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January 2000

Our meeting for January drew twenty-seven men ranging in age from 23 to 85, including four new faces. Special thanks to Tommy and Dahl for getting the meeting underway while coordinator Gary Harryman was still fighting traffic!

We discussed the ongoing testosterone cream study and came to some seemingly contradictory preliminary conclusions on how it is working. That it is working as predicted for most men is obvious, but we won't be able to report anything specific until next month. (Possible unwanted lateral expansion seems to be a concern of most guys using the cream.)

A show of hands indicated about fifteen of the men present use the T-tape method of restoration. However, at least two of us have used the lazy man's O-ring method, and both have nearly full coverage after twelve to eighteen months. (One uses the O-ring 24 hours a day, the other uses O-ring during the day and adhesive bandage cross-taping at night.) Both admit to being very casual and inconsistent about restoring -- going a month or more without anything to hold the skin in place.

Our oldest member, Chuck, told us that the best thing about restoring for him was to be able to speak authoritatively to his nieces and nephews about the benefits of having a foreskin, so they would spare their children the cruel and debilitating knife.

Guest speaker Dr. Phil Nguyen, far from his home in Denver, generously shared his unique and moving experiences with us. He related the terror of having been circumcised at age 8, then restoring at ages 23 to 25 while at medical school. It was a powerful and inspirational story of one man's struggle to overcome awesome personal and cultural obstacles to gain control of his life and a sense of wholeness of his body. Phil's quiet and gentle demeanor conceals an iron will. After the meeting, two of our attendees emotionally whispered to Gary how moved they were by Phil's speech; many others congratulated and thanked Phil for sharing his story.

On another subject that has recently been discussed, Phil was asked if he was forced to circumcise any infants as part of the program in medical school or in the surgery rotation of his residency. Phil responded: "No, I knew my rights -- I refused to do it and was not challenged."

Phil's eloquent and moving presentation during our January meeting was, unfortunately, not recorded. He graciously agreed to be interviewed so that his story could be shared here.


I was six years old when my family escaped Vietnam. We were in a refugee camp off of Thailand for about six months before coming to the United States.

In Vietnam during the war, my dad befriended this physician, Dr. J---. He was a surgeon in the U.S. Army. They remained friends after the war and stayed in contact, then he and his church sponsored us and we came to the United States. He helped set us up; he rented a house for us and people donated clothes and food, a washing machine and dryer, things like that. All the necessities.

How did your circumcision come about?

I was about eight years old; we had been in the United States for two years. Dr. J--- decided that I and my next two oldest brothers would be circumcised. My brothers were fourteen and sixteen at the time. His intention was for us to fit into American culture and society.

He thought circumcision was going to help you fit in?

Yeah. My brothers were involved in and wrestling...during their high school years. In the showers at school they were the only uncircumcised guys. They had a choice in the matter, and they wanted to fit in. They could have said no and that would have ended the matter, but they consented to the surgery. At least they knew what was going to happen to them.

I, on the other hand, was eight years old and didn't understand. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my penis. It was never infected, never had any problems.

How was it explained to you? Did they tell you what was going to happen?

At eight years old, you don't really understand what's going to happen to you. When they said "circumcision" I had no idea what that word meant. My parents tried to explain it to me in Vietnamese. They used the word "catcu" which means to cut off one's penis. I thought I was going to have my penis cut off and be turned into a girl. It was a child's worst castration nightmare.

So it was the doctor who had sponsored your family that made the decision, and your parents went along with it?

Right. My parents thought that he would know best, and they consented to it. This was a man that we trusted. The irony of all this is that I call this man "Dad." My family is that close to him. We all call him Dad, and we call his wife Mom. We adopted him. So in many ways, my dad was my mutilator.

He was the one who performed the circumcision?

Yes, he was the one who did it.

I remember telling my parents, "Don't cut my penis off! I'll be a good boy from now on, I'll do whatever you say, just don't cut it off!"

It sounds like you had the impression that you were being punished.

Yeah, that's how I felt. I was being punished for being a bad boy, and they were going to cut off my penis. They were cutting off my manhood, castrating and emasculating me. I remember that feeling very vividly.

I went in for the surgery, and at least they put me under general anesthesia. I remember waking up and it was really painful.

Shortly after the operation the incision got infected. I had to clean it with hydrogen peroxide two or three times a day.

After that I would go around the house naked because I couldn't bear to have anything touching my penis, it was so sensitive. It finally keratinized after a month of being exposed to the air, then I could finally wear underwear and clothes again.

I tried to mentally protect myself...I had to deny it and put it all out of my mind. I didn't really think about it for the next fifteen years or so, until I was in college. I was a sophomore, and I was reading one of the local college magazines. There was an article about a group of men who were restoring their foreskins. I couldn't believe it. I laughed and was kind of shocked by the whole idea, but I thought it was intriguing as well. I showed the article to a friend and we talked about it and laughed, made jokes.

I finished college and went to medical school, and the subject came up again. I was studying anatomy and physiology, and I had a computer and internet access. That was one of the first topics I ever looked up on the internet. Right away I wanted to learn more about circumcision, the procedure, the where and how and why. I went to the library and did some research there too.

Things started coming back to me while I was doing the research. I started letting myself feel for the first time the power of the damage that was done to me. I remember so many times crying after coming to the realization of what really happened to me, and letting all those memories flood back in.

I started to be really outspoken about circumcision with my peers, my fellow medical students, my professors, my attendings.* I really didn't get much flak for it because I knew what I was talking about. If you've done your research there really is no argument that can stand up [in favor of circumcision]. It is mutilation. There is absolutely no medical need for it. Even if there was a medical advantage of some kind, it's still mutilation. It's still unnecessary.

[* Webmaster's note: "attendings" means attending physicians. These doctors have primary responsibility for a patient and/or have a staff position at a hospital.]

When there is a problem, all that American doctors know to do is circumcise. They really have no idea how male anatomy works, or other treatments that they could use. They hardly ever see intact penises, and they believe the myths that have been passed down.

It's amazing how little physicians are taught about [foreskin]. I wasn't taught anything about it in medical school. It was "This is the foreskin," and that was it. We were taught about circumcision and that the risk of penile cancer would be less; information that's been around for fifty or sixty years that is now completely outdated.

How did your classmates and professors react when you challenged them on this misinformation?

I challenged them during my Ob/Gyn rotation. They're the ones that do the main bulk of the circumcisions. I challenged the residents. I challenged the attendings. I said, "This is wrong. Have you thought about what you're doing? Have you read the literature? Do you realize this is mutilation?" My attending was Jewish, actually. He was pretty liberal. He gave me an "honors" in the class. I was very outspoken about it and had information to back up what I was saying. I had done my research.

But it was a very emotional time for me, definitely, because I would walk by the circumcision room every day and hear those babies screaming. I was re-living the trauma every single day. It was like having been raped and being forced to watch rape videos all day long. It took an emotional toll on me. It still takes a toll on me in my residency, to walk by that room every day, to see babies that are getting mutilated. A baby who is screaming his head off during circumcision is definitely non-consenting.

You mentioned having seen a magazine article about foreskin restoration; how long after that did you decide to try restoring your own foreskin?

It was during my first and second year at medical school that I started doing research. I started restoring in my third year. I was cross taping at first, and then I went on to the t-tape. There were different contraptions I used along the way; I made my own P.U.D. with a roll of quarters. You know how inventive we all get in restoring!

It was quite a journey for me. It gave me a great sense of empowerment; I was actually doing something to reverse what was done to me.

Restoration is not only physically healing, it's also emotionally healing. You realize that you are broken, and that you're on your way to becoming whole again, physically and emotionally.

It took you a year and a half to restore. Were you doing it 24/7?

Pretty much. Then one day I said O.K., that's enough. I was pretty much fully covered flaccid. Erect it would pull back and I had plenty of skin to play with.

How long after you started restoring did you notice changes? first week! I was just amazed within the first week. The keratinization started to slough off, my erections were bright red/purple, and there was an increase in sensitivity.

I had only been restoring two or three days when I decided that I was going to go without it, and just wear my underwear like I normally would. Suddenly I noticed that I could feel my penis rubbing against my underwear and it was very uncomfortable. [The glans] was protected at first, then all of a sudden it was exposed again. That's when I realized that once I started, I couldn't stop. I had to continue until I was finished.

I've warned friends as well. I tell them that it's a neat thing to do, that every guy that's been circumcised should do it. But I also warn them that once you start, you can't stop. You realize how much at home your penis feels being covered.

That's pretty much my philosophy. The head of the penis should always be covered. With an intact guy, the head of the penis is always covered if he's flaccid. When he's erect and ready for sex, it's inserted into another mucous membrane. Whether it's a vagina or a mouth or an anus, it becomes covered again. That's the way nature intended things to be.

What advice would you give anyone who is considering restoration?

Do it.