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Voices — Friendships

Elise Wicklund

I think a lot about friendship these days. Becoming an intactivist eight years ago really changed how I interact with the world—not because I fear rejection, but because I know what I believe is sound and resolute—and this has had a profound impact on my friendships.

First, a little background. I became an intactivist after my first son, Paxton, was born. Despite knowing in my gut I didn’t want to have him circumcised, I let the advice and opinions of those around me convince me that it was the right thing to do. But right from the start Paxton was in a lot of pain from wounds that wouldn’t heal. He developed a painful ulcer, adhesions and other complications in the first few years of his life. It broke my heart that he shrank from any touch.

I was full of guilt and regret. I sank into a depression so deep I thought about killing myself. I pulled away from everyone. At the same time, even my husband wasn’t hearing me. In those days he didn’t understand the intensity of my grief, and I was really low.

It wasn’t until I joined a Facebook group for moms with similar experiences that I started channeling my grief into action to help other babies and their families. I attended rallies and met my Facebook community in real life. We formed a bond of support while speaking out and shining a spotlight on this atrocity.

I noticed that some moms would join the cause for a while and then drop off, eager to get back to a more normal life rhythm. It was a little sad to see those friendships drop off one by one, but I pressed on. Fighting to end circumcision was just a hill I was willing to die on. That’s when I started sharing what I had learned about circumcision with friends on Facebook. I had to be heard, so I was posting pretty regularly. Every time I came across new information, I’d put it up there. Some of my long-time friends were there for me and supported me all the way.

But staying with the cause dropped a bomb on my friendships. Right away, friends I had known for years pushed back. Some shot off angry replies. Others complained I was pushing my views on them or posting inappropriate material. Many unfriended me or stopped responding to calls and texts.

I used to think I didn’t care what others around me thought, and then I climbed on that hill and stood on it. It hurt for a while. Sharing what I knew was part of my healing and my journey, and my whole village around me was walking away. It took a very long time to allow myself not to be individually invested and angry.

I can see now that fear drives anger; my posts probably made them question their own decisions, and there was nothing they could do about it. I’ve also come to realize that there are people who just don’t want to understand. When it comes to friendship, it’s more important than ever to nurture mutual respect with folks who don’t agree with us.

To move through regret and grief, we don’t ever get over it. We learn to grow a life around it. If we don’t, we’ll sit in the pain forever. I’m still as passionate as ever to save baby boys from mutilation, but I’m learning to let go of the outcome. I offer my best and keep going.

Elise Wicklund

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Voices — Vance Rocco

I was circumcised twice—first when I was born and again as a revision when I was about 5 years old. This has haunted me ever since.

I clearly remember the second circumcision—surrounded by doctors all looking at me. I was scared and cold, and my mom had left the room. This was not a pleasant experience. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Looking back at my teenage years, I noticed that I had a few experiences that were not normal. I did not know that without the foreskin, the glans and shaft can become dry, which results in small painful tears and chafing.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to do some of what a missing part of my body ( the foreskin) is supposed to do: keep things moisturized. But the scar is a daily reminder that I was robbed. I have never had any complaints from partners in the past, but that is not the point. Even in a world where this is considered the norm, I have always been conscious that something wasn’t quite right.

I wanted to know why circumcision was considered necessary, so I started to do more research. I found out how common circumcision and mutilation are for children and young adults all over the world, and how hospitals sell foreskin to tissue banks, and somehow this ultimately becomes facial creams and cosmetics. I was shocked and felt sick when I read this. I got so angry, a friend told me to look for organizations that are fighting against it, so I could find people who share my anger and aren’t afraid to speak out about it.

That’s when I found Intact America online and saw what they are doing to change things. I want to make a difference any way I can. I want people to recognize that this is a business. Tell me why the hell a single foreskin can sell for upwards of $100,000? In fact, I think they owe me $200,000 since they did it twice. They did it twice and I still have part of my frenulum, a sensitive band of tissue that helps contract the foreskin over the glans. Medical professionals learn to perform circumcision by actually doing it. There is no infant penis model for them to practice on. Was I a test subject? The whole thing is absurd.

What hits me the hardest is knowing I will never have the full experience of being intact. My solution is tissue expansion. It’s a non-surgical method that, when done properly, can yield many benefits. Essentially it creates a neo-foreskin through gentle stretching exercises over a year or two. It won’t have the same nerve endings as the original foreskin, which is still sad, but it will provide every other function, including improved sensation, a more moist and supple glans surface, and protection. This is a permanent and long-term investment for me. I am even considering a tattoo to symbolize the journey my body and I have been through.

There are things I have experienced that I just do not want to share. This, however, is something I am brave enough to fight for. All of these negative experiences imbued my aura with an eternal flame of darkness. A dark flame sounds very contradicting, like an oxymoron, and that’s because it is. It’s still fire. It’s still fuel. Is it light? Nope. But I will use it to propel me throughout the rest of my life. If I can fight for myself, I can fight for others. If I can love myself, I can love others.

I am only 20 years old. I feel like I have been through too much already. But I am still breathing. I am still standing. I am still here. I grieved the person I was as a child full of innocence. I have shed my skin many times. Nothing really fazes me anymore; I am often disappointed by things most people think are scary. I have no fear because I know I can face anyone or anything. This little journey I’ve been on with my body has been horrible yet liberating. I am conquering one thing at a time. Deconstruction and reconstruction. Death and rebirth. This is my story.

Vance Rocco

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Voices – RHF

I was born in 1944 in a small town in central Ohio. I learned early on that my penis was different than most boys’. In elementary school, going to the bathroom for No. 1 was like “show all, tell all.” I was still too young to have retracted my foreskin naturally to get the “cut look.” My Dad was uncut so I thought I was normal, but I got teased by other boys standing in the next stall over for having a “ding dong” with a point on the end. The guy who did most of the teasing had a bigger one. I felt embarrassed about the size difference but also about being uncut.

I can still remember that guy’s name. I felt kind of sorry for him. He was tall, the playground bully, and he lived at the Children’s Home in my hometown. When we got to be 5th or 6th graders, he could hit that softball for miles on the playground. I lost track of him. Someone said later he might have gotten killed in Vietnam.

In Junior High School, still feeling self-conscious about looking different from other boys, I hid my penis when taking showers after gym class by keeping a towel around my waist. My parents told me I wasn’t circumcised when I was born in 1944, because I was premature and wouldn’t have survived the procedure.

My baby brother was born in 1948, and I was forced to watch his circumcision. Our family doctor came over one April morning, and they laid my brother out on the kitchen table and the doctor cut him. He screamed with pain, and that memory shakes me to this day. I can remember my Mother saying, “If you are not a good boy, this will happen to you.” To me, that meant that my penis would be cut off; at age 4, I had no idea what a foreskin was.

So, I was a very good boy, but scared my whole life until I got big enough to fend for myself. My Mom also had told me I was ugly down there so I never thought I would be able to attract any woman and one day have children. It wasn’t until I went to college that I heard that the Europeans didn’t do routine circumcision. I found a French girl, and she took a chance on me.

Even though I am not circumcised, I’ve been haunted by circumcision trauma my entire life. First, being different; then being forced to witness my brother being cut and threatened with the same fate; then my mother telling me how ugly my penis was; and much later, when I was beginning my professional career in a hospital, having to pass by the newborn nursery where there was a circumcision room, and hear the screams.

I truly do not know how anyone can think this is something that is alright to do to a baby.

RHF, Youngstown, Ohio

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Voices — M.J.

Editorial note: This insightful letter from a self-identified “prostitute” (sex worker) was sent to the Editor of Penthouse magazine in June 1985, apparently in response to discussion in a prior issue about circumcision. It is still relevant today. Note that frenum is an alternate word for the more commonly used word frenulum. Also, the author repeatedly uses the terms uncut and uncircumcised; the term “intact” had not yet become part of the vernacular. The letter, reproduced in its entirety below, had been preserved by Marilyn Milos, founder of the National Organization of Circumcision Information Centers (NOCIRC, later renamed Genital Autonomy – America, which merged with Intact America in 2021).

Dear Penthouse,

I’m a prostitute. It paid for my education, provides a good lifestyle, and I enjoy the work. I’m surprised and dismayed by the many misconceptions printed regarding circumcision, in letters by both men and women. My wide experience gives me a perspective to contribute to the discussion.

I didn’t grow up, as many women do, regarding the circumcised penis as “normal”. Helping my mother bathe my two uncircumcised younger brothers showed me that washing the penis is no more of a chore than washing the female genitals, and even simpler, because of fewer folds of skin.

Few uncircumcised penises are dirty. It’s far more common to encounter a man with bad breath, from lack of brushing or a mouthful of cavities, than one with a dirty penis. Yet, nobody suggests that the teeth be routinely extracted for “hygiene”.

Uncut men enjoy sex more because the penis is more sensitive. Uncircumcised males secrete more pre-coital mucus, and it starts flowing sooner, than with circumcised ones. The uncircumcised penis offers more opportunities for foreplay. Stroking the foreskin back and forth, retracting it to touch the corona or pluck the frenum lightly, is very stimulating. Inserting the tongue under the foreskin, or retracting it for easy access to the glans, frenum, and inverted inner lining, are stimulating variants to pumping the foreskin. Many men enjoy a good “hand job”, and the uncut ones can enjoy the full stroke, retracting the foreskin fully, then running it up over the end of the glans. The flow of clear mucus gives lubrication, enhancing the sensations and preventing irritation from dry friction.

The denuded organ requires special manipulation. There’s no foreskin to serve as a natural stimulator, and sometimes the frenum has been removed too, limiting the possibilities. If there’s enough slack, pulling the rest of the skin up over the corona works, although many don’t enjoy dry friction. More often, I have to use lubrication. The cut ones are handicapped from the start.

Some circumcised men are so insensitive that they can’t come to orgasm even after fifteen minutes of a “blow job,” and need to be finished off by hand. This has never, in my experience, happened with an uncircumcised man.

I’ve never noticed a difference in the time required for coital climax between cut and uncut men. Although it seems that circumcision, by removing sensitive tissue, would delay the climax, this isn’t so. Premature ejaculation is common, in our mostly circumcised males. I feel that there are two reasons for this:

The first is that sexual stimulation is not only physical, but mental. Circumcision does not affect this.

The second is that the skin of the uncircumcised penis, more slack during thrusting and withdrawal, tends to give with the friction, gliding up and over the corona. This partly shields the glans from excessive stimulation It also avoids putting tension on the frenum. This happens with a tight circumcision, speeding the man’s climax.

I hope that this is helpful.

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Voices — Eugene Ocasio

The first time I realized there was something wrong with me was in October 1970, I had turned 5 years old and was in kindergarten. I asked the teacher for permission to go to the bathroom.

After I finished urinating, alone in this large and lit bathroom, I looked at my penis and felt it looked odd. Something was telling me I was not right.

My parents did not raise me. I am the result of a mixed marriage; my father is white and my mother is black.

The same year for Christmas day my parents sent for me to spend Christmas with them.  At some point in the afternoon I was ordered to bathe. I recall going into the bathroom and seeing my father stepping out of the shower. I was amazed at his athletic body and the fact that his penis was so big, and very different looking from mine. He was not circumcised. At that moment I thought, being just 5, well that’s how my penis will be when I’m grown up!

I heard my father was quite disappointed he didn’t have a girl. He wanted to have black daughters who looked just like his wife, my mother. But I was born a boy and just as white as him, and as I grew up, I looked like a mini-him.

Eugene Ocasio

Apparently, after my birth, he was approached by some quack doctor in the hospital who convinced him to have me circumcised. My grand-aunt, who was present at the time the mutilation took place was against it, but my father did not listen to her or anyone else.

As a result, I was scared and deformed for life.

Years later I learned no older male member of the family was cut.

Because I wasn’t the baby my parents expected, my paternal grandparents and my grand-aunt took me in and raised me. My father had hardly any involvement in my life after that, except for playing taxi driver and taking me from point A to point B. Essentially, I grew up fatherless.
 
A year after my birth, my parents had another child, I another boy. And eight later, hoping for a daughter, they tried again — and yet another baby boy was born.

Father had them both cut as well.

I did not grow up with my siblings, but my middle brother spent most summer vacations with my grandparents. As children, we sometimes took showers together, and because my brother’s penis was “like” mine I thought that was how all males were supposed to look and be. But he did not have the same scars and deformity I had below the glans.
 
It wasn’t until I was in my late 30s that I came to terms and realized what has been done to me.

I never got to confront my father about it, as he died suddenly from a heart condition.

I got all the love and care a child could ask for from my grand-aunt and my grandparents. But I will NEVER forgive my father for having my body mutilated the day after I was born. As a result, I feel and look sexually inferior to other males.

I read somewhere that all male mammals have foreskin from the tiniest mouse to the largest whale. If cutting off the foreskin is so important, then why it isn’t being done on all male house pets and farm animals? Because it is NOT a birth defect. It is a natural part of being male, and I wish it had never been taken from me. I find the whole circumcision act disgusting, almost like a perverted form of cannibalism.

I curse the hands of all surgeons who do this to all baby boys everywhere, especially the one who mutilated me.

Eugene Ocasio, resident of Puerto Rico

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Voices — R.F. of New York

R.F., a proud mother of 2 intact boys, is the first and only parent in her large Jewish family to keep her sons intact. The following is a letter she wrote to her cousins who were expecting a boy and had recently been persuaded by a mohel to go forward with the circumcision (despite their exposure to intactivism). “The pressure to stay silent in a Jewish family is massive and intimidating,” R.F. says. “But I will continue to use my voice to advocate for these infant boys.”

I am writing today because I need to do everything I can to convince you not to let your son’s penis be permanently mutilated. I purposely did not use the word “circumcised” because that word hides and trivializes what it really is. It’s a word we are used to as American Jews. But we are not used to looking deeply at the truth of it.

Yes, I am putting pressure on you, because I know infant genital cutting is wrong. Your mohel is wrong. Whatever she said to make you feel this is a good idea — it’s wrong. If she said the baby won’t feel pain — she is wrong. If she said that it’s just a “little snip” — she is wrong. If she said there are medical benefits — she is wrong. If she said the risks for infection or complications are low — she is wrong. If she said the baby will just “go to sleep” afterwards — she is wrong (babies often go into shock and “pass out” in a traumatized state). If she said you need to do this to participate in the Jewish community—she is wrong.

She has to believe these things because this is the life she has chosen for herself. But you do not have to buy into her mindset.

If she said this will make you part of a long-standing tradition — she is right. But that long-standing tradition is one of abuse. You are too good for this. You have access to too much information to do this. Our parents (and theirs) did not have the Intact America and Your Whole Baby websites. They were much more insulated in a Jewish/American world without easy access to different ideas and different voices. When they find out and understand the truth, they can say “We didn’t know better.” But you are different. You have the internet and the book about Brit Shalom, and articles and YouTube. You have me! You DO know better.

Female genital mutilation is condemned worldwide, and I am sure this makes sense to you. The baffling thing is how, at the same time, male genital mutilation is normalized and encouraged in America and in certain religions. It is the pinnacle of hypocrisy to look down on FGM but endorse MGM.

Imagine your daughter being strapped down by her wrists and ankles, and then someone taking a knife and cutting off her labia or clitoral hood. Take a moment and really picture it in your mind. What could possibly be the benefit of such a violent act? This is what you are considering doing to your eight-day-old son. It’s not different because he is smaller or younger or because he is a boy. The clitoral hood is her foreskin. Its purpose is to protect her clitoris and maintain its sensitivity. The male foreskin is there to protect the glans of the penis, maintain its sensitivity— and more. The male foreskin is live, sensory tissue that has a role in sexual function.

It might feel stressful to change the bris into a Brit Shalom so late in the process. People have expectations; maybe you even made a payment. But this is nothing compared to what it means for your baby to keep his foreskin and avoid a profound, painful, irreversible trauma. If you decide to cancel the genital cutting and change plans, I will drop everything to help you. I will make all the calls for you. You don’t have to rush. You can cancel everything now and do a Brit Shalom when he is 1 month or 3 months or 5 months or 1 year. The well-being of your baby is all that matters.

You might be thinking, “We are the parents, and it is our choice.” But it is not parents’ prerogative to sacrifice their child’s bodily integrity, to injure their children. They are not allowed to tattoo their children, or remove the foreskin of their daughters. The legality of infant boy genital cutting is a tragic loophole in our culture. What would you say if a religious leader or doctor suggested that you cut off your son’s pinky finger on the 8th or 1st day of his life? It would be the most absurd thing you ever heard. This is the same. A child has a right to his whole body.

You might think that the event will be “quick” and then over. But it is not quick. It is forever. You will see your child’s penis every single day for years. You will be reminded of what you allowed to be done to him. Or you can keep him whole, and you will see that his penis, with foreskin, is perfect and beautiful, as God and Nature made him. You will be so grateful that no one took a knife to it. And when he comes to know the sexual functions of his foreskin, he will thank you.

If you allow someone to cut your son’s penis, what will you say to your son when he asks you why you chose to do this to him? What will you say when he finds out that a natural human penis has a foreskin, but his was removed? What if he feels it should have been his choice? This will affect your relationship with your son forever. It will affect his sex life forever. Yes, “circumcised” penises are also beautiful, as are all people and bodies no matter what we have been through. But cut men are survivors of unnecessary violence and loss. And our bodies remember even when our conscious brains do not.

You do not want to become regret parents. It is such a horrific thing to realize what you have done to your child but it’s too late. You are here now! You can make the right choice — the fair and loving choice for your child, for your sweet boy, whose body is absolutely perfect just as it is.

I love you.

R.F.

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