Q&A Quickie: Kenny Neal Shults, Funny for Foreskin
Kenny Neal Shults is a stand-up comic, writer, actor, filmmaker, and public health consultancy owner living in Brooklyn. A self-described “intactivist,” he’s now creating two comical digital shorts exploring the American practice of secular circumcision. We chatted about his passion for fully, ahem, covering the issue.
Gay.net: What's an intactivist?
Kenny Neal Shults: When I lived in San Francisco from 1996 to 2002, I did quite a bit of anti-circumcision activism. I made a connection with a local gay guy who helped run one of the primary anti-circ efforts called NOHARMM, the National Organization to Halt the Routine Mutilation of Males, and met many of the major players in the anti-circ scene — an exclusive band of mostly older gay men whose lives essentially revolved around the discussion of, the fight against, and the recovery from circumcision. When they needed a break from circumcision, they discussed foreskin restoration. These guys called themselves intactivists. I heard some amazingly insightful perspectives and ideas about how to combat the practice, and was inspired by the number of smart, thoughtful, measured people who were a part of this movement.
Why is this intactivism so important to you?
To be honest, I’m not 100% sure. It’s a stupid practice that causes harm, and the basic, common sense injustice of it is something I would naturally oppose the way I oppose clubbing seals, but I don't know why its something about which I feel so passionately. I mean, I’m not out there jumping into freezing oceans to save baby seals, but I gladly embarrass myself, make myself and my perspectives the subject of ridicule, talk about my own eventful circumcision and penis — why? That’s part of what’s so awful about circumcision: It leaves men in the dark. Most men don't even know it happened, don't know they have a scar on their penis, don’t know their penis was supposed to look and feel differently, and don’t have access to feelings that their infant selves undoubtedly experienced and stored for later displacement. To add insult to injury, iterally, everyone makes you feel crazy if you suggest that perhaps we shouldn't cut off the most sensitive part of a newborn baby’s body with a scalpel while he's strapped to a table, screaming and turning purple in the face from the pain. It’s all so unthinkable and otherworldly when you really consider it. Since I was very young, I've always pointed out the elephant in the room — and then ridden it around like a rodeo bull, naked and screaming to everyone what the elephant said about them behind their backs.
How did your upbringing inform your intactivism?
I was a gay kid raised by very conservative southern Baptists, so I have always struggled with shame around sex and sexuality. Many gays do. I went into public health and gay rights activism to try and overcome the ignominy that still makes intimacy a challenge and informs my opinion of myself. So when I found out that circumcision was essentially introduced by John Kellogg — the corn flakes guy — as a means of preventing masturbation, well, the issue became a perfect medium. Guess what, John, if you want to stop a guy from masturbating you better take the whole fucking package, not just the wrapping, because we will always find a way.
What's your favorite part of an intact penis?
The way it looks, honestly. When I was 15 I saw one of those crazy Benetton ads that was so controversial in the ’80s. This one was a poster with about a hundred different penises and vaginas depicted in rows and columns, an array of differently shaped, sized, and colored genitals. And I was so attracted to the intact ones. The look is so — well, sexy. I just think penises look better when they don’t have a big scar across the center. Something about being natural and the way it was intended makes it more appealing.
What's your favorite euphemism for an intact penis?
Lately, turtle. Though that really just zaps the sexy right out of it…