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An Expression of Outrage Over
Calling the procedure barbaric, they're demanding the right to an intact body.
Philadelphia Inquirer, p. M-1, June 5, 1994 (abridged)
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COLLEGE PARK, MD -- Forget for a moment, the women's movement. And the men's movement. The battle cry of the latest sexual-human rights movement in America is They took my foreskin and I want it back!
The movement has its own declaration of rights, formulated at its first gathering in 1992: "We recognize the inherent right of all human beings to an intact body... We recognize...parents...do not have the right to consent to surgical (foreskin) removal..."
"My mother told me she could hear my screams from the other end of the hall."
And its cries of pain, reported in surveys and interviews: "I was circumcised...70 years ago. I still feel rage." "My mother told me she could hear my screams from the other end of the hall."
It's followers say growing numbers of men are crying out against the traditional cultural and religious ritual of circumcision, drawing ranks to protect that final bastion of male identity and power: the uncircumcised penis.
They are also buying thousands of copies of The Joy of Uncircumcising!, that acclaimed volume by a California psychologist who shows men how to restore their foreskins.
Visitor George Williams at art display
|Late last month, at the Third International Symposium on Circumcision
here, doctors, nurses and other anti-circumcision activists from around the country
convened to tell the world that the surgical removal of baby boys' foreskins is barbaric
and unnecessary, a form of genital mutilation.
The convention, held for four days at a University of Maryland conference center, brought together the most powerful pro-foreskin advocates in the country, such as Tim Hammond, co-founder of the San Francisco-based National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NOHARMM), and Ron Goldman, director of the Circumcision Resource Center in Boston, who last year appeared on The Maury Povich Show to discuss the adverse effects of infant male circumcision. About 125 people attended the convention, according to Hammond.
Hammond presented the findings of what he said was the first-ever national poll of circumcised men. For the study, 313 men, average age 42, volunteered to fill out a "harm documentation form" on which they recorded their feelings. Hammond called his report "Awakenings."
Another star of the symposium was Jim Bigelow, the California psychologist and former ordained minister who wrote The Joy of Uncircumcising! Bigelow's book received a bog boost when Jed Diamond, a leader in the men's movement for 25 years and author of the new The Warrior's Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing the Planet, announced that, like many of the men in attendance, he too, was regrowing his foreskin.
Her epiphany came as she witnessed her first circumcision.
All of these leaders looked, as if to a spiritual mohter, to California nurse Marilyn Milos, president and founder of NOCIRC, the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, who started the movement 15 years ago.
Her epiphany came as she witnessed her first circumcision. She saw the doctor strap a squirming newborn boy to a table. Watching the surgery, she felt faint and her stomach turned. Then the doctor said, "There's no medical reason for doing this."
Milos was haunted by doubt. "What had I allowed my own babies to endure -- and why? I was determined then to stop babies from screaming."
She tried to inform parents at her hospital of the possible ill effects of circumcision, and she said she was fired as a result. Years later, she was given an award for her efforts by the California Nurses Association, and honored as a whole movement began to form around her. In attendance at the symposium were several of the 14 nurses at a Santa Fe hospital who refuse to participate in circumcisions.
"It leaves deep scars --
physical and mental -- in boys and men,
robbing them of the seat of sexual response."
Milos, who says her group has 20,000 members, told the symposium that "there is no medical argument for circumcision. It's the first meeting of sex and violence. It causes tremendous pain in newborns, who are operated on without anesthesia. It is an elective surgery with some risk, in which parents are given little information and children no choice at all."
"It leaves deep scars -- physical and mental -- in boys and men, robbing them of the seat of sexual response. But it's a taboo subject. To recognize the truth about circumcision, the great majority of men in this country would have to acknowledge they are walking around with diminished penises. And we mothers and fathers would have to recognize that we have butchered our sons. Who wants to admit that?"
A lot of folks, apparently. Although hospital circumcision has been routine in this country for 50 years -- performed because parents view it as a health practice and the norm -- in most countries, only those who are Jewish, Muslim or of a few other faiths are circumcised; 80 percent of the world's males are not.
|The book and exhibition room at the symposium was an activist's dream. On one wall was a giant photograph of an uncircumcised penis. An abstract sculpture showed a man's shoe with the toe cut off. Everywhere there were pamphlets of the movement: Reclaiming Our Bodies, And Suddenly Men Began to Scream, Elvis Presley's Foreskin and Other Letters. (The latter featuring an activist's appaluding letter to Elvis biographer Albert Goldman: "Thank you for telling the world Elvis Presley had a foreskin -- and insisted on keeping it. There's no telling how many babies, thanks to your disclosure...will get to keep all of the penis they were born with.")||
Duane Jorde represented the National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males
One pamphlet quoted C. Everett Koop, Benjamin Spock and Ashley Montagu, all in favor of leaving males equipped as they come into the world. Montagu, the former Princeton University anthropologist, was quoted as saying that circumcision was a barbaric act no different from the routine African tradition of excising the hood of the clitoris, among more extreme examples of female genital mutilation. Mutilation of children by their elders is an almost universal practice, Montagu said.
The most celebrated activist seemed to be Bigelow, the author of the Joy of Uncircumcising! Bigelow, 60, said he never recovered fromt he psychological pain of circumcision, which he realized when he was about 8 years old.
"I often prayed that God would give my foreskin back to me," he said. "As I got older, I tried to convinc myself it was for the best. But the feelings of loss and violation never went away."
Bigelow restored a foreskin and reports increased sexual sensitivity...
Five years ago, Bigelow, a former professor of psychology at Whittier College who is married with two grown children, began to "redevelop" his foreskin. He used the "tissue expansion" technique pioneered by a few California men in the late '70s.
Bigelow began to stretch the skin of the penile shaft over the glans, or head of the penis, keeping it in place with surgical adhesive tape that he replaced constantly. It took several years, but Bigelow restored a foreskin and reports increased sexual sensitivity as the glans, which can toughen like any outer skin, was protected and returned to its prior responsiveness. "It has also restored to me a completeness, a psychological sense of wholeness that was missing," Bigelow said.
His book, The Joy of Uncircumcising!, has had sympathetic reviews in some reputable medical publications, including the Journal of the American Medical Association, and has sold more than 5,000 copies.
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