Voices — Wallace Muenzenberger

The 23rd of December 1947 is a day I’ll never forget. That is when I first learned, to my horror, what a circumcision was.

I was raised Roman Catholic and attended 12 years of parochial school. That day marked the last class before Christmas break, and the teacher (a nun) explained why January 1 was a holy day of obligation. (It’s the Feast of the Circumcision.)

In that moment, I understood immediately what had been done to my body. I understood why I was never comfortable there and why my clothes were always irritating me. I realized then that the head of my penis was meant to be covered. It was this unnatural exposure that was causing me to experience an almost constant state of semi-arousal. It’s not normal to be exposed that way. Being sexually aware and acting on that awareness are two, very different, things. I was an introvert, and thus a shy child, and there was no one with whom I could speak. I never broached the subject with my parents because I knew they would dismiss it, hoping I’d forget about it.

This is not considered a “normal” preoccupation, but then, having a scar encircling one’s penis isn’t “normal” either in most of the world, no matter how much our American culture insists that it is.

As a gay man who had wished since childhood for a foreskin to soothe the constant discomfort, I always found the circumcised penis ugly and to be a turn-off. It’s difficult to explain the trauma of being unable to discreetly identify intact gay men with whom to engage in sex, especially as an introvert.

This act that was done to me without my consent makes me very angry. I’ve channeled that anger into researching circumcision and the arguments for and against it for more than 75 years now. I still don’t understand why someone would amputate a normal body part simply because they have accepted without question the notion that it’s not clean.

For some reason in American culture, we don’t talk about the penis in a matter-of-fact way, and we definitely don’t talk about its foreskin—except to say that it’s dirty. What this is referring to is smegma, a word normally heard only in the context of jokes. Smegma is a natural lubricant the body produces to prevent the foreskin lining from adhering to the glans. It’s made of body oils, skin cells and moisture. Every body produces smegma—it’s between our toes and behind our ears, anywhere skin folds against itself. We just give it a quick wash and get on with our day.

The idea that a foreskin is dirty is a uniquely American notion. We’ve been cutting it off for six generations. We’re the only advanced nation where cutting off the foreskin of a male infant is routine practice, and we don’t even know why. The medical community makes all sorts of excuses that don’t hold up to science—while the rest of the advanced nations think we’re crazy. It’s sexual violence on an infant. It’s just insane.

But it’s so normalized. At a recent medical appointment, the doctor asked me to list every surgery I had ever had. I included circumcision on that list, but when I reviewed notes from the appointment, I realized she had left that one off. It has become so ubiquitous that she didn’t even mention it.

I’m 82 years old, and I’ve become more outspoken about this. I have repeatedly sent email letters to my congressmen and women and my senators, and their response is, “There, there. Don’t worry about it. We’re taking care of you.” They don’t see the harm that’s been done. I really feel that most American men have the attitude that it was done to them and there’s nothing they can do about it now. But it’s a human rights issue. And no one wants to listen.

Wallace Muenzenberger

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IOTM – Alan Cumming

JUNE 2013: Every June, people in cities across America celebrate Gay Pride Week, and intactivists in both New York City and San Francisco will be marching in Pride parades, spreading the message that boys deserve the right to genital integrity. We’re proud to honor those in the gay rights movement who also fight for the rights of infant boys to keep the bodies they were born with. That’s why we’ve chosen outspoken gay rights activist Alan Cumming as June’s Intactivist of the Month.

Award-winning star of stage and screen, Alan Cumming joined Intact America’s Board of Advocates shortly after the organization’s founding, and has partnered with Intact America (IA) on several occasions. One of the many reasons we love him is because Alan uses his public platform to highlight our issue. In television interviews, magazine articles, even onstage in monologues before solo performances, Alan talks about the insanity of cutting the foreskins off baby boys, and about the virtues of being intact. Last year, Alan wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal, which was deemed “too raw” for its readers…so he posted it on his blog and allowed us to reproduce it on the Intact America blog. The piece was called “May the Foreskin Be With You.”

Alan’s devotion to intactivism started well before he joined Intact America’s Board of Advocates; for years, he’s been a supporter of Great Britain’s National Organization of Restoring Men (NORM-UK). “I have a foreskin,” he says. “I am meant to have one. It’s not there for no reason. Why are so many babies (more than half the population of U.S. males alone) made to have a piece of their genitals lopped off at only a few days old? It’s insane and cruel and pandemic, and I believe we all need to question why we do it, examine the (sometimes tragic) effects of doing it, and be educated about foreskin health. We need to stand up and question why we allow such a traumatic and violent act to be repeated unthinkingly generation after generation!”

alan_macbethWhen interviewed by David Mixner, gay rights activist and former political advisor to President Bill Clinton, about the work of Intact America, Alan said, “Online organizing will build grassroots support for male genital integrity (a phrase I absolutely love). Intact America’s online petition to the Centers for Disease Control [demanding that it avoid recommending circumcision] very quickly went ‘viral’ and drew tens of thousands of signatures. With millions sharing our view that circumcision is wrong and harmful, it’s just the beginning. Already, the rate of circumcision in the U.S. has declined from 80 to 56 percent since the 1960s; [supporting] Intact America will hasten that trend.”

“I am profoundly honored to count Alan Cumming among Intact America’s supporters,” says Georganne Chapin. “Alan isn’t just smart and talented and funny—he is a compassionate and intuitive person who understands the full implications of circumcision, both for males subjected to it, and for society at large. I am thrilled that Alan has chosen to openly support Intact America and advocate for the rights of boys and men to their whole, natural bodies.”

Alan achieved international fame with his Tony Award-winning performance in Cabaret, and has been featured in dozens of Hollywood films, including X2: X Men United, the Spy Kids trilogy, and The Anniversary Party. In 2013 he performed in a one-man version of Macbeth on Broadway, and donated part of the proceeds from ticket sales to Intact America.

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