It’s a rare thing to meet an activist who manages to remain persuasive and credible when naked from the waist down.
Judging by the audience’s reaction to children’s rights activist Glen Callender’s presentation at UBC on Friday, he pulled it off.
The talk, hosted by UBC Freethinkers in the Buchanan building, was part of a larger effort founded by Callender, the Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project, or CAN-FAP. Its purpose is to advocate for the right of male, female and intersex children to grow up with intact genitals.
Along with videos of real circumcisions on infant boys, the talk — described on the event’s Facebook page as an “X-rated sex-ed-comedy-horror show” — included footage of the presenter masturbating and video from a live show where he counted how many grapes he could fit in his foreskin — 11.
“That’s one of the reasons I get in the news and why things happen,” said Callender. “It’s because I’m difficult to ignore, and I do things that are controversial. And that’s my niche — and I’m not claiming to be, you know, the right guy for everybody, maybe not even most people.”
The show serves as a lighter entry point into what for many is a difficult and deeply personal issue.
CAN-FAP’s primary objective is the legal protection of a child’s right to choose whether or not to be circumcised. Callender said that female circumcision is particularly harmful because one can’t cut off as much of a boy’s genitals without restricting his ability to reproduce later in life.
“We use the term ‘female genital mutilation’ to talk about what people do to girls,” Callender said. “Circumcision is what we do to our children with their best interests in mind. Mutilation is what other people do to their children with bad intentions.” Callender thinks this is a double standard — a claim not without its critics.
In recent years, circumcision has been performed as a preventive health measure. For example, research conducted in South Africa published in 2005 and trials in Uganda and Kenya published in 2007 suggested that circumcision could reduce rates of female-to-male HIV transmission from heterosexual sex by approximately 60 per cent. This led to the World Health Organization’s 2007 endorsement of circumcision as a legitimate public health measure in parts of Africa. Callender, however, argued that the African studies were biased and methodologically flawed.
He also said that circumcision, when conducted on a child, permanently changes a man’s physiological capacity for sensation without his consent.
“There is a 2000-year body of Jewish writing and a 200-year body of medical writing that openly acknowledges that a primary purpose of infant circumcision is to permanently damage the penis so the boy, and the man he becomes, will never be able to fully enjoy sex,” said Callender.
Callender’s next presentation will be at the Taboo Naughty but Nice Sex Show in Vancouver.
Correction: a previous version of this article contained several misinterpretations of Callender’s arguments. The article has been updated to amend that. The Ubyssey regrets the error.