Why I Got Into “This Penis Business”
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