Harry Guiremand speaks candidly of his personal discoveries about circumcision and his efforts to bring evidence of its harm to the discussion.
Well, I first became aware that I had been circumcised when I was maybe 12 or 13 [years old]; I read about it, and I thought:
Well, [my parents] wouldn't possibly [have] cut off part of my penis—there's no way they would ever do [something like] that.
and then I realized they had! and it was a devastating realization—that somebody had cut off part of the most personal part of me; I felt totally violated.
So, [it] was just immediately apparent to me that [circumcision is] wrong—no question that this is wrong. Later on, I investigated the reasons for doing this, and none of them made any sense; they are all transparent lies. That really upset me, because I just couldn't understand how you could have a society that [tolerates] this kind of transparent [lying] and [that keeps] perpetuating [the lies]. It [is] very disturbing for me.
One of the things that did sort of help me [cope] was that once the Internet became available, I searched [for the term]:
Male Genital Mutilation
and suddenly found this wealth of information; I realized I [am not] the only person [who understands] this, which [is] great. So, I spent a long time with the Internet, trying to learn more, and that was very important for me because it validated my understanding of the world and I [learned] that I [am not] alone.
Later on, I heard about [human-rights] activists in China being unable to get information about human rights—you know how their information is filtered. I understood exactly; I mean, until the Internet was available, [Americans] were basically in the same situation: All the information we got [(including information about circumcision)] was filtered and dishonest.
So, that's what got me [involved] in the subject.
Because I was [raised in a] Catholic [household], I knew there was something called “The Feast of the Circumcision”, but it wasn't ever talked about; I was completely denied as to what that word “circumcision” [means]. [One time], I sat down with my mother and my sister and her fiancé, and I said:
Well, so, what is The Feast of the Circumcision about?
and my sister became nervous and her fiancé was laughing under his breath and my mother just froze—she didn't know what to say, and she tried to change the topic:
Oh, I think [you meant to refer to the] “schism” and the Church.but it was clear [that] this was such a hot-button issue—that it couldn't even be discussed; I never got the answer to my question (I later did, but not from her). I realized again that here's something that doesn't compute—it just doesn't make sense.
[Before I ever mentioned circumcision], my mother had told me [that] when I was taken home from the hospital, I cried continuously for days and that I was a difficult baby and that she didn't know what to do to get me to stop crying. Later, of course, I realized why: I had been traumatized [by circumcision], and maybe it was a particularly bad circumcision that I went through; I'm sure that I was deeply traumatized and that's why I was crying all the time. Of course, that was never discussed.
Then, later, I became sort of obsessed with [my] circumcision scar, and I went to the doctor to see if something was wrong, because it seemed to be getting darker—I don't know if that was a side effect of puberty or whatever, but it seemed odd. [The doctor] said:
Well, it's a circumcision scar and it's nothing.
and then it was official: I was certain that [it's] actually a scar and something had been cut off of my penis; it still just—to this day—shocks me that [this is] the truth; I mean, it just seems so amazing to me that anybody can tolerate that and that an entire culture can tolerate that—it's just unbelievable!
I don't know why [having been circumcised is] something that I [can't] get over—people have told me:
You just [have] to get over this; you're obsessing on something that you should just get over.
I guess if the culture [weren't] in denial about [this widespread abuse], then I could get over it; if I'm in a whole culture that's in denial, then I feel like I have to keep saying something until they get over it. So, I don't feel like it's my problem; it's their problem.
I'm sensitized to big lies. So, when I see a big lie, I can't just turn away and pretend it's not there. A little lie is OK [when it is] obvious to everybody. [However], when [there's] a big lie—and everybody is participating in the lie—then you really have to do something; you have to remind them that this is a big lie.
Denial is everywhere.
[Society makes it seem like] intactivists are strange people. Even my best friends—some of them very smart and aware—are completely blocked on talking about circumcision; [they basically respond by saying]:
What's wrong with you? You're upset about this?
Even gay men who love intact guys as lovers still are unwilling to speak out for the preservation of the foreskins that they love. [Why is that] disconnect there? It's frightening in a way that [has] a totalitarian [double-think] feel to it; why are these people unable to connect what they know to be true with what they accept in the world?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) [suggested that doctors] tolerate [and even perform] a [very] minor sort of [female circumcision—a pin prick of the clitoral hood that was officially described as being “much less extensive than routine newborn male genital cutting”, a statement that was wiped from the AAP's websites within a month of its debut due to the widespread outrage over the suggestion]. There was an immediate outcry; immediately, the Facebook community had thousands of people participating in [an angry campaign against the AAP]. [However], on the male circumcision side, you [only] get a few hundred [people], and it's been going on [like this] for a long time. So, people are willing to see [female genital mutilation for what it is] and talk about [it], but when it comes to males, it's still a big struggle [even to get people to acknowledge that there's an issue].
What I like to do is write letters.
I'm not a very good marcher in the street; I like to have time to think about issues and compose a thoughtful reply. I find that if I just get into a head-to-head argument with people, I often don't come up with the right ideas fast enough and my words don't often hit the mark that I'm trying to hit. I find that's very frustrating for me—that I'm not a very good face-to-face debater.
The [Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG)] came out with what many [think] is an enlightened policy in that they [speak] to the need to eliminate [the] circumcision [of completely healthy male minors]; they [talk] about the fact that criminalization wouldn't eliminate circumcision but that [it's] a goal.
[In my opinion, the KNMG] didn't go far enough; they didn't discuss the fact that [circumcision] is inherently harmful. As long as they [are] considering [to condone the continued circumcision of] boys without acknowledging that they're harming their patients, I [think] that is dishonest. [It's] a double standard, because they are very clear about not harming girls in the same way.
So, I wrote them a letter which [specifies] all the deficiencies in their policy and the fact that they [need] to start off with [the subject of] harm in any discussion of circumcision. I haven't heard back from them yet, but at least I told them how they [are] letting us down.
People look to [the Netherlands] to be the leader [on] social issues, so it's really important that they get it right, because people are going to follow them—[I'm not] really expecting Americans to get this right. If the Dutch can't get it right, then [Americans] certainly aren't going to get it right.