CAN-FAP leader Glen Callender. All photos courtesy of James Loewen via Facebook
The majority of the Western world has already come to the conclusion that female genital mutilation is bad—it’s brutal, invasive, and causes children unbelievable amounts of pain for no reason. Meanwhile, male genital mutilation, a.k.a. circumcision, is hailed as a great way to prevent everything from venereal diseases to cancer. The benefits of circumcision are still being debated, so medical associations refrain from condemning or supporting the practice for the most part, and generally leave the decision up to a child’s parents. But plenty of anti-circumcision activists want the procedure banned altogether, like the Canadian organization called CAN-FAP, which stands for the Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project.
The foreskin-loving group organized a protest last week in Vancouver, British Columbia, during a TED Talk featuring Bill and Melinda Gates. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been donating millions of dollars to programs that offer circumcision in Africa as a preventative measure against HIV, which has led CAN-FAP to dub Bill Gates “Foreskin Enemy #1.” I caught up with Glen Callender, the organization's founder, to ask him what he was thinking when he named his organization, among other things.
VICE: First off, what’s with the name, CAN-FAP?
Glen Callender: Well, a lot of people seem to think it’s a mistake. But of course it’s deliberate, and it’s a reference to the history of circumcision in the Western world. It began as a non-religious surgery in the 1800s to primarily prevent boys from masturbating. The foreskin is, of course, a built-in masturbation aid, and that’s the way nature intended it.
How did CAN-FAP get started?
I started CAN-FAP in June 2010. The main motivation for it was that I have a really enjoyable foreskin. My foreskin actually has its own orgasms, and it feels fantastic every day of my life. When I was a kid and I learned about circumcision for the first time, I already had a very good relationship with my foreskin, and the idea horrified me. That horror has never left my system—just knowing that little boys are being strapped down and having this valuable, enjoyable part of their penis cut off. The men who have foreskins know that it’s a good body part, it’s valuable, and that there aren’t bad parts of the penis. This is an ancient, religious, superstitious idea. There are no bad parts of the penis, and there are no bad parts of the female vulva. It’s all good, and we shouldn’t be tampering with the sexuality of children and the adults they grow up to be. We understand, because we’re not accustomed to it, that female genital mutilation of any kind is child abuse. You’re taking a sharp object, and you’re deliberately causing pain and bleeding and amputation to a child’s genitals. Well, we do the same thing with boys, and we need to stop doing it. Knives and genitals of children should have nothing to do with each other. It doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl or if you cut a little or a lot—taking a knife to the genitals of a child is sexual abuse.
Are there any health benefits to circumcision?
The circumcision rate in some countries is less than 1 percent, so if circumcision improves men’s sexual health, we would see men getting sick in Europe because of their foreskins. But it turns out that the sexual health of intact European men and their female partners is as good as or better than the sexual health of their circumcised counterparts. It’s really bullshit. It’s all about making parents scared so they’ll hand over their babies to be circumcised so doctors can make their money. They know if a boy grows up, when he’s 18 years old, there’s no way he’s going to want a knife near his penis, because any man would be crazy to want less penis.
It’s like, if you saw them plucking out a kid’s eye, you would be horrified because you have an eye and you know how wonderful an eye is. But then you have the parents saying, “No, no, no, we come from a religion that believes that there’s one evil eye, and you pluck that eye out! And it’s fine having one eye; you can still see.” And you go, "Shut up! You’re plucking out a kid’s eye and taking away a sense organ from him. You’re taking away part of his body that he uses to interact with the world and enjoy life." I feel the same way about my foreskin. I have a foreskin, and frankly, that makes it clear that all the arguments for circumcision are bullshit.
Can you tell me why you’re calling Bill Gates “Foreskin Enemy #1"?
Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates has committed over $145 million to circumcising as many African men and boys as possible. And there are hints that they might actually be prepared to spend up to a billion dollars on this, as these programs scale up in different countries. That makes Bill Gates personally responsible for more unnecessary circumcisions than any other individual in the world. He has exterminated more foreskin than anybody else, and that is why he is Foreskin Enemy #1. It’s just an embarrassment in the 21st century—the idea that we should be making up reasons to cut off healthy, normal parts of people's bodies is insane.
The studies that Bill Gates uses as a basis for this funding really make circumcision look good. The results show a 50 to 70 percent reduction in HIV transmission over a short period of time, and that’s the thing in some cases: Even if it works, it’s over a short period of time, not long-term. The bottom line here is that real-world populations don’t reflect that data. If circumcision really did prevent VDs, population data would consistently show that circumcised populations had fewer VDs than the intact, but that’s not the case. The United States proves this within its own borders. They had the biggest HIV epidemic in the Western world there among an almost completely circumcised male population.
Why did people start messing with penises in the first place?
It started out as a preventative measure against masturbation, because they believed in Victorian times that masturbation caused all sorts of health problems. Then it became used as prevention against venereal diseases, then cancer—they always make it [a cure for] whatever the scary thing is. Today it’s HIV, so lo and behold, circumcision prevents HIV! And in the future, if a new venereal disease emerges that we haven’t yet heard of, well, they’ll say that circumcision prevents that too. But really, for cultural and religious and financial reasons, they want to cut off your foreskin. It is a billion-dollar industry in the US: About 3,000 boys a day are circumcised, and that earns pediatricians over a billion dollars a year. And there are billions more in hospitals, and the fact that foreskins get sold into the biotech industry and get used to create skin grafts and used to create collagen and other ingredients for beauty creams—the bottom line here is that this is not an ethical industry.
And what a coincidence that the part that’s being cut off is on the most enjoyable part of your body. You know, God doesn’t want a knuckle, or the index toe off of one of your feet, or a bit of your earlobe, no. He wants part of your penis. Your genitals are supposed to be your happy place, and religion wants to make them your unhappy place, your shame place.
You do something called the Foreskin Pride Salute. Can you explain it?
Explain it? Well, first of all, you can’t have a circumcised T-shirt. You’ve got to have a long-sleeved shirt that goes all the way down to your wrists. And you make a fist with your hand, which symbolizes the head of the penis, and you tuck that fist away into the sleeve of your shirt and heroically extend your arm skyward and pull back that sleeve to reveal the fist. And that is very symbolic. I hope that intact men around the world will adopt the Foreskin Pride Salute to show the world that intact men are proud of our foreskins and we love them. The problem is in your head, not on my penis.
Anything else to add?
I’d like to add that black foreskin is beautiful.
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