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.”
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.”
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.”
Over the many years I have been advocating for the rights of baby boys to their whole, intact bodies, I have engaged in countless discussions on the topic. Some people have never given circumcision a thought, but once they are asked to think about it they immediately “get” that circumcision is a human rights violation. Some react by vociferously defending circumcision, and put forth facts and arguments that they believe bolster their position, and others simply want to end the conversation. Not surprisingly, people from the latter group sometimes return with arguments, questions, or even agreement. As you can imagine, I have gained a reputation for being – depending on the crowd – either a fascinating guest or an unwelcome annoyance at social gatherings!
Even while, by now, I truly have no problem talking about the foreskin, penises, circumcision, sexual dysfunction, female genital cutting, or any related topic, I do remember how difficult it was at the beginning when somebody would challenge me with arguments I knew were wrong, but to which I hadn’t yet formulated a cogent response.
I know that other intactivists have the same problem. So I thought it might be useful to lay out some talking points, or simple answers to questions or arguments I commonly hear. Here’s part one. First you’ll see the question (or argument) in italics, and then my counterpoint.
There are so many more important causes. Why are you wasting your time on this? I see infant circumcision as a human rights issue, and wouldn’t you agree that human rights should top the list of worthy causes? Furthermore, protecting babies and children ranks among the highest of human rights causes because they are unable to speak out or advocate on their own behalf.
You people are really weird. It’s strange to me that you think my position is weird. Frankly, when I first starting thinking about circumcision, I thought it just didn’t make sense that half of the human race “needs” surgical correction after being born. To me, it seems weird to chop off any normal, healthy body part – let alone, the end of someone’s penis.
You are obsessed with penises. Actually, I think it’s the people who want to cut off foreskins who are obsessed with penises. My belief is simply that baby boys should be left in peace. As a pediatrician I know says, “Don’t just do something – stand there!” In other words, leave that baby’s body the way God – or nature – made it.
You’re not a man. Why do you care so much about this? You don’t have to be a man to know that babies – all babies – deserve protection from forced surgery on their genitals. You don’t have to be Jewish or Cambodian or Sudanese to care about genocide, or African-American to care about racial equality. It is everybody’s business to stand up for people whose rights are being violated.
I’ll let my husband decide; he’s the one with the penis. If you accept that a child cannot legally consent to a surgery that is unnecessary, then you must agree that the child’s right to be protected cannot be suspended on a whim by a Father, or anyone else. If your husband were missing a finger, would you let him make the decision to cut off your child’s finger, or would you step in to protect your baby?
What about religion? Circumcision is a Jewish thing. You must be anti-Semitic. Most people don’t realize boys from Jewish families represent a very small fraction (a few thousand) of the one million infant circumcisions that occur in the U.S. each year. In turn, only a few of those circumcisions are performed in keeping with religious ritual. The rest are carried out mostly by doctors in medical settings, even though the surgery is not medically indicated and violates the rights of the babies who undergo it. I believe all children have a right to bodily integrity, girls and boys, from families of any religious or cultural affiliation. Finally and not surprisingly, growing numbers of Jewish parents are choosing to forego the painful practice of circumcision and are leaving their sons intact.
Why are you telling other people what to do? Circumcision should be a personal choice. You’re right! Circumcision should be a personal choice, and the person making that choice should be the person whose body will be permanently altered – and who will have to live with the consequences of the surgery.
A boy should look like his father. You wouldn’t abandon your baby if his eye color was different from his father’s (or mother’s) eye color. You wouldn’t seek to surgically alter any other body part of your child’s to make it conform to his parent’s looks. So why would you be concerned that a baby’s “private” parts (with an emphasis on “private”) should match his father’s?
My next post will deal with some of the “hygiene” and “disease” arguments. Do you have suggestions for other questions or objections that you’ve found challenging and that have left you wishing you had a more compelling response? Let me know.
BY GEORGANNE CHAPIN
This is my first blog post for Intact America, and I’m going to address a question I’ve been asked a thousand times in one way or another. My favorite version of the question was put to me by my late friend, anthropologist Lucie Saunders: “Why did you “get into this … this penis business?” she asked, with her hands fluttering. She, like many, was genuinely curious. Others ask because they think I should spend my time on “real problems.” I don’t mind the question – rhetorical or not. Male circumcision is such an embedded custom in American medicine that many people think it’s weird to question it. Until they think again.
My answer as to why I got into “this penis business,” is that I always saw circumcision as a real problem, as an unjustifiable violation of babies’ bodies, babies’ rights. So opposing circumcision is not about penises. It’s about defending human rights. It’s about sparing babies – small but complete people with their own individual rights – from assault, from pain and suffering, and from the permanent loss of an intimate, personal, sensual part of their body, and about preserving their right to an open future.
I also advocate for universal health care, believing that it’s a foundation of a just society. But with the increasing consolidation of corporate power in medicine, and the drug and device companies and the insurance industry lined up against the forces calling for a humane and sensible system, the chance to make a difference on that front seems daunting.
Circumcision, on the other hand, is something for which one’s advocacy can quickly alter the course of lives. One conversation with a pregnant mom can save a baby from an excruciating primal experience – and save his parents from years of guilt and remorse. An intact boy/man is somebody who doesn’t have at least THAT – sometimes buried but always (I believe) lurking – shadow terror in his psyche. Being free from this demon can only make him a calmer, less fearful and less defensive man, and can only benefit his future partners (male or female), his family, and others around him.
No, I don’t believe that every man who has been circumcised is a coiled wire waiting to spring, any more than I think that every intact man is a kind person. Nonetheless, being tied down and having part of your genitals cut off – what a horrible way to start a life, what a breach of trust, what a fount of bitterness for the start of a life. And what a horrible burden to bear for a parent who realizes later that she (or he), because of ignorance, social pressure, or misinformation, didn’t protect her child.
As I do this work, I often think how fortunate I was to know before the birth of my own son 31 years ago that the intact male body was – well – normal. This awareness gave us both the gift of not having to say “I’m sorry” to each other – at least, not about “this penis business.”
If you want to know more about me and how I became an intactivist, click on this link to an interview James Lowen filmed in the summer of 2010.
by Georganne Chapin