MAY 2015:Intactivist of the Month is Amy Wright Glenn—author, educator, doula, and mother. Glenn connects with her audiences through the natural and nurturing elements of motherhood, and exemplifies the qualities of compassion, caring, and communication. Glenn earned her MA in Religion and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She then taught for eleven years in the Religion and Philosophy Department at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, earning the Dunbar Abston Jr. Chair for Teaching Excellence. She is a Kripalu Yoga teacher, Birthing Mama® Prenatal Yoga and Wellness Teacher Trainer, (CD) DONA birth doula, hospital chaplain, and founder of the Institute for the Study of Birth, Breath, and Death.
Glenn is a frequent contributor to PhillyVoice and draws upon her skillset as an ethicist in composing articles relating to the harms of routine infant circumcision.
Her recent article on the Hironimus v. Nebus case is a must-read: Circumcise your 4-year-old or go to jail.
Commenting on the honor of being named Intactivist of the Month, Glenn said, “Intact America represents the leading edge of a powerful and important shift in consciousness with regard to the involuntary genital cutting of children in America. The tide is turning. While it still may take decades of work, one day the practice of forcibly cutting the genitals of American boys will be condemned in the same way the cutting of a girl’s labia and/or clitoris is condemned.”
We’d like to dedicate this newsletter to mothers and other inspiring women like Amy Wright Glenn for their work to educate parents on the risks of circumcision and the beauty of the natural human body.
To learn more about Amy Wright Glenn, visit Birth Breath and Death, facebook.com/AmyWrightGlenn, and facebook.com/birthbreathanddeath.
Georganne Chapin, Intact America’s Executive Director, said, “Amy Wright Glenn’s writing is polished and forthright, and leaves no room for ambiguity. She is as certain as can be that circumcising children is morally unacceptable. We are so grateful for her ability to deliver that message with such clarity.”
April 2015: Four years ago, Heather Hironimus could not have imagined that she would be in the center of a national debate, let alone an ongoing court case drama. What she did know, however, was that she would go to any length to protect her baby boy from harm.
Similar to the story of many of our fellow intactivsts, Heather initially thought of circumcision as a non-issue, something all parents just do. In December of 2011, Heather signed a joint parenting agreement with her son’s father, Dennis Nebus. Upon researching the practice and learning of its dangers, Heather changed her views on circumcision.
Unfortunately, Nebus did not share Heather’s concern with the harm of circumcision. When he realized that Heather did not want to have their son circumcised, he initiated legal action.
A year, a gag order, and multiple denied appeals later, Heather is still protecting her son from the court system as well as from any doctors who would circumcise her son. In February of this year, she and her son took refuge in a domestic abuse shelter, where she is evading a court-ordered arrest warrant.
Heather and her son have been embraced by the intactivist community. Many organizations and advocacy groups have joined together to support this mother and son during this time.
Heather’s unconditional love for her child, and her desire to keep him as nature intended, is clear. Her willingness to do everything in her power to keep her child safe (even risking a jail sentence) makes her our April Intactivist of the Month. Long after this court case has ended, Heather will remain an inspirational figure in our movement. Her story will serve as a testament to the power of intactivism and a mother’s bond with her child. Our thoughts and prayers are with Heather and her son.
MARCH 2015: Just a few weeks ago, the intactivist movement lost one of our great champions, Elizabeth Noble. Throughout her career, Elizabeth focused on the physical and spiritual well-being of mothers and their infants; and she made waves when she featured a photograph of her naked, intact son on the cover of her book, The Joy of Being a Boy.
Elizabeth was born and raised in Australia, where she received degrees in physiotherapy, philosophy, and anthropology. She moved to the United States in 1973, and in 1977 she founded the Section on Women’s Health of the American Physical Therapy Association. From 1970 to 1990, she was founder and director of the Maternal and Child Health Center and Cambridge Physical Therapy in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Elizabeth was internationally celebrated for her focus on women’s health and the importance of education. She gave prenatal education classes, and taught infant massage to new mothers. Her friend Marilyn Milos, founder of the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, recounts: “During one class, Elizabeth mentioned the difficulty circumcised babies have in their pelvic region because of the trauma held there. When she said the word ‘circumcision,’ one of the babies who had been quietly suckling pulled his head away from his mother’s breast and let out a high-pitched scream that went on for several minutes. Elizabeth, although amazed and startled by the baby’s reaction, knew he had been circumcised. A couple of years later, when she was teaching another class, she mentioned what had happened in that earlier class and, again, another baby reacted to the word circumcision in exactly the same way. Elizabeth immediately knew this baby was also circumcised.”
“Elizabeth always said what was on her mind and she didn’t hold back,” says Milos. “She always was outspoken about the harm of circumcision and was delighted to have The Joy of Being a Boy so welcomed and appreciated by the intactivist community.”
Intactivist photographer and videographer James Loewen interviewed Elizabeth in 2013. In this video, among other topics she discusses the controversy surrounding the publication of that book (pictured at right) and how surprised she remained that so many otherwise enlightened Americans manifested an aversion to the normal male body.
Elizabeth attended the Genital Autonomy Symposium in Boulder, Colorado last summer. She was clearly ailing, but able to partake in the events. You can see her below in thoughtful conversation with Ronald Goldman, author of Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma. “She was a pioneer,” says Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America. “She will be missed.”
FEBRUARY 2015: Jonathan Friedman was raised by a large Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. As a young boy, he witnessed many Orthodox Jewish circumcision ceremonies where metzitzah b’peh (oral suction to remove the blood from the baby’s penis) is a requirement.
“When I reached puberty,” Jonathan says, “I began to suffer from circumcision complications. Around the age of 16, my parents pointed out the man who circumcised me, and I immediately realized the chafing, bleeding and pain that I experienced was due to that mohel’s act performed on me as an eight-day-old infant.”
Friedman started researching circumcision during his engineering studies at The Cooper Union in New York City. He came across a video demonstrating the anatomy and gliding motion of the foreskin and shared it with his friends at school, many of whom were Jewish. “We all became really disturbed at what we learned,” he reports.
In January 2011, Friedman first learned of the intactivist movement through his closest school friend, who also was experiencing adverse effects from his circumcision. “I read as much as I could,” he says, and by Spring 2011 he published an article on Rebecca Wald’s website, Beyond The Bris, titled, “On Circumcision, Authority, and the Perpetuation of Abuse.” Shortly after, Jonathan launched IntactNews and joined Attorneys for the Rights of the Child as webmaster and newsletter editor.
Since becoming involved in intactivism, Jonathan has organized and participated in many demonstrations around the country, including NYC Pride, Genital Integrity Awareness Week in Washington, DC, and – in December 2012 – in Berlin, where he joined a protest against the impending German law enshrining circumcision as a religious right. He also joins the Bloodstained Men, spreading the message across the United States, and reaching thousands of people directly and many more through news outlets and social media. “The bloodstained suits are a powerful symbol, very effective at getting people’s attention,” says Friedman. “They express the deep trauma that we all carry, be it physical or psychological.”
“Coming out in public as an intactivist is very difficult, especially for someone of a Jewish background,” he says. “The movement has helped me deal with my suffering and I’m extremely grateful for that. I am also very optimistic about our cause.”
Regarding Intact America, Friedman says, “Intact America takes a professional approach toward raising awareness. I can always count on them to stay on top of important developments and to share well-researched knowledge about this issue. I’m particularly grateful for Intact America’s leading social media presence and for its support of grassroots events, especially NYC Pride.”
Georganne Chapin, Intact America’s executive director says, “It’s a privilege to work with Jonathan. He is extremely intelligent and focused. His contributions to the movement at large, to Attorneys for the Rights of the Child (where I also serve on the board of directors) and to Intact America are huge and growing. Most recently, Jonathan has taken a leadership role in defending Chase, the Florida boy whose mother is fighting to keep him intact. That issue is a work in progress, and we are all fortunate to have Jonathan’s energies behind it.”
JANUARY 2015: This month, Intact America honors Dan Strandjord. He’s the man popularly known around the University of Chicago Medical Center as the Foreskin Guy. For the past decade, every weekday, Dan has stood with his sign—a one-man, constant protest against that institution’s participation in the circumcision industry.
Dan was born in Maryland and grew up in Chicago. As a young boy, he experienced an inappropriate genital examination by a University of Chicago pediatrician—something that affected him for many years.
Becoming aware of the intactivist movement galvanized Dan into becoming an active opponent of the practice that had harmed him. “I was finally able to start dealing with my lifelong issues about circumcision in late 1998,” he says. The next spring, Marilyn Milos organized a national meeting about the 1999 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) circumcision policy in Chicago, where the AAP headquarters is located. “I met an amazing group of people who were excited to do something to protect children and I realized that we must do more to make the issue known.”
Over the next few years, Dan began speaking out, but found little support from the institution that had been at least partly responsible for the violation of his human rights. The motto of the University of Chicago Medical Center, Dan points out, is “At the Forefront of Medicine.” Yet that institution has the highest rate of infant circumcision in the city—more than double that of other hospitals.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was in 2004 when Dan asked Susan Gzesh, executive director of the University of Chicago Center for Human Rights, if he could speak with her about genital integrity for all children—male, female and intersex—and she refused. “She said, ‘I know what you’re going to say; I don’t agree with you; and I’m not going to talk with you about it,'” Dan recounts.
“So I said, I’m going to talk with anybody who WILL talk with me, then, and I’ll do it out in the street!”
In June 2004, Dan started standing in front of that institution’s medical center, protesting circumcision. For more than a decade, every weekday, weather permitting, Dan is there for an hour or two.
The first time people see me, they can’t believe someone is out there doing this, says Dan. “Most of the people who do come to talk to me, already agree with me. [But] this is a topic that you have to think about for a while, and so even if people don’t stop to talk, they see the signs. They have to think about it. That really helps to keep me doing this, because I know I’m making a difference I know I’m affecting even the people who haven’t stopped to talk with me. I’m also delighted to be called Foreskin Guy—I WANT people to talk about me. Because even if they tell somebody that I must be a crazy old man, somebody might say, “Well, maybe he’s got something there!”
Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America, agrees. “The importance of speaking out in public about the travesty of forced circumcision cannot be overstated,” she says. “Dan’’s decade-long protest is a most unique and powerful testament to the importance of the issue that the University of Chicago fails to address.”
Later this month, Dan will be retiring to Aurora, Colorado. He will be leaving his post at the medical center, but plans to find new ways to work for the intactivist cause.
About Intact America, Dan says, “I’m so glad that we now have an organization whose main function is to be out front and speak out loudly about protecting children by sending a clear message that foreskin is not a birth defect and that every male has a right to all the functions and pleasure that his body was designed for.”
“I’m very optimistic. I’’m on the right side of history with this.”
DECEMBER 2014: December’s Intactivist of the Month, Ernesto Echeverria, is a little different from our other honorees. Other than sporting a “10 Out of 10 Babies Say NO” bumper sticker on his minivan, he really isn’t on the frontline. Rather, he came to the issue—let’s say—naturally, and in doing so, helped to inspire the creation of Intact America. You see, Ernesto, who makes his living as a glassblower in Corning, New York, is the son of Georganne Chapin, Intact America’s founding executive director.
“When Ernesto was born in 1980, his father and I would no more have agreed to having him circumcised than we would have agreed to having one of his eyes removed,” says Georganne. “I thought about two things – one was the pain and brutality of the surgery, and the second was how utterly senseless it seemed to remove a body part that nature had given to every single child. And that was that, or so I believed.”
Eighteen years went by. Then, one day during a family road trip, Ernesto brought up the subject.
Georganne recollects: “I remember him saying, ‘Mom, I never thanked you and Dad for not having me circumcised. I just want to thank you so much.’”
It wasn’t until that moment, Georganne says, that she realized the lifelong magnitude of the circumcision decision. “I had thought only about the pain and trauma to the baby. Until my son spoke to me as a young man, I truly had not thought about what circumcision – or, conversely, being intact – meant for the man that baby would become. And not one day goes by since that revelation 16 years ago that I don’t revisit with fervent thanks my decision to let my son keep all of his body parts.”
“As I was growing up,” Ernesto recounts, “I noticed something different about myself compared to most of my friends. What was different was that they had been circumcised and, like my father, I was intact. It took a while for me to understand how relevant this would be to my identity, my sex life, and me being a man. I never thought, though, that this issue would become a movement with legal, ethical and moral implications. I am happy that Intact America is doing this work, so that more boys and men can be proud about their natural bodies and have the awareness of what nature intended for them.”