Bono is now officially global Foreskin Enemy #2, so watch your 'skins at the next U2 show.
Wearing little more than black briefs and an "I heart my foreskin" T-shirt, Glen Callender is standing outside Vancouver's Rogers Arena, where U2 is scheduled to play the first show for their "Innocence + Experience" tour.
This is the first of a series of pro-foreskin protests outside all ten of U2's North American tour stops organized by Callender, who's the founder of the Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project (CAN-FAP)—pun intended. CAN-FAP has even named Bono "Foreskin Enemy #2" ("Foreskin Enemy #1" is Bill Gates, who Callender has also protested against).
Until recently, I didn't know much about the correlation between circumcision and HIV/AIDS. But according to the World Health Organization, circumcised men are 60 percent less likely to become infected during heterosexual intercourse with an HIV-positive female.
As you probably guessed from the mention of Bono in the headline, most of the studies have been done in Africa. The continent happens to have the largest number of people with HIV/AIDS, as well as one of the highest rates of male circumcisions in the world (about 70 percent).
That's because for over a decade, HIV/AIDS organizations, governments, and Bono have all been aggressively promoting circumcision as a means of curving the epidemic.
"I don't think Bono doesn't mean well, but what we really have going on in Africa is that people are desperate for solutions, and there's a group of people who decided in the '90s that circumcision would be a good solution," he adds.
Callender is referring to three major studies that concluded that not having a foreskin reduced the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS during intercourse. A 2009 USAIDS study later found that in some communities there was more HIV/AIDS among the circumcised men.
"It's a coin toss: whether or not there's a foreskin doesn't really have an impact because it's a behavioural issue," says Callender. "You get HIV from having unprotected sex with infected people, whether or not you have a foreskin."
In addition, Callender says circumcision can cause many problems, like having painful erections because not enough skin was left or having a hairy penis because the body has to drag scrotal skin unto the shaft of the penis in order to compensate.
"There's no dotted line that tells the doctors where to cut—every doctor cuts at a different place. And nobody knows what the size and shape of that penis is going to be when that boy grows up, so when a boy gets circumcised it's a roulette wheel"
At this point I have to ask, has Bono had a circumcision?
"His Irish passport says he hasn't, because in Ireland circumcision is almost unheard of. So his passport says he hasn't been circumcised, but his falsetto makes me wonder. But I do think he probably has his foreskin."
Jokes aside, for most of the protestors it's a personal issue. Especially for Deniz Calisal, who is not wearing an "I heart my foreskin" shirt.
"Circumcision is a stab in the dark," he says. As a teenager, Calisal realized he had been circumcised while participating in swim club.
"It was very traumatic. Over the years I've come to learn how valuable [my foreskin] was, but it's one of those things that no one talks about and the medical community keeps doing it because they make money doing it."
But men, circumcised or not, are not the only ones here. As a woman, Rhianna Buryova has had a different relationship with this issue. Unlike Calisal, this is the first time she's ever attender one of these protests. She's hoping someone will listen.
"I think it's logical. I wouldn't want to have a part of me chopped off," she says. "And who wants less penis?"
Buryova is also the only protester who openly commits to loving Bono as a performer. It makes her sad "to see that he's not well informed."
All the protesters are hoping events like this one will help educate people. Callender hopes people will take pictures of him and the signs and share them on social media, which he hopes will spark conversations about the issue. He has even reached out to Bono via his manager to try to engage in a discussion with the singer.
Unfortunately, at least half of the people who approach them while I'm there just want to heckle them. One guy comes up to them and yells "women hate worm penises!" The seasoned protesters are used to this.
For Korky Day, an older man wearing a Wreck Beach Day T-shirt and colourful sunglasses, the insults are just another way that circumcised men deal with the "emotional pain of mutilation."
Day had some thoughts about the relationship between foreskins and power structures, which he hoped might help convince Bono to change his stance."
"Maybe the message will eventually get to him, unless he's patriarchal pig too, but he doesn't seem like it. I think subconsciously Bono might feel superior because he has a foreskin. Bono, if you're reading this, please search into your soul to see if you do have some subconscious desire for male dominance."
Still, Callender wants to be very clear that their objective is not to tell men what to do with their bodies, but rather to make circumcision an informed choice, much like any body alteration. And not an insignificant one either, Callender swears that foreskins are so sensitive that his has it's own orgasms.
"Ultimately it comes down to understanding that it's harmful, when you circumcise a baby boy you're permanently damaging his penis, for his whole life he is never going to have the full sexual experience, he will never know how his penis was meant to feel during masturbation and sex because every experience he'll have with his penis is edited."
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