t have a clinic and could just sit and visit with the parents. They had a beautiful baby girl. I remember the father holding his daughter and seeing her move her hand up towards his face. The baby girl was making happy “cooing” sounds. The mother was looking from her bed at her daughter. Everything seemed right and beautiful. It really is an incredible sight to see, and on days like this I feel very lucky to be an obstetrician. At the same time, I thought to myself, “Why do people focus so much on circumcision when all their baby boys or girls want is to love their parents?” Their baby’s hands just want to touch their mother or father and give the parents love and be loved.

It all makes me very sad.

James F. Verrees, M.D., FACOG
Las Vegas, Nevada

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Voices — H Smith

I was born and raised on an isolated farm in East Africa, a descendant of a Boer War veteran who settled there in the early 20th century. My younger brother and I seldom saw other children. At the age of six, I was sent to boarding school. I can still remember the feeling of abandonment, knowing that it would be months before I would see my parents again, and the confusion of being with 150 other children in an atmosphere of military organization and discipline. But worse was to come. The first night, our whole dorm was marched into the communal shower room for our evening bath. I immediately saw that my penis did not resemble that of many of the other boys, and I was shocked and sickened to realize I was missing something. I intuitively knew it was something valuable. I wasn’t alone in my realization that something horrible had been done to me, for that night, I found myself and another boy standing in the dorm doorway in the light of the hall, pajama pants down, staring at our denuded penises and wondering why this had been done to us. There was absolutely no solace from the knowledge that there were other boys like us. Thereafter, every time I was in a library, I tried to find out more but in those days, there was no information to be had.

I remember at about age 9, my brother and I were in the tub, being watched by my mother and her cousin. I heard my mother say she thought the doctor had done a neater job on me than on my brother. I knew exactly what she was referring to (the doctor who circumcised me must have gotten paid by the square inch, or maybe the square millimeter!). Curiously, even though my mother was a very approachable and open person, I always felt too embarrassed to broach the topic of circumcision with her.

I was 13 and away at school when my youngest brother was born. I saw him for the first time when he was a month old. That evening, I was chatting to my Mum while she bathed him. She must have sensed that an explanation was in order and said that she’d had him…”oh, what ‘s it called?” “Circumcised?” I volunteered. “Yes, that’s it.” She went on to explain that her father, who had been born in Ireland, was circumcised at age 12 because “his foreskin got so tight that he couldn’t pee,” and he felt it better done in infancy “when there would be no memory” of the event. This explanation never made any sense to me. I wish my grandfather had said nothing, so that I might have remained whole. My dad was also circumcised, I surmise as a consequence of his mother’s upper-class English upbringing. I don’t blame my parents, though; they didn’t know anything. I place most of the blame on the doctor; had he told my mother it wasn’t necessary, I’m quite sure it would not have happened. Especially as Dr. Douglas Gairdner’s article “The Fate of the Foreskin” was published about the same time.

I frequently see both medical personnel and parents express the sentiment that boy’s penises should match those of their fathers. But how can any of them predict what the boy might want?

I believe that we all have the right to the body we were born with and that circumcision violates a child’s basic human rights from day one. As for religious circumcisions, these should wait until the child has reached an age to choose for himself.

It amazes me how many North American parents choose to circumcise their sons because they fear they’ll be teased in school. I have to say that in 12 years of grade school, I never witnessed a single case of teasing based on circumcision status, despite the fact that shower rooms were communal and everyone saw everyone else and knew their status. For a time in elementary school, games in off-time involved “armies”, with the “Roundheads” being the circumcised boys and the “Cavaliers” the intact boys.

When I finished high school, I moved to Canada to attend university. I was surprised at how many Canadian males were circumcised, and I began to resent my own circumcised status more and more. My feelings of violation and betrayal grew stronger, as did my desire to understand the history and rationale for this bizarre custom: the coerced amputation of the most sensitive part of a baby boy’s genitalia.

In the early ’80s, I came across an article by Kelly Servaas in The Saturday Evening Post. The piece confirmed my hunch that there was no good reason for circumcision. Some years later, I found Rosemary Romberg’s book “Circumcision, The Painful Dilemma,” and then the books by Thomas Ritter (Say No to Circumcision) and Jim Bigelow (“The Joy Of Uncircumcising”). I learned a whole lot about the form and function of a foreskin, what I was missing and how my sex life had been compromised.

I began working on restoring my foreskin. At least I would feel “whole”, even if I was still missing the specialized nerves. Unfortunately, my wife who had been ambivalent about circumcision, became opposed to my efforts, and between her extreme lack of support and the constraints of my work, I eventually gave up — something I resent to this day because I believe restoration might have mitigated the problems I now face. The fact that thousands of circumcised North American men are undertaking the arduous process of stretching what penile skin they have left and restoring some semblance of what was taken from them should be a glaring signal to the medical establishment.

When my father died, I flew overseas to be with my Mum for a few weeks. One night I got up the courage to ask her why she had had her sons circumcised. I got the exact same answer as the explanation a couple of decades earlier. Not wanting her to feel badly about her decision, I merely stated that it was falling out of favor. She asked if my son had been circumcised, and I said “no.” In hindsight, I wish I had pursued the conversation, because I would really like to know the history in my family. I’m guessing that my paternal grandfather was intact. I will forever wonder what my Dad’s views were. Did they really think that nature made a mistake? Did they not consider it weird that only one human body part was being amputated for prophylactic reasons?

I have always been terrified of doctors. I can’t even visit someone in a hospital without my blood pressure increasing by a factor of 50%. Because I could count my childhood doctor visits on one hand, this puzzled me until I learned there are two types of memory, and that explicit (recallable) memory does not develop until around 3 years of age. No wonder few children “remember” the horror of being circumcised. However, implicit memory begins in the mother’s womb, and everything the baby is exposed to leaves a trace on its brain. Too little research has been done on the psychological effects of neonatal circumcision; Dr. Ron Goldman’s illuminating work is an exception. I find it very sad that so few doctors will admit – let alone warn parents – that there may be psychological sequelae to cutting the genitals of babies.

Some years ago, I read an article by Dan Bollinger showing that circumcised boys are far more likely than their intact counterparts to suffer from Alexithymia – the inability to express feelings. That’s me. In fact, I think it goes further. Circumcision inhibits close relationships. It is well known that babies withdraw after being circumcised and many have difficulty breast feeding. This makes perfect sense: they have just endured what is probably be the most traumatic event of their lives and no one protected them. I don’t doubt that these feelings of helplessness and abandonment and the resulting sense of distrust all carry forward into adulthood.

As I reached my sixties, I began having sensitivity issues and achieving ejaculation was becoming more difficult. I won’t use the word orgasm because what I felt was far from the exquisite, almost out of body experience that I have observed in my female partners. I believe there is a marked difference between what an intact man experiences versus his circumcised counterpart. A few years later, I began having ED issues as well. I am fortunate that unlike my previous doctors, my current doctor – a lovely English woman – has tried very hard to find solutions for my issues and to refer me to others who may be better able to help.

I am not a true intactivist in that I can’t participate publicly. However, I speak to expectant parents privately when the opportunity presents itself, and I frequent parenting boards to provide information and encourage parents to leave their sons intact. I don’t want anybody to experience the same grief that I have, so when I can persuade a parent who is thinking of circumcising their son to leave him whole, it is positively uplifting. I also make my discontent known to medical personnel; when I have to fill in a form listing previous surgeries, I always start the list with “1949 – totally unwarranted circumcision.” And, when I visit a doctor and my blood pressure shoots up, I explain why I think that occurs.

To those who claim that they’ve never heard from a man who was unhappy about being circumcised: You have now!

On behalf of little boys in previous and future generations, I want to thank the people and organizations who have exposed the myths and misconceptions propagated by the medical community for 150 years. To name just a few in addition to those named above: Edward Wallerstein and his book “Circumcision, an American Health Fallacy”; Dr. John Taylor for his research into the structure of a foreskin; Marilyn Milos and NOCIRC (now Genital Autonomy – America); and of course, Georganne Chapin and Intact America.

H Smith, Alberta Canada

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Voices — Amanda Bunch

Amanda Bunch
I believe strongly that baby boys should not be circumcised. For me this is an issue of personal choice, a basic human right that a baby can’t claim for himself.

I first thought seriously about this in my twenties when I read an article in a body modification e-zine. The writer listed all the reasons circumcision is wrong. Up until then I’d considered circumcision to be the right thing to do because it was so common. I’d barely given it a thought. But what she wrote re-ally resonated with me; for the first time I saw how circumcision went against everything I believed about the right to one’s own body.

That planted a seed, and I started researching the topic. When I saw what ba-bies when through—having no choice—I changed my mind. What solidified it for me was seeing the table baby boys are strapped to for the circumcision. How could I believe in the right to bodily self-expression and still condone a practice that imposed mutilation on an innocent child? When I had my son nine years ago, my husband and I agreed without hesitation that we would not subject him to that.

Society wants to assert its control over people, and circumcision is a good ex-ample of this. “You need to look this way; you need to be this way.” If you’re not this way, it doesn’t reaffirm what they feel about themselves. They need their validation. They need you need to fall in line.

My sister Ellen and I own BodyArtForms, a body-piercing jewelry online store. We opened in 2001, one of just a couple of similar e-commerce sites operating before the boom of online retail. We believe people should be able to express themselves and adults should be able to do whatever they want to their bodies. Back then I had implants in my arms and lots of piercings. I express myself a little differently now, but I believe strongly in the freedom of individuals to express themselves this way.

Our business supports the important work Intact America is doing on the front lines. I don’t tend to speak out about circumcision, but opportunities to share do come up. I was taking a pole fitness class and the teacher asked us to do a dance to release something that upset us, an emotion we wanted to get out. I found myself releasing my feelings about circumcision on behalf of all those baby boys. I thought, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” Some people asked me about it afterwards. They wanted to know why I was so passionate about it, and we talked. Maybe I planted the seed that time. I like to think that maybe I did.

Amanda Bunch

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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

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