On Sunday, September 17, 2023 GALDEF offered a unique opportunity to genital autonomy advocates to become better educated about a parallel social movement and to help raise funds for the organization. Over two dozen people from across the US, and from the UK and Australia, attended the event.
GALDEF offered an online screening of the documentary “Cured.” This film chronicles unrelenting efforts by the medical community to eradicate homosexuality through barbaric treatments inflicted on gays and lesbians involving castration, electro shock therapy and frontal lobotomy. At its core, those efforts were underpinned by homophobia and a campaign of demonization and pathologizing of gays and lesbians. Sadly, many of those “treatments” were requested, or at the very least authorized, by parents believing they were acting in their child’s best interests.
The film richly documents the inspiring decade-long efforts by what one film interviewee described as “young turks” (young people full of new ideas and impatient for change) who challenged “shabby, shoddy pseudoscience” and prevailed over a “behemoth organization”, the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Another interviewee offered encouragement with her words “With any social change movement you can never be sure about your impact. You’re taking a chance. But the chance will usually be worth it.”
Americans today are witnessing a similar medical demonization and pathologizing of the penile prepuce, underpinned by prepucephobia (fear of foreskin) and the medical profession’s profitable involvement in eradicating the penile prepuce through a radical surgery erroneously known as “circumcision” (Latin, “to cut around”). This misleading term describes only the technique involved. It’s more accurate to identify the body part and what’s being done to it, i.e., prepucectomy (surgical excision of the prepuce), just as we do with other surgeries, e.g., mastectomy, appendectomy, tonsillectomy, etc.
GALDEF founder and president Tim Hammond explains that “The impressive efforts of gay rights pioneers, especially in the pre-internet era, to successfully pressure the APA to remove homosexuality from its list of ‘psychiatric disorders’ in 1974 provides important lessons for genital autonomy advocates. We must stay the course and establish a united front to compel the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other medical associations to stop demonizing and pathologizing the penile prepuce. We must demand that they affirm children’s rights to bodily integrity and join other medical associations around the world in discouraging doctors from participating in needless circumcisions. Moreover, the AAP has a responsibility to educate parents that the foreskin is a normal, functional and valuable part of the human penis and thereby reduce the demand for what the AAP already acknowledges is a social custom.”
The film screening was immediately followed by a one hour Q&A session, a recording of which is available on GALDEF’s YouTube channel. The session was moderated by Tim Hammond and included board member David Balashinsky, as well as Dr. Leif Thompson, a member of GALDEF’s Advisory Council. One attendee directed a question to Julie Sandler, the Cured documentary technician who facilitated our presentation, asking how gay rights pioneers communicated in a pre-internet era. Julie explained that many of the pressure tactics on the APA were not centrally coordinated and evolved organically through phone calls, letters and published articles in journals and the media.
A number of supportive comments were submitted by attendees, including:
“What an excellent, moving and educational event.”
“Just wanted to let you know that the Cured screening was great! I hope GALDEF does something like that again in the future!”
“I learned so much from the film, both on how to be a successful activist, but also how to be a full self-accepting human being.”
“If there’s one lesson I took away from the film, it’s that any reform of the AAP, WHO, etc. will require allies on the inside.”
Hammond concurs with this last comment, noting that just as it was critical then to get gay and pro-gay psychiatrists elected to APA boards and committees who then applied internal pressure for a policy change, genital autonomy advocates within the medical profession must step forward and coalesce within the AAP and related medical bodies to lobby for policy changes.
He also acknowledges that there is no single pressure point in the struggle against male genital cutting (MGC) and that it will require a multi-faceted approach involving public education (beyond just shouting into the social media echo chamber), political lobbying, and litigation in the courts.
Also shared during the Q&A session was the comment that just as it was important for gay people to risk“coming out” under the battle cry “We are the experts!” and to share their personal stories of harm resulting from APA’s oppressive policy, so too is it important for those affected by AAP and other medical association policies on circumcision to insist that “We circumcision sufferers are the experts when it comes to circumcision harm!”
Hammond points out that when doctors claim that circumcision isn’t harmful or that the “benefits outweigh risks,” they can’t speak with any credibility since they’ve never researched long-term harm and have not listened to the voices of circumcision sufferers. In fact, the AAP has twice admitted to this when their policies stated in 1989 and 2012 that “The exact incidence of postoperative complications is unknown” and “The true incidence of complications after newborn circumcision is unknown”.
It’s time for circumcision sufferers to fearlessly “come out” about their harm and work together with GALDEF and other organizations to say “We are the experts” when it comes to circumcision harm, not the AAP. Hammond asserts that the AAP’s responsibility in this matter is to provide opportunities for circumcision sufferers to be listened to and understood.
As part of his decades-long commitment to giving a voice to those affected by male genital cutting, Hammond will attend the 26 th Congress of the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS2023) in Antalya, Turkey in November where his abstract has been accepted to share the published findings from his survey of almost 1,800 circumcision sufferers and foreskin restorers from across 60 nations. A special Go Fund Me campaign to raise the $7,500 before October 31 that will be needed to send him and co-author Dr. Mohamed Fahmy, a Muslim Egyptian advocate against non-therapeutic childhood circumcision, to the WAS2023 event.
Clearly, the time has come to acknowledge that just as the body of medical evidence was wrong about homosexuality, the body of medical evidence about the foreskin and circumcision is equally wrong. And just as anti-homosexual “treatments” are now viewed as “sadistic”, members of the AAP and related medical organizations must be compelled to recognize that their promise to parents of better health for their children through genital mutilation is equally sadistic.
“In the final analysis, we must acknowledge that with all the medical arguments and media hype put to the side, circumcision is an issue of sexual autonomy. As such, LGBT individuals bring an important perspective to this debate. The LGBT community knows first hand about the issue of having our sexual freedom and individuality suppressed by others. …We should always remind ourselves that we are talking about another human being’s genitals, and that this person will one day have to live with the consequences of a choice made for him by another.”
–Informed Consent for Routine Infant Circumcision: A Proposal.
Soloman D. New York Law Review. 2007;52:215–245.