Brian Levitt is a Jewish intactivist living in San Francisco. He describes his own story of the stages of awakening consciousness.
This is the story about how I became an intactivist.
The first realization that something was done to me—to my body—was probably around age 9. I had gone with a friend and his father to a steam bathhouse when we were kids, and that was the first time I had seen an “uncircumcised” penis, and I remember coming home and asking my mother about it. She said to me that it was part of a Jewish ritual where they cut the foreskin away, and then [she] proceeded to tell me that [being circumcised is] cleaner and that it [is] better. Trusting my mother, I accepted: OK. It's better! [I] didn't think much more about it; I guess I had thought about it, obviously, [while] masturbating as a kid, like most guys (“What would it have been like?”), but not really giving it any deeper thought than that.
The next time [I became conscious of the issue] was when I moved to San Francisco in the mid [1980s], and wound up having sex with [an intact] guy who was from the Netherlands—and [yet] his father was a doctor, as was mine. [NOTE: I think the implication here is that Brian was confronted with the suspicion that circumcision's medical value is doubtful. It should also be noted that circumcision is uncommon in the Netherlands.] I remember watching him masturbate—now, this was in the early days of AIDS, and sex between 2 men was pretty much [just] mutual masturbation; I remember watching him masturbate and getting this wave of sorrow over me—that something [had been] taken away from me. Obviously, [this feeling has been corroborated by] what I've learned—believe—to be true: [The foreskin is] an erogenous mechanism, which is laden with nerve cells [that] obviously [have] corresponding places in the brain.
I thought of it every now and then, but was quiet about the issue until the early [1990s], when I had taken a human sexuality course at the College of Marin. It was the end of the class, and the [professor] was talking about female genital mutilation, and there was like a minute or 2 left in the class, and the teacher said [mockingly]:
“Some people consider circumcision to be genital mutilation.”
The bell rang, and the class emptied, and I went home stewing; I was thinking about this. I eventually confronted the teacher, and asked him how many penises he had handled, and he said:
“Well, many in anatomy.”
“But they're dead!”
He agreed that there would have been a difference, [but] he didn't want to hear hearsay; he wanted valid studies, so I brought what was most up to date:
- British Journal of Urology.
- The Dr. Ritter book, [Say No to Circumcision].
Eventually, I swayed him to the point where he said he doesn't talk about circumcision the way he did anymore.
I had a neighbor who knew I [am] Jewish and came up to me very proud that she had taken her child to a Jewish doctor to be circumcised, and I just said:
Obviously, the damage [had already been] done to him as it [had already been done] to me—once it's done, it's done; I didn't push the issue anymore with her, but [I] was complaining to my partner at the time about my experience in class, and he had told me there's a book called:
The Joy of Uncircumcising!
It took me a few weeks to [decide to] go check this book out. I went into the store, found the book, and I found some other books; one was a small book of men who were circumcised as adults, telling their sad [stories] about how they felt [something important was missing after] either [having been] forced in the military or forced by a parent as a teenager to be circumcised[.] Their words confirmed what I had believed about my own body, and I kind of sat on the floor and cried in this bookstore.
As time went on, I became more angry. [Though I was] raised Jewish, I [haven't been] very religious, but I called the rabbi at the gay synagogue, who is a gay person[,] and he wasn't having anything [to do with this discussion]; he wouldn't hear that I believed that I was harmed and mutilated and that my rights were taken away. So, I was getting more angry as the phone call went on, and I said something [about] there [being] no difference between a mohel and Josef Mengele (the concentration camp doctor who used the Jews as guinea pigs), and the rabbi got very upset, saying:
"You must take that back! You must take that back!"
and I hung up. From that phone call, I decided that I was not going to be quiet about this; I plastered the back of my car with anti-circumcision stickers, and put:
MOHEL = MENGELE
in huge block letters on the back of my car. I wouldn't do that today! But, I don't apologize for having used those words; I think that Jews really need to think about this a little more clearly. This was my body that was used in some Jewish ritual.
I guess most importantly, I spoke with my father about this. He was a doctor. He sobbed when I brought this up; I asked him:
“As a Jewish physician, where are the medical ethicists? Are they looking the other way on this issue?”
He just sobbed. He did get it; he does understand that it was wrong, and [so] he gave his name [in public support] to DOC (which is an acronym for Doctors Opposing Circumcision).