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Do You Know: Why intactivists need to speak out, and come out?

Not a week goes by without somebody asking me: “How did you get involved in this cause (intactivism)?” I tell them I cannot abide the injustice that allows doctors and parents to remove an important body part from their infant sons.

Similarly, not a week goes by without somebody saying to me, “I want to do everything I can to protect boys, but I can’t use my real name because ….” (the reasons vary). I think to myself: How do you expect to change things if you stay anonymous?

“An activist is someone who cannot help but fight for something. That person is not usually motivated by a need for power or money or fame, but in fact is driven slightly mad by some injustice, some cruelty, some unfairness so much so that he or she is compelled by some internal moral engine to act to make it better.”

— Eve Ensler

Last month, as I was marching with our Intact America contingent at NYC Pride, I marveled at how far one cause – equal right for people, no matter what their sexual orientation – had come. I realized this was only possible because people who had suffered in secrecy, shame and fear for so long decided to speak out, to come out with their real names, their real stories, and their demands for justice.

In my own lifetime, I’ve seen racial desegregation outlawed, and interracial couples become mainstream. I’ve seen same-sex couples, first having achieved the right to marry, adopt babies and create the families that would have been impossible only a few years before.

All social change movements began as unfamiliar or unpopular causes. To oppose slavery in the United States was once unthinkable. The injustice of enslaving other human beings is what motivated persons of conscience to speak out, to come out and demand the abolition of slavery.

When American women began demanding the right to vote (starting with the Seneca Falls convention in 1848), they were attacked as unladylike, ugly and unlovable – as man-haters, or unpatriotic threats to the American way of life. Women and men so motivated by the injustice of denying half the population the right to participate in the political system marched and wrote and spoke out, using their real names, incurring ridicule and for themselves and their families. (Not coincidentally, many also fought for women’s suffrage.)

Activists who oppose FGM in African and Muslim countries have been criticized, persecuted, and disowned by their families and cultures. But it hasn’t kept them from coming out –even, in many cases, fleeing their own countries in order to continue speaking out.

Granted, pockets of fear and hatred continue to exist, and we live at perpetual risk of backsliding. But progress on the human rights front continues, and the slow but growing acknowledgment by Americans that baby boys deserve justice is evidence of this progress.

Why are we making progress? Because people who believe in justice for all refuse to stay silent. They refuse to hide in the closet. They speak out. They march, they donate to the intactivist group(s) of their choice, and they spread the word to anyone who will listen.

Freed slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was encouraged by many of his friends to hide his identity. They feared – not without reason – that Douglass would be re-captured and either killed or returned to the plantation where he’d been enslaved. Douglass realized, though, that keeping his identity a secret diminished his credibility, and conveyed fear and weakness – the antithesis of activism.

Here is what I say when somebody tells me they are committed to intactivism, but need to remain anonymous: If you cannot use your own name, who will believe in you? Who can see you as an example to follow, if they don’t know who you are?

As social justice advocate DaShanne Stokes famously said: “Only by speaking out can we create lasting change. And that change begins with coming out.”



Marilyn Fayre Milos, multiple award winner for her humanitarian work to end routine infant circumcision in the United States and advocating for the rights of infants and children to genital autonomy, has written a warm and compelling memoir of her path to becoming “the founding mother of the intactivist movement.” Needing to support her family as a single mother in the early sixties, Milos taught banjo—having learned to play from Jerry Garcia (later of The Grateful Dead)—and worked as an assistant to comedian and social critic Lenny Bruce, typing out the content of his shows and transcribing court proceedings of his trials for obscenity. After Lenny’s death, she found her voice as an activist as part of the counterculture revolution, living in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco during the 1967 Summer of Love, and honed her organizational skills by creating an alternative education open classroom (still operating) in Marin County. 

After witnessing the pain and trauma of the circumcision of a newborn baby boy when she was a nursing student at Marin College, Milos learned everything she could about why infants were subjected to such brutal surgery. The more she read and discovered, the more convinced she became that circumcision had no medical benefits. As a nurse on the obstetrical unit at Marin General Hospital, she committed to making sure parents understood what circumcision entailed before signing a consent form. Considered an agitator and forced to resign in 1985, she co-founded NOCIRC (National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers) and began organizing international symposia on circumcision, genital autonomy, and human rights. Milos edited and published the proceedings from the above-mentioned symposia and has written numerous articles in her quest to end circumcision and protect children’s bodily integrity. She currently serves on the board of directors of Intact America.


Georganne Chapin is a healthcare expert, attorney, social justice advocate, and founding executive director of Intact America, the nation’s most influential organization opposing the U.S. medical industry’s penchant for surgically altering the genitals of male children (“circumcision”). Under her leadership, Intact America has definitively documented tactics used by U.S. doctors and healthcare facilities to pathologize the male foreskin, pressure parents into circumcising their sons, and forcibly retract the foreskins of intact boys, creating potentially lifelong, iatrogenic harm. 

Chapin holds a BA in Anthropology from Barnard College, and a Master’s degree in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia University. For 25 years, she served as president and chief executive officer of Hudson Health Plan, a nonprofit Medicaid insurer in New York’s Hudson Valley. Mid-career, she enrolled in an evening law program, where she explored the legal and ethical issues underlying routine male circumcision, a subject that had interested her since witnessing the aftermath of the surgery conducted on her younger brother. She received her Juris Doctor degree from Pace University School of Law in 2003, and was subsequently admitted to the New York Bar. As an adjunct professor, she taught Bioethics and Medicaid and Disability Law at Pace, and Bioethics in Dominican College’s doctoral program for advanced practice nurses.

In 2004, Chapin founded the nonprofit Hudson Center for Health Equity and Quality, a company that designs software and provides consulting services designed to reduce administrative complexities, streamline and integrate data collection and reporting, and enhance access to care for those in need. In 2008, she co-founded Intact America.

Chapin has published many articles and op-ed essays, and has been interviewed on local, national and international television, radio and podcasts about ways the U.S. healthcare system prioritizes profits over people’s basic needs. She cites routine (nontherapeutic) infant circumcision as a prime example of a practice that wastes money and harms boys and the men they will become. This Penis Business: A Memoir is her first book.