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'Intactivists' Cut to the Chase About Circumcision Issue

You will also hear some sensible things about condoms and cost-effectiveness and the pain of men who say they are struggling with the emotional and physical effects of circumcision. Then there's Soraya Miré, a speaker and activist who endured female genital mutilation in her native Somalia when she was 13. After witnessing a male circumcision in the United States, she broadened her message to include both genders.

"I understand women's circumcision is more severe but, to me, pain is pain," says Miré, who lives in Los Angeles and doesn't believe anesthesia for circumcision makes a difference.

A young guy sticks his buzzed head out of a white minivan as the marchers pass through a crosswalk on Pennsylvania.

"Circumcision increases sensation!" he shouts, in response to one of the protest signs.

"No, it causes premature ejaculation!" says Marilyn Milos, a former nurse and founder of the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers.

"That's never happened to me!" the guy yells back.

"Yeah, right!"

And everyone laughs. There seems to be a sense of humor about this, after all.

Next, the march passes a cluster of security guards in sunglasses.

"You know circumcision started in the 1800s to stop our boys from masturbating," announces David Wilson, who lives in Cocoa Beach, Fla., and is the director of the Stop Infant Circumcision Society.

"I'm blind," says a security guard, and the marchers discuss whether that's a poor, ignorant joke or a great, subversive joke.

* * *

There is, of course, a serious, disturbing side to this. Leading the pack are two 21-year-olds, Jason Siegel and Zachary Levi Balakoff, who are on Day 3 of a hunger strike. They say they won't eat until genital mutilation is exposed. Go ahead, ask them why. They'll tell you, for many minutes, about the "entire realms of exquisite feeling" they are missing by not having foreskins and the corresponding nerves. The "giant monstrosity" of circumcision "envelops" their entire lives.

"If we have to die, then that's what's necessary," Balakoff says. They say they'll sit in front of the Capitol until they starve.

The other marchers just want people to keep the clamps and knives away from infants. They just want society to respect the bodies of everyone, with no disrespect to any religion. They just want men to know what they're missing, so maybe they won't choose to do the same to their sons. They say their message is reaching a wider audience. Circumcision rates are way down from their peak of 85 percent in 1965. The foundation Intact America started six months ago to direct the message to the mainstream. The goal is a male genital mutilation bill.

The march nears the Capitol. An open-air trolley packed with tourists trundles past the signs. The tourists can't help but look. The guide's voice is audible over the speakers as the trolley rolls by.

"You know what? This is America," the guide says, and it's hard to tell if she means it as a celebration or an excuse.

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