It’s been an interesting year. I was very pleased to be able to “go public” in a peer-reviewed journal with my story about the birth of my son Eli in 2002 and the many requests from the hospital’s nursing staff on Guam for my consent to circumcise him. It was a big relief to be able to talk about the interrelationship of personal and family aspects of the procedure and the work I have been doing since early 1997 with Attorneys for the Rights of the Child, and for about a year prior to its founding with other activists. (Other contributors who are friends of ARC and of the movement include Lisa Braver Moss, Petrina Fadel, veteran activist Laurie Evans, Dionne Deschenne, and long-time ARC friend and collaborator Maria Viola Sanchez, Ph.D.) As I relate in the article, published earlier this year in Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics, when I said to the nurse, “You do know there is no medical reason for this, right?,” she quite quickly and brightly replied, “I know.” Then… I asked, “Why do you do it?” And why do we still do it, as a country, as a world, not just this form of genital cutting, but all the crazy, inhumane things we are still doing to our children and other vulnerable people throughout the world?

Steven Svoboda and his family including his two children, Rancho La Puerta Family Camp, August 28, 2023.

Steven Svoboda and his family including his two children, Rancho La Puerta Family Camp, August 28, 2023.

One of the longest journal articles I have ever written is under peer review at a top human rights journal. It is a solo effort addressing a case in which I was one of the litigators and delving into both male circumcision and female genital cutting, both as treated legally in the US and as human rights issues. We have learned that we cannot give specifics on such things due to our adversaries, who will pepper the journal with attacks and repeated requests to publish pro-circumcision articles.

This is our 40th issue, which feels like a landmark of sorts. As I write this message, I have decided to use this message to go public on a different issue also related to protecting children’s genital autonomy and human rights. ARC is not planning to jump into extensive work on this topic, but it is interesting to compare and contrast with “our” issue and we do consider it important.

I am feeling sad. Sad because my family is currently being directly affected by the raft of “gender confirmation” surgical and medical options that are now available to anyone eighteen years of age or older (or younger with parental agreement) who identifies as transgender and believes they need to change their body.

I certainly do not doubt that many trans people genuinely exist. They are obviously a group of people needing our understanding, compassion and support. If you are eighteen or over then legally, you can do whatever you consider best. And best of luck!

The exact numbers vary but this phenomenon has exploded in recent years, particularly with teenagers, and even more particularly with female-to-male teenagers. Some authorities find that in under a decade, the number of such kids expanded by between 100 and 1,000 times! This is a truly astonishing level of uptake. So why the change? Obviously smartphone omnipresence plays a big role in making extreme, unmoderated views easily available to teens (and indeed to anyone) on social media sites. In our own family, my child who is planning “top surgery” (breast removal) two days from today as I write this decided he was trans almost immediately after his Mom and I allowed him to have a smartphone at age twelve. Previously he had always been my happy daughter, laughing, going to father-daughter weekends with me, and mentioning nary a word about being trans. This girl was gone forever once his identification with the trans world happened. (Many in the lesbian community are apparently lamenting, not without cause, that virtually no kids are lesbians any more. Everyone instead identifies as trans.) Identifying as trans, especially if you might be an otherwise relatively privileged, upper middle-class white person, does have the “benefit” of instantly raising the young person’s status in that it may be seen as making them more interesting and aligning them with an oppressed group.

If you have to be twenty-five years old, when the brain finishes maturing, to rent a car, why not consider requiring people to reach the same minimum age to make a permanent and irreversible change in their body? European countries are reversing their previous “gender affirming” policies and even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is doing an evidence-based review of whether their gender affirmation policy is medically justified. It is worth noting that regarding both male genital cutting and gender confirmation procedures, the AAP has falsified medical evidence in its position statements.

Complications of top surgery include pain, scarring, loss of sensitivity, a lifelong inability to breastfeed, esthetic harm, bleeding, infection, poor healing of incisions, hematoma, loss of nipple sensation, loss of the nipple and areola, and anesthesia risks. The complications of other interventions like cross-sex hormones are even more horrifying.

As I mentioned above, ARC is not planning to divert a lot of energy into this issue of “gender confirmation procedures”. Many other people and organizations are working on it and also right now it’s an issue on which it’s hard to have a fair, objective, balanced conversation given certain levels of hysteria on both sides. It is happening in my own family in two days and there are some analogies to the forms of genital cutting we are fighting. ARC will continue to work on our core issues and core expertise.

Thus, we are honored to present three truly fantastic and awe-inspiring feature articles by Jonathan Meddings, ARC Board Member David Wilton, and a truly remarkable young man named James GaNun. We are proud to also include six total book reviews: 1-2) my combined review of two superlative memoirs by two of our shining stars in our movement, Marilyn Milos and Georganne Chapin, 3) James GaNun’s excellent review of the memoir A is for Alex by the mother of a victim of circumcision who eventually committed suicide, 4-5) my review (after reading six books about “gender confirmation” procedures) of the two best books on the topic, Time to Think by Hannah Barnes and Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier, and 6) my review of Jonathan Meddings’ comprehensive introductory text The Final Cut: The Truth About Circumcision. We are happy to also include what might be the best article ever published in a mainstream newspaper about our good friends, the Bloodstained Men. Finally, sadly, we are reprinting two newspaper articles about two separate circumcision botch cases. Truly we are blessed to have all these folks working with us on behalf of the children.

We are proud to continue to provide on our website: 1) The core report by the International NGO Coalition on Genital Autonomy (INGOCGA), of which ARC was a co-leading member, on male circumcision as a human rights violation; the guide is intended for use and adaptation by local activists who are working to submit a report to the United Nations on male circumcision as a human rights violation in their country; 2) Presenting what we believe is the most current and comprehensive list of medical and legal position statements regarding male circumcision (arclaw.org/medical-and-ethical-positions); 3) Presenting a significant update of ARC’s list (arclaw.org/legal-victories) of favorable legal decisions and legal settlements in cases involving circumcision, including adding several recent important European cases that ARC found and had translated to English; 4) our “Know Your Rights” brochure providing information for potential litigants on how to seek legal compensation for the wrong of circumcision; 5) our “Know Your Rights” video addressing: What is “informed consent”? Who may be responsible for damages? What are the time limits? What sort of damages may be awarded?; 6) a vast trove of European genital autonomy-related legal documents (cases and law review articles that were hitherto unknown or not translated into English) that we assembled and had translated to English; and 7) a list we are maintaining of all jurisdictions that currently have legal restrictions on male circumcision.More than a quarter-century down the road, as always, we persevere because we believe in what we do. And we know we all started as children and all children deserve respect, kindness, and love.

The work will continue until no one remembers that anyone ever cut boys’ or girls’ or intersex persons’ genitals.

Thank you to all our valued supporters, whether your contribution comes through support that is financial, emotional, logistical, as colleagues, or more than one of these roles. You each make it possible for us to persevere with this work. 100% of all tax-deductible donations go directly to defraying the costs of safeguarding children.

Thank you. Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! And a most joyous New Year!

Steven Svoboda
Attorneys for the Rights of the Child
December 6, 2023