“Suicide was my biggest weapon. The thought of it gave me some peace; the thought that the cage was not entirely closed actually gave me some small strength to linger within the cage.”Charles Bukowski

Last year, our asinine American society lost a brave crusader. On May 9th, Jonathon Conte, a prominent Bay-area Intactivist, took his life. He was thirty-four. The tragic news was delivered by Marilyn Milos, the original conscious objector of circumcision, who posted on Facebook. Tributes poured out from the community.

They remembered his smile, infectious and without pretentiousness. The sincerity of his friendship, those who had the privilege of earning it. His dedication to the cause, the protests and the daily bike-rides he took through the city and the parks, always with his “info-cart” in tow. And the testimony he told of his own mutilation, that which no doubt led to this moment. Ever the meticulous planner, Conte acquired “pure helium” – supposedly hard to come by – and his death likely happened quickly; less pain than his infantile abuse.

In recordings and public statements, a crestfallen Mr. Conte recalled that at the age of fourteen he saw a video on the internet of an intact penis, leading to the swift realization that a piece of him “had been cut away.” This was the beginning of a lifelong feeling of “incompleteness, both physically and sexually,” admitting something that he likely knew far too few American men ever would: “I battled depression, particularly whenever I had to see my penis.” For him, activism became a form of therapy, and he was soon one of the main signature-gatherers for the doomed 2012 San Francisco bill that attempted to ban the operation for anyone under 18. It’s said that he also designed the “blood-stained” jumpsuit that now makes its appearance in cities across the land.

I met Jonathon once, during the San Francisco ACOG (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) meeting, May 2015. He disappeared for a moment, and when he returned he had donned a menacing alter ego: a “blood”-splattered lab coat and rubber Zombie mask. “Cock cutters for sale!” he snarled at the exiting doctors. While demasked, Conte was known to “meet people where they are,” intoning about the horror.

My well-received response to his suicide, said in Facebook groups, was that we should pushback against the inevitable: that his final act will be seen as martyrdom. But this was not preventable. Although Conte did not explicitly state his mutilation the cause for his final action (as far as I know, he made no suicide note), his mental state was clearly sullied by it. Blamelessly, one can’t help to interpret his death as the inevitable outcome of what he had realized way back when.

The secondary group, with their mendacious eyes rolling along the online obituaries, had offended me much more – those that would say that Conte had other problems and rhetorically ask How anybody could kill themselves over such a silly thing. Any psychologist worth their salt can agree that a person’s suicide is nearly impossible for another to grasp. As any Intactivist will testify, men who recognize unnecessary scars on their manhood can become obsessively troubled by them. And as Cesare Pavese pointed out, nobody who takes their own life lacks the ratiocination for doing so.

Here in America, the majority of males – at least up until the last couple decades – are born to an awaiting sharp tool. A few years later, almost everyone else is ushered into a brainwashing center, sometimes called “public schooling.” If you’re less fortunate, a religiously-inclined relative will inform that eternal damnation awaits if you reject certain ancient doctrines, showing even death to be an unviable escape hatch. Meanwhile, participation in such institutions is often reinforced via corporal punishment and psychotropic drugs. You’ll then soon be told that working and giving up half your paycheck are life’s only real choices, thereby making cocktails and sex and occasional vacations as the ventures that allows one to subsist. As it is, good justifications can be pinpointed – any combination of which could result in the next helium exit. Inflammatorily, plenty will ignore the appallingly high rates of suicide amongst the young and instead insist that these are but The Best Things.

And so why not place the late Mr. Conte – who attempted to end at least two of these six items (I’m sure he was opposed to corporal punishment as well; nearly all Intactivists are) – alongside Alexander Berkman and Aaron Swartz and however many more self-immolating Buddhists?

What cannot be honestly asserted is that we’d all be better off if we simply killed ourselves, for the cultures of violence would merely snicker and carry forth. What is not mistaken is observing how, subsequent of one setting themselves on fire, people seem to notice the severity of the crimes they were trying to bring attention to.

From this loss will arise observation, motivation, and determination.

Incidentally, a few months after Conte passed, another person died that was involved in this nonquestion – one Edgar Schoen, a pediatrician and longtime advocate for circumcision who was put in charge of the 1989 AAP “task force” meant to evaluate the subject. Two years prior, Schoen wrote an “Ode to the Circumcised Male,” with the lines:

“Don’t rue that you suffered a rape of your phallus.
Just hope that one day you can say with a smile
That your glans ain’t passe; it will rise up in style.”

He then effectively reversed the AAP’s 1975 position, which was that, quote: “a program of education to continuing good personal hygiene would offer all the advantages of routine circumcision without the attendant surgical risk. Therefore, circumcision of the male neonate cannot be considered an essential component of adequate total health care.”

Dr. Schoen’s report stated all the usual nonsense: prevention of phimosis, cancer, urinary tract infections, HPV. Now the procedure had “potential medical benefits and advantages as well as disadvantages and risks.” Perceptively, unlike Conte, Edgar Schoen will always be remembered for being a malicious fraud.

The efforts of the late Jonathon Conte, and those of the entire Intactivist movement, can already be demonstrated: nearly every week an article appears decrying the dropping rates of MGM. As was once said of Women’s Suffrage, “We have no choice but to win.” The cause is so obviously just; it’s the stubborn, prickly thorns of bigotry (oftentimes from females who needs their “pretty penises”) and willful ignorance that makes it so frustrating.

Incurred from an act not of his choosing, this became Mr. Conte’s calling in life; one might believe that he could hardly escape it. Perhaps the rest of us can take comfort in a slight modification of Desmond Morris’ commentary: “The continuance of such practices in the twentieth century against a background of modern enlightenment is clearly going to puzzle historians of the distant future.” He meant, not too distant. Then let us forego deathly nihilism, come together in what we believe and are willing to fight for, and thus finally force a smile upon the face of Sisyphus.

Feature Image: Jonathon Conte, Flickr

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