A few months after „Ent-hüllt!“ as the first German book dealt with victim’s views on their circumcision, another one is about to hit the bookshelves. „Unspeakable Mutilations“ was first published in 2014 in English, and will now be available in German as well. Abgeblogged spoke with both the author, Lindsay R. Watson, and the translator, Ulf Dunkel, about their project.
Abgeblogged: When „Unspeakable Mutilations“ was first released in 2014, it was well received and quickly made it into many must-read lists of circumcision related literature. How do you explain that success?
Watson: Like all human rights movements, there has to be a minimum amount of awareness before a new paradigm takes off and starts to grow exponentially. The book was aimed at an American audience (because paedo-circumcision is so common there), but it appears to be relevant to other countries as well. The stories are the real experiences of circumcised men, a group that has, until recent years, been silent. This is partly because groups opposing forced circumcision are small and scattered across only a few English-speaking countries. We live in the information age, due largely to the internet, and when the time has come for an idea it spreads instantaneously. This book could not have happened before the internet. Just collecting the stories would have been almost impossible. Each of the four people involved in the project live in different countries. Basically the success, if you want to call it that—since it is not really a “best seller”, is due to the fact that it tells the truth about men’s pain.
Why did you decide to write this book?
Watson: It grew out of another book I have been co-authoring on the history of paedocircumcision in New Zealand. One chapter concerned the psychological harm of circumcision. Since I am not trained in this area, Tom Golden in America agreed to peer review the chapter for me. After reading the chapter he encouraged me to turn it into an eBook immediately. This was out of the question, but I thought it would be possible to collect stories from men for an anthology and write an introduction based on my original chapter. I advertised for stories and invited men from two US foreskin restoration websites. Tom kindly wrote the foreword. The project grew into a print book as well as an eBook, both of which I published in June last year.
Do you think that books from a medical or legal point of view go hand in hand with victim’s case reports, or are they aimed at different audiences?
Watson: Medical research can back up the victim’s case, but is not of great interest to ordinary readers due to the terminology used. Even medical professionals outside the intactivist community are not much interested in the harm of circumcision. Legal articles tend to remain in academic journals which also contain specialist jargon and, apart from those who seek them out, are not read by the general public. While there is overlap, legal, medical and victim case reports are aimed at different audiences. I was surprised when the Royal Dutch Medical Association cited “Unspeakable Mutilations”, as it was not aimed at the medical profession.
The men’s stories are often very graphic, as well as the book’s title. Is it really necessary to be so forthright, can’t people be reached with toned down reports as well?
Watson: Would you want to tone down stories from women who have been genitally mutilated? I think not. Sometimes an extreme approach is needed to alert the general public to the suffering of minority groups. Recall how slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century; British politicians had to be educated about the reality of the conditions of the slaves on board the slave ships. If this book was about female genital mutilation no one would be objecting to the title. This demonstrates there is considerable misandry in Western European culture. Men have feelings and have the right to have their emotions recognised and acknowledged. Men are, of course, not supposed to complain, but are expected to suffer in silence. To improve life for all on this planet we have to expose cultural constructions that portray damaging social practices as innocuous. The truth must be told even if it upsets sensitive people. The perpetrators of harm need to know the harmful consequences of their actions on their victim’s lives, so they–the perpetrators–can change what they do. People need to know that circumcision grief can lead to suicidal actions. When editing we changed very little. We even left odd constructions if the writer was not a native English speaker. Only in one story did we edit out some parts relating to suicide to preserve the writer’s anonymity. To tone down the men’s accounts would be to diminish their suffering. Can you think of a more appropriate title?
Dunkel: Let me add an aspect to this which was given in the already mentioned German book “Ent-hüllt!”. The editor of that book clarified that the term “mutilation” is not appropriate for every single person who has undergone circumcision – male or female – when he or she does not feel mutilated. But if one person does feel this way, no one else should have the right to diminish the suffering person’s feelings, their personal experiences with and after being cut and their anger and shame. Lindsay and I discussed whether the original title would also be appropriate for the German-speaking readers, and having read all those heartbreaking stories, I absolutely think that it is the most appropriate title. This is why I kept it in the German version, too.
Isn’t there some sort of rubbernecking involved, some weird urge to peek into other people’s pants and tattle about it?
Watson: Some may see it that way. My background is in the biological sciences, so I see this more as qualitative science, or psychology, rather than as a source of prurient interest. Perhaps in a non-circumcising culture it may appear as ‘peeking into other people’s pants’. I do receive comments from grieving men who say ‘Your book really helped. I now know I am not alone’. The 40 five star reviews on Amazon indicate that reporting real life experiences helps understanding. Circumcision grieving is a lonely process. Many men cannot talk to their friends, partners or parents. This book gives them a voice. People in the medical industry need to understand the damage they do and if some readers get a vicarious thrill from the stories so be it.
Could this book help men in their own coming-out as a victim, especially when it comes to the relationship with their parents?
Watson: Coming out to parents about their circumcision grief is one of the most difficult things a cut man can do. Many cut men do not want to upset their parents; some do. Sometimes the parent-son relationship completely breaks down. One of the functions I planned for this book was that it would communicate to parents how their sons feel and the harm they have done to their son’s sexuality and self-esteem. Some men have given copies to their parents and therapists.
What are the most significant reasons for the majority of men to suffer in silence, instead of just going out and telling their Story?
Watson: Society expects men to be silent and solve their own problems. People do not want to see men cry or grieve; people are not interested because it does not fit the stereotype of what a man should be. Tom Golden is one of the few psychotherapists who understands this. His talks are available on YouTube and he has written two books which would be helpful to cut men.
Do men seek help from psychotherapists?
Watson: Circumcision grief is a ‘body-part-loss’ grief that is as yet unrecognised as such, even by psychotherapists. I have collected stories from cut men who were treated very badly by psychotherapists, because the therapists were unable to recognise body-part-loss grief in their patients. Due to ignorance, many people erroneously regard a foreskin as a non-functional and optional part of the male genitals. I include the medical profession in this.
In your opinion, what would be the most promising way to break the cycle of passing on the abuse to the next generation – will information alone be able to achieve this?
Watson: Education is the key. Teaching the functions of the foreskin in school sex education would help. The internet is in fact the reason for this awakening. No longer is information hidden. Educating young mothers is important. Educating cut young men on what they have lost is also helpful. In fact the number of young men asking for help on internet restoration sites seems to be increasing, suggesting that the message is spreading. Unfortunately finding out the harm of circumcision for a teenager can be very traumatic. On the other hand, young men have the advantage of faster non-surgical foreskin restoration. The challenge is to educate the religious fundamentalists who cut their sons, or daughters, because a non-existent deity has commanded them.
There are voices claiming that openly discussing the negative late effects of male circumcision would be dramatizing a nuisance while belittling the immense suffering of female victims of genital mutilation – what is your reply to them?
Watson: This question could be designated misandrist, reflecting the common social construction that male circumcision is somehow less damaging than female circumcision. George Orwell in Animal Farm put this cognitive fallacy succinctly: ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’. This fallacy has developed because male infant circumcision removes a small piece of skin. However, by the time the male is an adult the amount removed is about equivalent to a FGM Type II circumcision, according to the WHO classification. In terms of human rights it is unethical to rank genital mutilations. They are equivalent; both do harm. Both sexes are humans and have human rights. All non-therapeutic genital cutting contravenes the basic human right to have intact genitals. The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) make this clear.
How did the idea for a translation arise?
Watson: Ulf kindly approached me and offered to translate the book. I agreed that it was a good idea. I am impressed with the quality of his work.
Dunkel: When I started reading the English version of Lindsay’s book, I was expecting a book that maybe offers more details to what I already knew about circumcision, being an intactivist since the now famous German circumcision debate which arose in Summer 2012. But then I read his descriptions about how differently cut men can find their way out of their personal circumcision coma (a term suggested by Lindsay – but originally used by David Gollaher, see footnote 8 on page 12 of the English version). This is often initiated by some kind of emotional trigger, which sometimes is really overwhelming and may recall even pain from a newborn circumcision trauma which the man wasn’t aware of. For me myself, this was the most important part of his book, because it even explained my own behaviour in the circumcision debate at the end of 2012. It clearly showed me what my own personal trigger was. I am not circumcised but I also suffer from a newborn trauma. Reading the book, I also saw that my behaviour was quite normal and that I can do something to heal myself, too. The next step was obvious: I had to contact Lindsay and asked for his permission to translate and spread his very important book in the German-speaking nations. It was a real pleasure to do this translation, knowing that it may help other persons to awake from their personal trauma or coma.
Why do you think a German version of the book is needed?
Watson: Germany has been active in opposing genital cutting in recent years and the education of circumcision’s harmful effects can only be beneficial. In some ways a French version might have been more useful, since many French speaking countries continue to circumcise due to Religion.
Dunkel: Many politicians in Germany were really shocked by the harsh and unfriendly way the circumcision debate developed after the now famous Cologne Court judgement. We intactivists were collecting every single bit of information about this case of ignoring the human rights of children and always focussed on the children. But in 2012, just a few affected men were speaking out about their pain, grief and shame, their damaged genitals and their sexual problems. The German version of this book may be another valuable source of information even for many politicians who still refuse to accept that men really do suffer from their infant or childhood circumcision. It may help other men to learn that they are not alone and that speaking out about their emotions may help them to heal as much as possible. I believe that this book will also turn the focus of the German circumcision debate back to the children who should be protected by law against religious faith or traditional rituals or simply ignorance of their parents. The German circumcision debate was way more diverse then the media pictured it – many of the human rights arguments and points of view just didn’t find their way into the headlines. Now in 2015, we have much more legal, medical and scientific statements which clearly state that there is no real plausible reason for infant and child genital mutilation; furthermore, more and more legal experts are confirming that parents rights and their own religious freedom cannot deduce their right to mutilate their children’s genitals. This book shows the consequences of doing wrong to one’s children this way. So it may also help future parents to leave the genitals of their children alone, simply by getting informed about the fantastic functionality of the organs and the unspeakable damages caused by genital Mutilation.
Was it a surprise for you when you were first asked about a localized edition of you book?
Watson: Yes, in some ways, although it was the second such offer from a translator.
Could this serve as a pilot project when it comes to increasing the availability of circumcision information in various languages?
Dunkel: There are more really interesting and valuable books about the topic of circumcision in other languages than German which should be available in our language, too. Doing the translation of “Unspeakable Mutilations” was a great challenge and I really love the result. But I mostly love that it will contribute to the worldwide available knowledge base about the harm of infant and child circumcision. And hopefully some day in the not so distant future this antiquated ritual will only remain as a memory of less educated times, like corporal punishment, rape in marriage or just like, well, female genital mutilation.
Thank you for this interview!