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April - June 2004

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Russia's women and gay men to be shown incomplete penises

The Moscow Times
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Playgirl in Russia

By Carl Schreck
Staff Writer

When Russian Playgirl hits newsstands next week, its target audience may be confronted with an unfamiliar sight. The Russian edition of the erotic magazine for women will primarily be filled with photographs of nude, circumcised American men.

"Most Russian girls have never seen a circumcised guy," Russian Playgirl's editor-in-chief Sofia Chermenskaya said. "They think it's only a religious practice."

Although common in the United States, circumcision is quite rare in Russia and practiced mainly by the Muslim and Jewish communities.

Russian Playgirl is using photos of mostly American men in its first issue because it wants to see how they go over with an Russian audience, Chermenskaya said, adding that the photos are also of high quality. Russian Playgirl got the photos from the U.S. edition of the magazine.

With its exotic anatomy and all, Russian Playgirl should help make the naked male body as ubiquitous and socially acceptable as naked female bodies, Chermenskaya said.

"There's no shame about a naked woman in Russia," she said. "They're shown everywhere, and everyone agrees it's not pornography. We thought, 'Why not try it with men?'"

The premiere Summer issue, with a circulation of 20,000, features an interview with Mitya from the pop group Hi-Fi and an article penned by Chermenskaya on the circumcision issue.

In the next issue, Chermenskaya plans to publish photos of more Russian men in addition to the ones from the U.S. edition. "There will be both so readers can compare," she said.

The quarterly magazine will sell for 120 rubles ($4) in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Chermenskaya said. She would not discuss its financial details.

Any worries about shocking Russian women with photographs of American men were far from Chermenskaya's mind in the months leading up to the launch of the magazine.

Chermenskaya and the publication's founders, whom she refused to identify, studied Russia's confusing pornography laws before registering Playgirl as an erotic entertainment magazine. As erotica, Playgirl cannot publish photographs depicting sexual intercourse and has a quota for the number of large pictures of penises in each issue: six, Chermenskaya said.

Despite the precautions, Chermenskaya is still a bit worried. "We're legal, but we're still worried because most of the people in power in Russia are men," she said. "They might not want their wives or lovers seeing nice, big erect penises."


Female circumcisors repent

The East African Standard (Nairobi)
June 8, 2004

We'll Never Spill Blood Again, Circumcisers Vow

Patrick Mathangani

They sat pensively united by their sins and confessions, yet bold enough to reveal their dark pasts.

But the nine former female circumcisers from seven African countries yesterday vowed never again to spill the blood of innocent girls.

"I circumcised my own four daughters before I quit two years ago. It felt like a normal thing to do, but it is all behind me now," said Noolamala Saaya from Narok.

Mariam Bagayoko from Mali, recalled how her two daughters also went through the rite before she called it quits.

Her third daughter was lucky enough to have been born after she had thrown away her tools of trade.

The circumcisers, now turned anti-Female Genital Mutilation crusaders had come together to share their experiences on how the rite could be eliminated in their communities.

The three-day meeting organised by international human rights organisation Equality Now, brought together former circumcisers from Djibouti, Gambia, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Tanzania and Kenya.

Saaya said she learned to circumcise from her grandmother. Thoughout her work, she witnessed horrible scenes of young girls bleeding to death and babies dying as soon as they were born by their newly circumcised mothers.

"I had to do it, I had been told it was so important and I was offering a crucial service to society," she said.

So strong is the revulsion against their former trade that some of the women called for the immediate jailing of those still involved in the vice.

"If they cannot listen, just put them in jail. But it is unfortunate that in my country, there are no laws against the practice," said Mali's Fatoumata Daou.

Those who underwent the rite were there too, like Julie Kemunto Maranya, who could not understand why women were so brutal to their kind.

"I was bleeding profusely and crying for help, yet many women were dancing and celebrating outside. I was such a young girl, yet the people I trusted most came to hurt me," she said.

Maranya, who said she was circumcised when seven years old in 1956, is now the executive director of Julikei International which crusades against genital mutilation.

Ms Sophia Abdi of women rights organisation Womankind said among the Somali, some leaders encouraged the practice under the guise that it was allowed by Islam.

Tanzania's Ms Bassile Urasa said in countries where laws had been enacted, implementing those laws had proved difficult.

In her country, she said, serious loopholes, such as the banning of the ritual on anyone who is under 18 years of age allowed the practice to continue on older women.

"Whether inflicted on a teenager or women over 40 years old, circumcision is an evil that society should reject," she said.


Sensitive treatment of female mutilation survivors

The New York Times

Giving Treatment, but Not Stirring Shame

June 6, 2004


BOSTON THE women from Africa sit calmly in Dr. Nawal M. Nour's waiting room on Wednesday afternoons.

Here, no one looks twice at their colorful head scarves and long skirts. And here they know that unlike many other American doctors they have seen, Dr. Nour, a gynecologist and obstetrician, will not flinch when she sees their genitals.

Almost all the women who visit Dr. Nour's African Women's Health Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital bear the scars of female circumcision, often called female genital cutting or genital mutilation.

At some time during childhood, usually between the ages of 5 and 12, most of the women had their external genitals removed and the edges sewn together in a ritual intended to keep them chaste before marriage and faithful to their husbands after.

Ending female genital cutting worldwide is a goal of the center ...

But sometimes the women's reasons for wanting to circumcise their daughters defy logical arguments.

"The hardest answers are, `I want her to look like me' and `just because,' " she said. ...

Dr. Nour counsels patients extensively before she reopens their genitals, explaining that things will feel differently afterward. She is especially concerned with easing her patients' pain after the operation to prevent flashbacks of the original cutting, which in most cases was done without anesthesia with crude tools in less than hygienic conditions.

"Anything to prevent that memory from returning," she said. "Everything to never get them to feel that way again."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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Long-delayed death from circumcision

The Winnipeg Sun
Mon, May 10, 2004

Sad end to boy/girl life
Subject of gender experiment

A Winnipeg man who was born a boy but raised as a girl in a famous nurture-versus-nature experiment has died at the age of 38. David Reimer, who shared his story in the pages of a book and on the TV show Oprah, took his own life last Tuesday.

His mother, Janet Reimer, said she believes her son would still be here today had it not been for the devastating gender study that led to much emotional hardship.

[... and the circumcision that led to the gender study.]

"He managed to have so much courage," Janet told The Sun yesterday. "I think he felt he had no options. It just kept building up and building up."

After a botched [and unnecessary] circumcision as a toddler, David became the subject of an experiment dubbed the John/Joan case in the '60s and '70s.

Janet said she still harbours anger toward a Baltimore doctor who convinced her and her husband, Ron, to give female hormones to their son and raise him as a daughter, Brenda. Kids were cruel to Brenda growing up in Winnipeg.

"They wouldn't let him use the boys' washroom or the girls. He had to go in the back alley," Janet recalled.


This gender transformation was widely reported as a success and proof that children are not by nature feminine or masculine but through nurture are socialized to become girls or boys. David's identical twin brother, Brian, offered researchers a matched control subject.

But when David discovered the truth about his past during his teenage years, he rebelled and resumed his male identity, eventually marrying and becoming a stepfather to three children.

In 2000, author John Colapinto wrote As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, providing David an opportunity to tell the real story. It was difficult but David wanted to save other children from a similar fate, his mother said.


While he had spoken anonymously in the past, David was launched into a media swirl after Colapinto's book was published, starting with an appearance on Oprah in February 2000.

"I thought the Reimers were just the most dignified, fantastic people on that program," Colapinto told The Sun at the time.

"I think in a way these wonderful working-class people from Winnipeg just kind of stepped onto the world stage on Oprah and were a lesson to us all in dignity and survival and openness and courage."

David recently slumped into a depression after losing his job and separating from his wife.

He was also still grieving the death of his twin brother two years earlier, their mother said. A cause of death was never confirmed but Janet suspects it might have been an overdose of medication which Brian required to treat schizophrenia.

Daily, David would visit his brother's grave, placing fresh flowers and pulling weeds to keep it tidy.

Just last week, David told his parents that things would get better soon but they never imagined he was planning to commit suicide.

Janet said she'll remember her son as "the most generous, loving soul that ever lived."

"He liked music. He liked jokes. He was a very funny guy," said Janet, who spent Mother's Day grieving the loss of her son. "He was so generous. He gave all he had."

The funeral is today at 2 p.m. at Klassen Funeral Chapel.


French-Syrian's anti-circumcision comic strip


The Daily Star (Lebanon)
April 16, 2004

Riad Sattouf: Comics serve as perfect medium

26-year-old writer to release autobiographical bombshell: My Circumcision
By Olivia Snaije
Special to The Daily Star
Friday, April 16, 2004

PARIS: France is paradise to the comic book lover. Close to 1,500 new BD books (BD stands for bande dessinee, or comic strips) are produced each year to satisfy the incessant appetite of mainstream and alternative audiences. ...

It's hard to know if Riad Sattouf would have written and illustrated comic books had he grown up somewhere else, but it's clear that this baby-faced 26 year-old has a lot to say, and comics are the perfect medium for him.

Sattouf burst into the world of BD's last year with the publication of the Manuel du Puceau (Handbook for a Virgin) for adolescents, and Les Jolis Pieds de Florence (Florence's Pretty Feet) which won the prestigious 2003 Rene Goscinny prize for best BD writer. ...

Nothing besides his name and a few vague allusions to the Arab world could prepare the reader for Sattouf's next book, which can be termed a tragi- comic autobiographical bombshell. Ma Circoncision (My Circumcision) came out this year in a collection for teenagers but could very well be for adults. Funny and terrible, it is the grueling tale of an 8-year-old boy who lives in a Syrian village and is faced with his impending circumcision.

How much of Ma Circoncision is autobiographical?

"One hundred percent," said Sattouf. ...

In Ma Circoncision, Sattouf recounts how one day his cousins notice that he isn't circumcised. He is immediately accused of being an Israeli, the worst insult the children can think of. Sattouf, who was blond as a child, lies in bed wondering if he is adopted. "Perhaps I really was Israeli?" ...

The classroom brutality and ignorance described by Sattouf is such, that the publisher's lawyer strongly recommended at the beginning of the book, a disclaimer which reads: "This book tells a true story, situated in a country in which the totalitarian regime formats children to a single mode of thought. It is against circumcision. It is not an incitement to racial hatred but bears witness to the way a society produces racial hatred."

Sattouf writes that his father decides his son should be circumcised. The next pages are a countdown until the unhappy event. The fateful day rolls around and the circumciser looks like Conan the Barbarian.

"How many Syrians look like Arnold Schwarzenegger?" writes Sattouf.

"Only one, no doubt, and he was in my living room!"

After a long and painful recovery, Sattouf finds out from his father that Israelis are circumcised as well.

Sattouf, who has not seen his father in 14 years, portrays him in Ma Circoncision as a harsh, unfeeling man. " Of course my father was more human than in the book. His moods alternated but there was a certain inflexibility about him, he never doubted his behavior."

His father was a university professor with two doctorates from the Sorbonne. He was "very open-minded and totally emancipated. He never prayed, ate pork, but then his past caught up with him."

Sattouf's father became deeply religious after a stint of teaching in Saudi Arabia. ...

Sattouf's French mother "didn't speak Arabic and couldn't stand life in the village anymore. She separated from my father and moved back to France." ... In Jeremie the zany humor keeps the BD reading light. In Ma Circoncision, although the same humor is present, there is an undertone of real seriousness. It has also brought Sattouf full face with his feelings of identity. He says he no longer speaks Arabic but that he still reads and writes it.

... While he doesn't feel "particularly at home in France", it is without a doubt the place for Sattouf to be. No other country would have published a BD as brutally funny and scathingly critical as Ma Circoncision.


Dog-tail docking compared with circumcision

The Sydney Morning Herald
April 13, 2004

The end of a dog's tale

Date: April 13 2004

Breeders reckon the new ban on docking puppies' tails really takes the biscuit, writes Joel Gibson.

When a bulldog named Buldawg Our Man Godfrey - "Bob" to his close friends - was crowned Best in Show yesterday at the Royal Easter Show, the applause was a little dampened, the ribbon a little less brilliant and the victory lap a little shorter than usual.

For the tight-knit community of people who breed, show and handle purebred dogs, Best in Show is often the biggest day of the year. But April 1 marked the end of a long, sometimes bitter and ultimately futile battle with the State Government, animal welfare groups and liberationists over the emotive issue of puppies' tails. On that day, NSW fell into line with other states and banned the removal - or docking - of dogs' tails except for therapeutic reasons and unless performed by a vet.


There are interesting similarities with human circumcision, [Dr Caroline West, a lecturer in applied ethics at the University of Sydney] says.

"In both cases, the subjects [dogs or typically very young infants] are not in a position to offer their own consent to the procedure. Both cases may involve some suffering to those involved, although there's argument about the extent of this in both cases. In both cases, similar justifications are given for the practices: health benefits for the individual, aesthetic reasons, continuity of historical and cultural tradition, etc. I think the parallel is interesting: if you think one's morally OK, why should the other be different?"

[And if you don't think docking dogs' tails is morally OK...]

In the end, dog breeders might have the cuteness of their pets to blame for being targeted. "People are so much more motivated to stop mistreatment of animals that are cute," she says.

"If puppies looked like giant insects, I think people would be much less moved . . . I don't think this prejudice in favour of the cute is really morally defensible [but] if it helps to prevent unjustified suffering to some non-human animals, that's at least something."

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