Kenny Neal Shults wants to take “An un-serious look at a the serious subject of why we circumcise our kids with two short comic films that poke fun at American secular circumcision.”
Herein Savas Abadsidis of The Good Men Project asks why.
What’s an intactivist?
When I lived in San Francisco (96 – 02) I did quite a bit of anti circumcision activism. I made a connection with a local gay guy who helped run one of the primary anti-circ efforts they called NOHARMM—The National Organization to Halt the Routine Mutilation of Males. Yeah, that’s the name. This guy was the quintessential San Francisco activist. He ate, drank and slept anti-circumcision when he wasn’t making a living as a massage therapist (his ad in the paper offered a discount with a European passport which I always thought was so funny and awesome—he was so unashamed of his love of foreskin!). I attended meetings at his home and met many of the other major players in the bay area anti-circ scene—an exclusive band of mostly older gay men whose lives essentially revolved around the fight against circumcision, the discussion of circumcision, and the recovery from circumcision. When they needed a break from talking about circumcision they discussed foreskin restoration. These guys called themselvesintactivists.
Many intactivists are very passionate. I poke fun at them a bit with Todd, the over-the-top San Francisco activist character in the Kickstarter promo, because there is a type of social engagement that is very specific to the Bay Area. There’s a lot of righteous rage, and it informs the way they do the work and further the cause. But it’s really hard for other people to take in the issue when they’re being called child-rapist-conspiracy-
Let’s look at some comments on the YouTube video and talk about humor:
“These proponents of the violence against infant prepuce excision routine sacrifices base their superstitious misconceptions in sectarian creation science fiction. You got to admit that healthy hygienic functioning intact recuses are a joy to behold and a pleasure to regard so much so that the sectarian religious which doctors kept them off to prevent boys from being able to dock with their boyfriends mother nature intended all humans to be born created equally bisexual.”
“You do Intactivism a disservice. Would making jokes about gas chambers, female genital mutilation, acid facials, or any other tragic atrocity help people to understand the impact of that atrocity? I am a victim of male genital mutilation and I find it offensive that you would make light of my pain. There is no room for humor when it come to male genital mutilation. Humor is just a form of denial and denial is one of the reasons that MGM persists.”
“I am ashamed to live in a culture that fosters child abuse as a right of passage and then uses humor as a way of making a human rights violation acceptable. I’m a victim of MGM there is nothing funny about what was done to my body without my consent. Denial is a powerful fortress.”
“If Mr. Shults were using “humor”, to express his views about female genital mutilation he would be called an insensitive, callus, sexist pig.”
I kinda wanted to tell that last guy “hey you know Stephen Colbert’s character isn’t real either right?” but I didn’t. He’s just a guy who feels really fucked over.
It’s easy to see that either something dramatic happened to the really ardent intactivists, or they have some other reason for imbuing the issue with so much emotion. Either way, this makes having a sense of humor about the issue difficult. There are very few funny holocaust jokes after all. But the ones that are good are useful because they give us perspective and purgation. The good ones don’t collude with the act or use it as cheap fodder, but rather respect the reverence for what happened while making fun of the impossibly human ways in which we respond. Jokes lighten by acting as a pressure valve for the constant struggle of being alive. What’s tacit in the humor of our common struggle is compassion—jokes help us forgive ourselves for not having any control over the atrocities that are too late to stop.
But not only does humor offer catharsis, it also allows us to make social change. It’s not funny to make a racist joke, but it is funny to make fun of racism. This is how you change people’s minds and perspectives, and ultimately behaviors. And this is why I want to use humor to make a couple of educational shorts on circumcision—because humor is the one thing that let’s you talk about the thing no one wants to talk about. It can get you out of trouble, it can replace shame with pride, and it can help you cope. It’s the antidote to pain. And circumcision causes lots of pain. But hopefully a new kind of intactivism will help us to not only heal from a huge disservice, but perhaps also prevent further injury.
This is my favorite of the YouTube comments for obvious reasons:
“Oh my, there are a lot of humourless people commenting here! This video is funny and does intactivism a service. Well done, Kenny. Humour has always been used as a way to get serious points across (I suggest people watch George Carlin videos, or maybe “Life is Beautiful”, for starters). Carry on ridiculing this barbaric practice, Kenny, with as much humour as you can. Humour a form of denial???? It’s the exact opposite! What Kenny is attempting here is to highlight just how ridiculous GM is. When people say, for instance, that intact men have less clean dicks than mutilated men, Kenny ridicules it by saying “I find soap to be quite effective…”. It’s a simple powerful point that is made far stronger by humour. Humour empowers people and when used well, it weakens their opponents who hate being laughed at.”
I once got to see my hero, David Sedaris, read some of his stories aloud at an event in San Francisco. He was reading from his story about living in France on a farm in the country and being exposed to more intellectually disabled people—though I’m pretty sure he used the term mentally retarded. They weren’t sent away to special homes, they were cared for by the family and so were much more visible that Americans are used to. At any rate, a woman got up and started to berate him about his use of otherly-abled people as the butt of a joke, or some such hippie fucking nonsense. Of course he wasn’t making fun of disabled people, he was making fun of himself. The story was funny because he felt like a stupid American and brilliantly described that feeling in a way that allows us other stupid Americans to relate, learn, and release.
There are lots of issues that are so hotly charged they automatically engender a blame the messenger sentiment. Circumcision is like the president of those issues.
Why is this important to you?
A really good question. To be honest I’m not a hundred percent sure. I mean, I think it’s a stupid practice that causes harm and the basic, common sense injustice of it is something I would naturally oppose the way I oppose clubbing seals. But I don’t know why its something about which I feel so passionately. I mean, I’m not out there jumping into freezing oceans to save baby seals. But I gladly embarrass myself, make myself and my perspectives the subject of ridicule, talk about my own eventful circumcision and penis—why? I actually think that’s part of what’s so awful about circumcision—it leaves men in the dark. Most men don’t even know it happened, don’t know they have a major scar let alone on their penis (that dark ring around the center), don’t know they were born differently and that their penis was supposed to look and feel another way, and don’t have access to the feelings that their infant selves undoubtedly experienced and stored for later displacement. And then, to add insult to injury (literally), everyone around you, including the people who love you the most—the normally well-intended folks who did this to you—all collude to make you feel crazy if you even for one second suggest that perhaps we shouldn’t cut off the most sensitive part of a newborn baby’s body with a scalpel while they’re strapped to a table screaming and turning purple in the face from the pain. It’s all so unthinkable and otherworldly when you really consider it and is a testament to how adaptable humans are—we can normalize anything be it ink needled under the skin, holes in our ears and faces with metal hooks through them, and circumcision. The difference of course is that while it’s my choice to tattoo or pierce, circumcised babies are given no such choice. And I think the cognitive dissonance around this issue has always just been too much for me to bear, personally. Since I was very young I have not only been obsessed with pointing out and addressing the elephant in the room, but also riding it around like a rodeo bull naked and screaming to everyone what the elephant said about them behind their backs. No one can argue the baby seal thing, but routine circumcision of infant boys is something a lot of people still defend fervently. I never fail to be astonished when those same people get spitting mad about female genital mutilation two seconds later! Argh, someone get me my rodeo hat!
Also, because I was a gay kid raised by very conservative southern Baptist octogenarians, I have always struggled with shame around sex and sexuality (though most gays do I believe). I went into public health and gay rights activism to try and overcome the ignominy that still makes intimacy a challenge for me and still profoundly informs my opinion of myself. So when I found out that circumcision was essentially introduced by John Kellogg—the corn flakes guy—as a means of preventing masturbation, well the issue became a perfect medium. If I could recover even 10% from the trauma of having my grandmother walk in on me while masturbating in the bathtub while listening to Frankie Goes to Hollywood I think I would be much happier in life.
Kellogg called masturbation “the practice of solitary vice.” And amazingly, this is what he said about circumcision as a cure for masturbation:
“The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed.”
You dick! Guess what, Kellogg, if you want to stop men from masturbating you better take the whole fucking package, not just the wrapping—because we will ALWAYS find a way.
But Mr. Kellogg goes on to say about women and their abby normal uges:
“In females, [I have] found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement.”
Carbolic acid!? I mean, are you fucking kidding me? So why aren’t we offering this procedure to parents of newborn girls? Because it’s fucking insane, that’s why but let’s rush all the baby boys into the slice-a-torium as quick as we can!?
I am hoping someone will ask me that stupid question ‘who pissed in your corn flakes?’ so I can exclaim “it was Mr. John Harvey Kellogg himself actually!”.
Why have there been so many studies linking circumcision to HIV infection (especially in places like Kenya)?
“So many” is misleading—there are three. And they were done in Africa. Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. And they conclude that circumcision reduces the chances of heterosexual men contracting HIV/AIDS fromwomen by up to 60% and that cirucmcision is therefore an “additional benefit to men trying to avoid HIV infection” (but not for guys who really, really want HIV I guess). But there are a lot of problems with these studies and even more wrong with their very premise.
First of all, the guys who underwent circumcision had to consent to “avoid sexual contact (except with condom protection) during the six weeks following.” The researchers emphatically told them, in fact, that it is “absolutely essential” they use a condom if they did have sex while they were healing because condoms prevent the transmission of HIV & STDs. But they never called them at six weeks to say “ok, stop using condoms now! Whatever you do don’t use condoms anymore condoms cuz it’ll fuck up our research…” In other words, the circumcised men were educated about condoms, how to use them, their benefits, and then strongly implored to use them. The men whose dicks were left alone weren’t exposed to any of this information or behavior modification. Also, unbelievably, blood transfusions, IV needle sharing, and hygiene weren’t controlled for or taken into account. But I’m sure it was removal of those guys foreskins that proved the researchers’ point, which is apparently that getting circumcised means you don’t have to wear condoms? WTF? That’s the one thing we know works! And many believe this emphasis on circumcision as prophylactic will make these men feel condoms are unnecessary, the way many African men consider anal sex the preferred form of birth control. Not to mention, we can’t extrapolate anything from this—there are about a million variables that make research done in Africa completely inapplicable to American men, even if the research wasn’t already questionable as red shit!
Oh, and how about the fact that even though Africa literally has the highest percentage of circumcised men, it ALSO has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS! And how is it that among industrialized nations America has the highest prevalence of HIV, AND the highest prevalence of circumcision? And how come in places where they don’t circumcise the men, the prevalence of HIV is significantly lower? I’m not a research scientist, so this may not be the most scientific thing I’ve ever said, but Ray Charles could see there’s something wrong this fucking research.
In fact, although apparently none of this research’s supporters gives two shits about women’s contraction of HIV, it’s very likely that circumcised men are more likely to give their female partners HIV than intact men. A couple of studies have even shown this. One study set out to show that uncircumcised men are more likely to transmit HIV to their partners (definitely no bias in that very premise or anything), but when it showed the opposite – that cut guys are more likely to give HIV to women – the researches abandoned the study calling it “futile.” How do you just abandon research when it starts to tell you what you don’t want to hear? The other study from John’s Hopkins – you’ve heard of them right? – plainly showed that women with circumcised partners were at higher risk for contracting HIV. But you don’t see the World Health Organization retracting their universal support for circumcision. It’s common sense when you think about it. Cut men require more stimulation, and because they don’t have their foreskin the rough head (because it’s been left exposed – keratinized – for decades) of their cut penis scrapes against the vaginal and/or rectal walls, creating more tears and abrasions and therefore easy access to the bloodstream. Intact men have a sheath that works in congress with the vagina or rectum making penetration smoother, softer, wetter, and less abrasive. Sometimes I think this must account for straight men’s fascination with anal sex is. It must be much more stimulating than the vagina – but what do I know from vaginas?
I found this article in the Journal of Preventive Medicine—an author’s personal copy—and it started by expressing his frustration with how “circumcision denialists continue to question circumcision’s effectiveness and would deny millions of men—and their female partners—a proven, permanent, and inexpensive method to reduce their lifetime risk of HIV infection. Such denialism in the face of the ongoing pandemic are unethical and immoral.”
This was a real punch to the nuts. I mean, really, you’re lecturing on ethics? How dare you try to take the high road? But the audacity of this guy notwithstanding, the wording of this sentiment should be chilling to anyone who reads it. As an HIV prevention specialist with over 20 years of HIV/AIDS prevention, reproductive health, and sexual health activism experience, I have rarely heard a bigger endorsement for the abandonment of the one thing that we know works the best—condoms! “A proven (is it?), permanent (yeah, tell me about it), and inexpensive (depends on how you quantify cost)” condom-free land of unicorns and rainbows where if you sacrifice your pleasure mechanism you will be free of disease. Kellogg would be proud.
And how about the most obvious aspect? Even if these studies weren’t specious as fuck, you don’t cut off a part of the body without consent to prevent the possibility of getting a disease. Hey medicine, remember FIRST DO NO HARM you bunch of Hippocratic hypocrites?
What’s your favorite part of an, ahem, intact penis?
I think the way it looks honestly. I saw a Benetton ad once when I was fifteen, one of those crazy ones that was so controversial in the 80s, like the one that showed Reagan with Kaposi’s Sarcoma. This one was just a poster with about a hundred different penises and vaginas depicted in rows and columns. An array of differently shaped and sized and colored genitals. And I was so attracted to the intact ones. The look is so—well, sexy. I just think penises look better when they don’t have a big scar across the center. Something about being natural and the way it was intended makes it more appealing.