Motivations of an Intactavist
My name is Jonathon Conte. I am a victim of male genital mutilation and I’m an intactivist.
When I first learned of circumcision, I was 14 or 15 years old. I saw a picture of an intact penis on the Internet. It puzzled me a bit, because I had never seen one before. I didn’t quite understand what I was looking at.
Through that experience, I began to realize that part of my body had been cut away from me. I struggled with that and went through a period of denial. I understood I had undergone a circumcision, but I felt that it hadn’t impacted me. Initially I believed that the effects of it were not significant. But then I began to look into the procedure further. Once I fully understood the ramifications of removing the foreskin, the truth began to take its toll on me.
I suffered some incredibly low periods during the next few years. I struggled with a feeling of incompleteness, both physically and sexually. In addition, I struggled with trying to understand how something like this could have been done to me.
How I could have been the victim of such a heinous thing? How could the people who were supposed to look out for me be the ones who allowed it to happen?
I experienced a long period marked by a lot of internalized emotion. Anger, depression, resentment, and a variety of other emotions sometimes overwhelmed me. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about this, so I felt very isolated and hopeless. What had been done to me was so deeply impacting that it felt like an incredible burden to bear. I didn’t know how to deal with it. As a result, I kept it bottled up for many years.
It took a long time for me to reach the point where I could publicly discuss my circumcision as well as how I feel about the practice itself.
As I began to do more research about circumcision, I discovered the intactivist movement. I began to understand that I was not alone. Many men felt the same way I felt growing up as a child.
As I mentioned, when I was young I never even realized that part of me had been cut off. No one ever sat down with me and said, “When you were a boy we cut off part of your penis.” It was never even a possibility that crossed my mind.
As I learned more about circumcision, its side effects and its risks, I stumbled across the intactivist movement. I also learned about Marilyn Milos and NOCIRC and the early efforts to end circumcision. NOCIRC was located in the Bay Area, which I’ve always considered to be the birthplace of the intactivist movement.
I moved to San Francisco a little more than a year ago. One of the reasons I moved here was to become more involved in stopping the forced genital cutting of boys.
The longer I’ve been involved with the effort, the easier it’s been for me to take a public face and talk about it. I think it’s crucial to talk about circumcision. If we don’t talk about it, it’s never going to end. It has to end. It absolutely has to end.
The forced genital cutting of children is not a parental right or a religious right. Amputating healthy body parts from children is not a legitimate medical practice. If I and other victims don’t speak out against this practice, it will continue. More men will continue to experience the painful emotions I’ve had to deal with. I don’t want that to happen.
I want people to be completely educated about circumcision and its wide-ranging impacts. This includes its physical, sexual, and psychological impacts.
Intactivism is a way for me to channel the negative emotions about what was done to me into something positive. It’s something I can do to help make things better for men in the future. One of the reasons I’m so heavily involved in the movement is that I don’t know how else to use the emotions inside of me. These emotions are something I’m going to be dealing with, I suspect, for the rest of my life.
For me, intactivism is therapeutic. It helps me deal with my own emotions at the same time it helps others.
In relation to public activism, the first thing I did was participate in the San Francisco Pride Parade. I marched with the intactivist contingent. At first, I was hesitant to do this. I was a little nervous about being in public, holding a sign, and making my stance so clear.
All things considered, though, I felt I had to be there. I had to do it and I had to take a stand. I had to do whatever I could do to push the public dialog about what is happening to millions of men in this country.
After completing my first Pride march, I felt a little more comfortable about being public. I felt very energized after the march and I knew I had done the right thing. I began to participate in other public events held by Bay Area Intactivists, the local intactivist group. As a result of these activities, I’ve become more comfortable discussing this issue with people. For the second time, I participated in the Pride celebrations again, both in the booth and in the parade. We had a wonderful response! It was great and I was thrilled to do it.
More and more, I’ve had increasing opportunities to learn how to talk to people, particularly strangers, without feeling nervous.
I’m one of the people who was heavily involved with the San Francisco Male Genital Mutilation Bill. I was one of the volunteers who collected signatures for the ballot initiative. I personally turned in over 300 signatures.
During the time we were collecting signatures, I spoke with many more people about this issue. Often people were already educated about it and were completely supportive. Some people had never given the issue much thought. But after we discussed it for a few minutes, they completely understood it was a human rights issue. All children deserve the right to be protected from physical violence and abuse.
Through that period, I began to feel much more comfortable addressing this issue. In particular, it became easier for me to talk with people one-to-one, on a very personal basis.
From time to time, I encounter people who are hesitant to delve into the human rights aspect of circumcision. When people don’t get it about forcing circumcision on children who can’t consent, I take another route. I address the issue of necessity. There is no necessity for the procedure. There is no national medical organization in the world that recommends routine infant circumcision.
I talk about the risks up to and including death. A lot of people aren’t aware that infants die every year from circumcision in the United States. I also discuss some of the life-long impacts of the procedure, both physical and psychological.
In my experience, a lot of people defend the practice of circumcision, but many are not familiar with the functions of the foreskin. That really troubles me. Some doctors who are strong proponents of the procedure are extraordinarily ignorant about this body part. They are also ignorant of the consequences of amputating the foreskin.
These doctors don’t understand the sexual functions of the foreskin or its protective functions. They may also be unaware of all the side effects that result from taking all these foreskin functions away from a man.
I try to educate people and do my best to address whatever concerns they bring up. There are so many opportunities every day to help people understand the severity of what is being done to baby boys in this country. I think it’s crucial for people to take these opportunities to do whatever they can─to use whatever strengths they have to help this practice end.
Circumcision doesn’t just affect circumcised men. It also affects their partners, their families, and their friends. It affects people in the medical field who are dealing with the procedure. This includes those who perform it willingly or who are forced to perform it. It also includes those who are subjected to witnessing this procedure being done to babies every day.
I believe circumcision takes a severe toll on people. I believe that all of us are affected in one way or another by what I see as a human rights violation. Circumcision is a blatant human rights violation that is incredibly widespread and right under our noses. And yet unfortunately, people are sometimes hesitant to speak out against this violation of human rights.
For those who want to help educate people about the harms of circumcision and stop the practice, I say to get involved with a local intactivist group. Help with public events such as booths at community events and baby fairs. Attend demonstrations and protests. Write or create art.
There are so many ways to help, particularly through the Internet. Use your own voice, in your own way, to help spread information about the harm of genital mutilation.
I encourage anyone who feels affected by this or who is compelled to help, to do whatever you can do. You, along with other intactivists, can make a difference. We are all in this together. It’s not going to be one person that stops this practice. It’s going to be an effort of thousands of people who pull together. With our combined strengths, we will finally end the genital mutilation of children in this world.