The Next Wave of Intactivism:
A conversation with Marilyn Milos and Georganne Chapin
 

Following the recent merger of the organizations they lead, on July 14, 2021, Marilyn Milos founding executive director of Genital Autonomy — America (formerly NOCIRC), and Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America were interviewed by Bonnie Catena. During a lively one-hour conversation, they discussed the history of the intactivist movement, what the merger will make possible, and their plans for the future.

BONNIE: Marilyn, what inspired you to dedicate more than 40 years of your personal and professional life to ending circumcision in the United States?

MARILYN: As a nursing student, I witnessed a circumcision in 1979. I can still see that baby struggling against the restraints that held his arms and legs down on a molded plastic board. I still hear the doctor’s words, the same he said to me before my three sons were circumcised —  it won’t hurt, it just takes a minute, and it will protect him. And the primal scream the baby let out still haunts my dreams. As he was being mutilated, I realized what had been done to my sons — and that my doctor had lied to me.

I vowed to end the torture.

In my training as a nurse, informed consent was constantly stressed. I was sure that if parents had the facts, they would never allow their sons to undergo this barbaric surgery. So I started to educate the expectant moms and dads in the obstetrical unit of the hospital where I worked in California. In 1985, I was forced to resign for discussing such a “sensitive” topic with my patients.

I was embarrassed to have lost my job, but there was a wrong to right, and nothing could stop me. That same year, I founded NOCIRC — the National Organization of Circumcision Resource Centers.

NOCIRC, subsequently renamed Genital Autonomy — America, was the first national clearinghouse in the US for information about circumcision.  We’ve also sponsored and organized conferences and international symposia on circumcision, human rights, and genital integrity.

BONNIE: Marilyn and Georganne, how did you meet and come to create Intact America with other leaders in the movement?

MARILYN: I met Georganne at a NOCIRC conference in Washington, D.C. in 2003 — and I was so impressed. Here was the head of a health care organization, a part-time law school student, and an eloquent speaker. By then, I had begun to wonder who would take over when I was gone — and I set my sights on Georganne!

During this time, Dean Pisani was providing financial support for NOCIRC. After being pressured by health care providers to consent to circumcision for his son (he and his wife refused), Dean became an intactivist — and he wanted to do more for the movement. That’s when I put together a group of intactivism’s movers and shakers — the leaders of Attorneys for the Rights of the Child, International Coalition for Genital Integrity, Doctors Opposing Circumcision, Nurses for the Rights of the Child, and other organizations — for a series of strategy meetings. I also invited Georganne, who connected us with Aperio, a social enterprise consulting firm. During these sessions, we envisioned the type of organization we needed, its goals, and what we would call it — Intact America. Aperio also helped to create an initial operating budget of $200,000 for the first year.

GEORGANNE: Dean looked at that budget, snorted, and said, “That’s not going to do anything!” And that’s how the number went up…

MARILYN: Yes, that’s when Dean said he’d donate $1,000,000 to launch Intact America, but only if Georganne would lead the organization. I burst into tears. To me, Dean’s pledge was the validation our movement had never before received.

BONNIE: Marilyn and Georganne, why did you decide to merge your organizations now?

GEORGANNE: The timing is right because all of the one-on-one, face-to-face crusading that Marilyn perfected now can be leveraged via social media to accelerate social change. To attract the best talent, to craft the best messages and strategy, we need to consolidate our resources and activities. As a board member and clinical advisor for Intact America, Marilyn will be able to continue her important work with parents and men who are suffering the consequences of their circumcisions. And the work of running an organization, working on strategic initiatives, cultivating new constituencies, and raising funds to support all of this will fall to Intact America. It just felt natural to join forces now.

MARILYN: Exactly, and I’m happy and grateful to pass the baton to Georganne because I love what she’s done and I love working with her.

BONNIE: Marilyn, what have you told your long-time supporters about the merger?

MARILYN: Of course, I let all my supporters and the people on our mailing list know what is going on. The announcement has been received with a lot of enthusiasm. People see that combining our efforts with those of Intact America will make us even more vital.

BONNIE: Georganne, what makes you excited about the merger?

GEORGANNE: This merger is a way to consolidate the strengths of both organizations. The whole will be greater than the sum of its parts because we aren’t losing any of the history or Marilyn’s relationships.

Every human rights movement seeks to help people have been harmed, or are at risk of being harmed. As intactivists, we can offer people validation, hope, and a lifeline. Our merger sends the message that we will be there for the people who need us, for as long as the horrific practice of cutting children’s genitals is allowed to continue.

By joining forces, we’re also proclaiming to the world that the movement is not going away — we are bigger and stronger, serving more people, and effecting even more significant change.

And we’re also telling intactivists that we aren’t giving up. That ending circumcision will take time, commitment, and consolidation of resources.

This merger is a message of strength.

BONNIE: Marilyn and Georganne, what feedback have you received about the merger from other intactivists and your organizations’ constituents?

MARILYN AND GEORGANNE: All good!

GEORGANNE: I attribute the success of Intact America’s recent matching gift campaign partly to the merger — and to the enormous respect that Marilyn has in the movement. Her joining forces with Intact America is reassuring for intactivists.

BONNIE: Georganne, what keeps you motivated?

GEORGANNE: First, the drive to end this human rights abuse propels me forward — and helps offset the burnout of such demanding work.

Second, I always knew circumcision was wrong. But now, even after years of involvement in the intactivist movement, it continues to strike me how deep and complex the issue is.

— Circumcision is a behavior that violates common sense: That half of the population — i.e., men — are born needing surgical correction is just absurd. Yet, people defend it as though it is irrefutably necessary.

— Because of our country’s puritanical roots, our culture is obsessed with sex — getting it and taking it away — and circumcision robs men (and their partners) of sexual pleasure.

— Even though our culture evolves, people still hold hard and fast to this baseline that we’ve imposed on men — and their partners by association.

Circumcision is social oppression. It denies people of their most basic humanity in the interest of somebody else. A baby is not seen as a person but as a means to gratification for adults — the doctors, hospitals and equipment makers profiting from the surgery, the father validating his own circumcision, the mother abdicating her role as protector of her child in order to please her partner or her doctor.

BONNIE: Marilyn and Georganne, do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

MARILYN: Yes! Even though mainstream media continues to sideline us, the internet has advanced intactivism by leaps and bounds. I started 42 years ago — working on a typewriter! — and I have so much hope, even if it takes another 42 years to wipe out this scourge.

GEORGANNE: We have to remain vigilant because progress can backslide — just consider what is happening today with voting rights. We can’t rest, but we are so much stronger now so we will keep fighting!