Nick tells the story of how he came to understand what was done to his body, the impact that realization had on his psychology and relationships, and how he is channeling his feelings into constructive action.
I first became aware of circumcision when I was studying abroad in London—I mean, I had heard of circumcision before, but I didn't really understand [fully] what it [is] until I was with some English friends of mine; they asked me:
Why do Americans circumcise?
and I had no good answer for them. So, [my friend] then told me that [I'm] less sensitive because [I'm] circumcised, and this really struck a cord with me; I was really disturbed by this—by the prospect that I'm less sensitive sexually because of something my parents did [to me].
So, I went back to my dorm, and went online, and did research on circumcision: It turned out that the foreskin actually [has] a lot of erogenous tissue there; it made complete sense that if I [don't] have this tissue, [then] I'm going to be less sensitive sexually. And, you know, it was just mind boggling that this had happened to me—[that] my parents had done this to me! [That] my culture would allow this to happen to me in this world that we think is so fair and just and—well, you know, some of the time we think it's fair and just—but for something as simple as your body, it doesn't seem to be the case…
My feelings when I understood what circumcision [is] were:
Hopelessness that I couldn't do something—that [it] was out of my hands; I couldn't go back in time and change that.
So, I was really upset and really devastated. I wanted to confront my parents, especially my mother, who… she had a very “naturalistic” way of parenting—or, at least she pretended that she did. You know, she once commented to me that putting holes in your body [is] a mutilation. If putting a hole in your body is mutilation, then what is circumcision?! I mean, that's beyond… that's a grotesque mutilation! Yeah, so…
With my father, my father was a doctor, so I kind of… you know… I kind of understood that he probably would have the opinion that circumcision [is] a [medically] necessary thing, because he was a doctor in New York City, and whatnot. But, I also wasn't as close to him as I was to my mother.When I told my mother I was upset about having been circumcised, she initially told me that:
- I was being too sensitive.
- I was being ridiculous.
- I was being self-indulgent.
She didn't take it seriously, and told me [that in a month], I [would] have another problem that [would] be just as great as this, and I will have forgotten about this. Now, mind you, I didn't speak to my mother about circumcision for about 4 or 5 years after I was really upset about it. So, it was definitely not something I took lightly—to speak with her about it. It took a few conversations over a period of time, and eventually showing her the movie:
[until] she really understood the gravity of what it [is] I [am] upset with her about—what circumcision really [is]. It took her a while to come around to apologizing; she's not a person who apologizes very easily for anything, let alone something as big as this; she likes to think she's—I don't want to say perfect, but as close to perfect as any human can be. So, to have done this—to have made such a mistake—was… I think she really understood that it was wrong, and she feels bad about it, and she says that if she could go back in time, she would change what was done to me—what she allowed to have done to me.
Circumcising men in Africa to prevent the spread of HIV… I think this is an absurd claim to make, and a dangerous one (to tell people that circumcision is going to have a protecting effect from HIV). Female-to-male transmission—which is what circumcision is supposedly supposed to help prevent—it's the lowest level of transmission in a sexual act; HIV is much more readily transmitted through homosexual sex and male-to-female transmission, not female-to-male—it's the bottom of the totem pole, you know. It's absurd.
Even if it does offer the preventive benefits—I think up to 60%, they say—I read somewhere [that] based on those numbers and the risk of transmitting HIV in this direction (from female-to-male), I think you'd have to circumcise 15 thousand men to prevent one case of HIV; so, I mean, it's just a crazy, desperate attempt to do something in Africa, and—maybe on a more sinister scale—to make circumcision still a “respectable” thing to do to people in this country, around the world, anywhere—to protect the “rights” of a parent (which I don't really think are their rights) to culturally indoctrinate [a] child through a surgical procedure.
So, we went to [President Bill Clinton's] speech with a bunch of intactivists from New York; [Bill, his daughter Chelsea, and actor Ed Norton] were on stage discussing multiple “humanitarian” efforts that they have, one of which [is] the campaign to end HIV in Africa [by circumcising] them. [In the middle of this conversation], we got up and we were screaming:
Stop Circumcision! Circumcision doesn't prevent HIV!
We were chanting this over and over and over, and the crowd started booing us, which was really actually very crushing to hear—all these people booing us—and Clinton cited a statistic from one of the [African studies], and Chelsea said [having circumcised penises is] better for men—something very unknowing of the situation, just kind of… it was aggravating. But, then, you know, the more we chanted, the more I looked around at the guys who were there, and I realized: OK, you know, we may not be particularly popular in the mainstream, but you know, who the hell cares! This is the right thing to do, and in 50 years—hopefully less—people will look back and be like:
I can't believe you had to go up and tell people not to circumcise people!
because this is horrible; this is wrong; this is as wrong as cutting a girl's genitals—any kind of unnecessary surgery that removes body parts. It's just wrong!