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Sex with Dr. Jess


January 22, 2021

Somatic Therapy, Sexual Healing & FGM/C

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Psychotherapist, Farzana Doctor, joins us to discuss her latest novel, Seven. She shares her own story as a survivor and an activist and discusses the role the body can play in healing. She also sheds light on the practice of female genital mutilation and cutting, which occurs in all corners of the globe, including North America. We discuss somatic therapy, labiaplasty, and the perils of white saviorism as well as her journey of healing post trauma.

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Rough Transcript:

This is a computer-generated rough transcript, so please excuse any typos. This podcast is an informational conversation and is not a substitute for medical, health or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the services of an appropriate professional should you have individual questions or concerns.

EPISODE 197: Somatic Therapy, Sexual Healing & FGMC


You’re listening to the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast. Sex and relationship advice you can use tonight.

Dr. Jess (0:18):

Hey hey. Brandon how you doing today?

Brandon (0:20):

I’m doing pretty good. How are you?

Dr. Jess (0:22):

I’m good. I saw that you had a big day today.

Brandon (0:26):

I did, big morning.

Dr. Jess (0:28):

You had your first friend date since like, their first virtual friend date, since the onset of COVID. We’re like ten months in and you told me you were going to have coffee with a friend online and I was like, “Oh my god. That’s so exciting.” And I mean I know we talk about relationships. But I wonder if we should spend some more time talking about friendships.

Brandon (0:52):

Yeah I had a great, I mean just caught up with a friend over coffee. And like you said it was the first time since this began that I haven’t kind of jumped in on your group of friends to have some connection. So there’s this friend of mine who we would meet once every week or two, have coffee, catch up, and honestly just talk. And not like surface, superficial conversations but deeper conversations. We’ve shed some tears together. When our dog passed away he was one of the few people that I shared the story with. And it was really hard for me and honestly I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this but we were both like in tears, at this coffee shop which was a little different.

Dr. Jess (01:37):

So that was a few years ago. Darkhorse, in the Canary District district right?

Brandon (01:43):

Yeah coming up on about two years ago that happened. And since then we’ve shared in other things that have been going on in my life, and things that were going on in his life, and it doesn’t always get deep, but it’s nice to have a friend where you can dig a little bit deeper and you can open up because it’s not something that I felt like I grew up with. I had a lot of friends that we that we really shared, I guess intimately about, like things of it.

Dr. Jess (02:09):

Yeah and I bring it up because you know, I’m super social and you tend to kind of pop in and pop out. And I think sometimes and correct me if I’m wrong, my friend group fills your social cup right? Like you kinda just come and hang with us for a little bit. Then you pull a Brandon and leave us. But I guess during these different times where I’m not seeing any of my friends right now, we are with two of my cousins here, that’s who we’re living with actually. They’re moving out though tomorrow, they’re you know, they’re leaving us. But I guess what I’m asking is, does it feel good to like actually reach out and have your own social circle? Is that important to you? I think sometimes you know, I have a bunch of friends, so I think you should have a bunch of friends, but those “shoulds,” don’t make sense, because what I need isn’t necessarily what you need. And I don’t think it’s an uncommon pattern for the more social partner to kind of keep the social calendar of the perhaps less social partner, if that makes sense.

Brandon (03:12:):

I do rely on you for social connections, like during non COVID times you know, if we were going to a party, oftentimes you organized it or you’re invited. I mean I certainly am invited to,

Dr. Jess (03:26):

Dude you are invited to so many parties, and you don’t even tell me, I’m like “I wanted to go to that party.”

Brandon (03:30):

I get invited to a lot of events. But I often find myself not going. My social, I mean you talked about my cup, I find I get a lot of it fill from my work. But I do very much enjoy hanging out with your friends. I don’t get to say very much,

Dr. Jess (03:46):

No because we loud, we loud.

Brandon (03:48):

But you know it’s fun to be around them, and I feel like that fills my cup. But over the last ten months, it has been much more limited. So no I value that relationship very much. And yes, this was my first virtual friend date, so it was nice to grab coffee and to catch up. And also I’ve learned so much from these podcasts. I mean there are people that we’ve interviewed, I’ve taken a lot out of that, willingness to be vulnerable and that willingness to kind of push the comfort zone, when you’re ready with a group of friends, who you feel like they’ll respond well to. Like Emeka,

Dr. Jess (04:28):

Emeka Menakaya, if folks haven’t listened to that episode, you can go back and listen because there’s so much good stuff in there about vulnerability, specifically for men. And he is the host of the Hustlers Corner Podcast, and I know that interview really had an impact on you.

Brandon (04:42):

Yeah I thought his willingness to open up to his friend group was really commendable. I thought it was great. I also took a lot, I’ve taken a lot of the conversations that we’ve had with Courtney Brame.

Dr. Jess (04:58):

And Courtney is the host of Something Positive for Positive People. He does such incredible work and he’s actually going to be on the podcast in the next couple of weeks. So I bring it up because I don’t know, maybe people need a reminder or permission or I don’t know, just some sort of allegation that it’s okay to reach out to a friend. Because like was it weird that you guys haven’t gotten together in so long and then you kinda reconnected today?

Brandon (05:34):

We do connect via text, so it wasn’t as though all of a sudden after ten months I reached and said, “Hey let’s have a vulnerable chat.” No we’ve kept in touch and we do, actually that’s not true. I’m sorry I take that back. We did get together for coffee probably about seven months ago back in the summertime.

Dr. Jess (05:42):

Oh like an outdoor coffee.

Brandon (05:43):

We were distanced. And you know, he’s got some people at high risk in his group, so we had to take extra precautions. But so I guess it was my second friend date during this, but it was again, I felt comfortable in his presence to open up. But that took, he’s got such a nice way about him, that you know in our initial conversations, I still felt comfortable enough pushing that boundary and saying something that felt vulnerable. So anyway, really long way to say it was a great friend date.

Dr. Jess (06:18):

You know we’ve been talking about friendships. My other cousin Steven, had asked us the other day like, “who are your friends?”

Brandon (06:27):

I was like, “it’s you Steven.” I know a lot of people. I don’t know that they would all consider me friends. I think we’re all friendly. I mean my clients in a lotta ways, and I know this sounds like the typical “They become friends.”

Dr. Jess (06:44):

Some of them do.

Brandon (06:46):

But some of them really do become good friends.

Dr. Jess (06:49):

Any client who has a corgi? Even if I don’t see you, I consider you a friend.

Brandon (06:54):

But I don’t have a lot of friends. And you know what thinking back on my parents relationship, I remember that my mom had friends, but my dad didn’t seem to have a lot of friends. And I don’t know the intricacies of their relationship and his friendships, but I’m pretty darn sure he didn’t have a bunch of friends that he would call up on the regular.

Dr. Jess (07:23):

So I bring it up not to make a thing out of it. I’m just curious how you feel about that. Do you want more friends? Like not that I’m taking applications for your friends or anything, but you feel good about you know, I guess I’m asking sorry, I’m kind of falling over my words here, because I am so social. It’s harder for me to understand not being around so many people. I know we have a lot of close relationships with some family members right? Like a couple of my cousins.

Brandon (07:55):

I feel very lucky to have like just this moment, when I’m thinking about the people in my life that I’m closest to, I feel very lucky to have them. Do I want more friends? I’m always happy to have more friends. Always looking to have more people karaoke with us or actually, maybe I take that back. Maybe I just want the microphone. But I right now, I feel pretty content with my friend circle. But I don’t want to discount anybody else who wants to be my friend.

Dr. Jess (08:29):

You’re so Canadian, so diplomatic. You’re like “nah, I’m good man, but also if you wanna be my friend, I’m not trying to tell you not to apply.”

Brandon (08:35):

And I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Dr. Jess (08:37):

I’m actually kind of glad that that’s what you said. Not because I want you to feel bad, but because I think it’s a good illustration of the fact that we have really different social needs and that’s fine. You can have one really close friend, and I might have 4 really close friends. Honestly I don’t have a lot of really, really close friends. But I have a lot of, I feel really lucky, like we have people in our lives, like a couple of my cousins, couple of other family members.

Brandon (09:03):

Even some of our neighbours,

Dr. Jess (09:05):

Who are good friends.

Brandon (09:7):

And when I do think about like the three or four people that come to mind, that you spent a lot of time with during this pandemic and during the restrictions that we’ve had, I feel lucky that you have those people because I’ve benefited tremendously. And I’ll tell you I feel like when I’ve needed to have somebody listen, I know that’s hard to believe with some of your friends, but I feel like they are willing to listen and that means a lot. We can joke around. We can play around. But when somebody needs to hear me, I feel like I’m heard

Dr. Jess (09:40):

That’s really cool. I wish my friends were here to hear that, because I kind of know who you’re talking about. I really think that’s cool. Alright, before we get into the main topic of today’s episode, I want to say thank you to At home medical and health and hormone testing for all of your needs from STIs, to all the different levels we need in our body. You order online, they send you the kit, you give them a sample, mail it in and you can check your results securely online. And a lot of people are actually using those and if you are using it please go to and use code DRJESS to save, so that they know you heard about it here. In this episode, we’re going to be talking about sensitive subject matters. So I just want to offer a warning and an opportunity to opt out if this isn’t perhaps the time for you because we will be discussing physical trauma with a survivor. And so if you’re not feeling like this is something you can handle right now or it’s something that’s going to feel triggering, of course you know you can take a break, or save it for another time or just decide that this episode isn’t fit for you and that’s perfectly fine. We’re going to be speaking about female genital cutting with Farzana Doctor, an award winning writer, activist, psychotherapist. In her latest novel, “Seven,” she writes the story of Sharifa. And Sharifa is a schoolteacher in New York City. She has a husband Murtuza, and a seven year old daughter. And the family takes a trip to India, which is sort of intended to be a a marriage saving trip as I understand it. She’s feeling bored in New York, bored in her marriage, and on that trip she intends to research her great great grandfather, who was a wealthy business leader and philanthropist. Bought she uncovers other pieces of her family story that she had never heard before. So you know, it was supposed to be a rags to riches story about her great great grandfather, but she also discovers the mystery of his four wives which has been missing from the family lore, and she excavates so much more. Now her trip also coincides with a time of unrest within her family community, which is described as insular and conservative religious community. And so there’s no escaping its politics. At the time there’s a group of feminist locally, who are speaking out against Khatna, which is an age old ritual that they describe as female genital cutting. And now Sharifa’s 2 favourite cousins are on opposite sides of this debate and she’s sort of looking to be middle ground, but as it heats up she continues to learn and is forced to take a position on Khatna, or female genital cutting. And to provide additional context to Sharifa’s story, as well as discuss some of the issues in the book, from female genital cutting to relationships to sexuality to infidelity and religion and healing sexual trauma, is the author Farzana Doctor. Welcome Farzana, thank you so much for being here.

Farzana Doctor (12:55):

Thank you for having me. It’s such a pleasure.

Dr. Jess (12:58):

Now you describe yourself as a survivor and an activist in the End FGM movement. Can you tell us what it means to be a survivor?

Farzana Doctor (13:08):

It just means that I’ve experienced Khatna. And Khatna is type 1 FMG. There’s four different types. And so It’s quite a big deal actually, to identify as a survivor. It’s very hard to do it. It’s such a taboo subject. There’s such a culture of shame and silence around it. So when people are able to identify as a survivor, I think it’s a very special thing.

Dr. Jess (13:39):

Yeah and you know, when you talk about Khatna, or FGM, can you tell us what it entails? I’ve already offered folks a warning that maybe this isn’t for everybody to listen to. But can you tell us what what FGM, or FGMC stands for? You’ve talked about different levels, can you walk us through that a little bit?

Farzana Doctor (13:56):

Definitely yes. So FGMC stands for female genital mutilation/cutting, people use both words to describe it. And it refers to anything that has to do with harming, injuring, or altering the female genitalia for non medical purposes. And I really liked that you’ve asked me to define all of this because the more we normalize this, the better it’s going to be for changing this practice. So it happens across the globe, in ninety two countries. More and more survivors across the world are speaking out, including white Christian woman in the US, people in Russia and Colombia, and of course across Africa and the Middle East and India. There are four different kinds. And there’s of course no standardization, ’cause mostly this happens by amateur cutters. Sometimes it happens by medical cutters too, but again there’s no standardization because everyone’s bodies are different and the circumstances where this happens, it’s often under duress. Little girls are not told what’s gonna be happening to their bodies, they often don’t know what’s happening to their bodies. And so there ends up being kind of this process of confusion and sometimes struggle. And so that means that sometimes what supposed to be and I’m using air quotes “a light cut,” ends up being a much worse cut, because of struggle. So Khatna, the form my community practices, is supposed to be a cut to the clitoral hood. But sometimes the clit gets cut too, and that’s what type one is. It’s either a cut to the clitoral hood or to the clitoris. Sometimes it’s called clitoridectomy. And then there’s type two, which involves all of what I just mentioned, as well as cutting labia. And then there’s type three, which is type one, plus type two, plus also stitching up the person so that there’s only a small hole that’s big enough for urination and menstruation. And then there’s type four, which is like all other kinds of harm. So it could be pricking, it could be burning. It could be, right now, they’re also talking about labia pulling, that happens in some communities. But I think as we hear more and more survivors come forward, we’re gonna probably learn about more forms that will then end up in type four. So those are, that’s the range.

Dr. Jess (16:37):

It’s interesting, you bring up a couple of points that I’d like to touch on. So first of all, white Christian women, in the United States. Because I do think that, and perhaps I don’t want to speak for everyone, but my own ignorance leads me to believe that this is a cultural or religious practice that is associated offshore right? And that’s probably my Canadian, Eurocentric, assuming that this happens in faraway lands, even if those are lands that I visit. So what is the reasons, so you’ve talked about your culture and Khatna, why are white Christian women undergoing a form of FGM or FGMC on American, or North American soil.

Farzana Doctor (17:19):

Yes so, it really has to do with the mythology that girls and non binary kids bodies need to be controlled right? And sexuality needs to be controlled as though this is some kind of threatening force within us. And so all across the globe, this is the reason why it’s done. And then you know there might be other kind of factors that have to do with the context, but you know people can look up a case. There’s a woman named Renée Bergstrom, who has spoken out about it in the US. And for her it was about, she was caught masturbating by her mom, the mom didn’t know what to do and went to a doctor, and the doctor performed type one FGM on her. And I recently heard from a colleague, that Blue Cross was covering forms of FGM into the seventies.

Dr. Jess (18:16):

Wow interesting. Now, when we talk about FMG or any cutting, I think we can’t ignore more Western practices, like labiaplasty. And we actually spoke about labiaplasty not too long ago. And that is for a non medical reason, it’s usually for a cosmetic reason. And I’ve mentioned this story before, but I’d like to say it again, that oftentimes we don’t understand the full anatomy of the clitoris. And I sometimes will do sexuality trainings for physicians. And I will never forget my first sexuality training for OBGYNs, because I skipped over the part really quickly about the clitoral anatomy. I remember clicking through the slides and saying “okay, you know the vestibular bulbs, you know the legs, you know the hood, you know the shaft.” And then they stopped me, and said “Jess go back, like we have no clue about, we know that these areas are there, but we didn’t know that they’re either associated with or part of the clitoris, because the clitoris been reduced to its head alone”. So oftentimes, when we think about the clitoris, we think about this tiny little pea sized bump rich in nerve endings at the top of where the labia meet. And we treat it like it’s a doorbell, even though I’m telling everyone it’s not a doorbell. You’re not, you don’t have to ring it. And we forget about its foreskin, its shaft, its internal erectile tissue. And so that’s a long way of getting to a discussion I had with a physician, a cosmetic surgeon I suppose, who had emailed me, and had performed libiaplasty, so he had reduced the size of this patient slips, and he had also removed some of the hood of the clitoris. Well, she complained, she went back to him and said “I can’t have orgasms anymore. I’m having trouble. I can’t get off like, I was functioning before. I just didn’t like the aesthetics.” And he said to me, “Can you please explain to her that I didn’t touch her clitoris.” And of course I couldn’t, because the hood is a part of the clitoris. And so I guess since you know, I talk about sex, have you had experience or collected insights on how FGM or FGMC affects, I would think both sexual functioning and maybe sexual feelings and exploration and attitudes?

Farzana Doctor (20:41):

Absolutely yes. And you know, everyone’s body is different and so everybody’s experiences are going to be different. So a group called Sahiyo, which works against this practice ,as well as a group called “We Speak Out”, did 2 similar kinds of studies, to ask survivors about their experiences. And one of the areas that they looked into was sexual functioning as well as you know psychological issues and consequences. And about thirty percent said that they felt that their sex lives had been quite impacted. It’s only thirty percent, and there were things like too much sensitivity or not enough sensitivity, not being able to orgasm. And then there were about thirty five percent who said they didn’t know if it had affected them, and I found that to be very interesting. Because you know most people haven’t received enough sex ed, they don’t know about what their clitorises are for and what their clitoral hood is for, and the whole clitoral anatomy and so on right? So I find it very telling that thirty five percent said they didn’t know. And then you know people also talked about things like not being able to trust people. So I think some of the symptoms that people can experience around all of this is very similar to other forms of sexual trauma. Some you know, for example, child abuse, child sexual abuse survivors, will say you know, “I’m just fine. I don’t have any impact.” And others will say, “I have a lot of impact.” So it’s the same thing with FGMC survivors.

Dr. Jess (22:17):

I think that’s so important to highlight that range of reactions, and really normalize, so that you don’t feel like “well what’s wrong with me? I experienced trauma in this way, and another person you know, responded to trauma another way.” Now you have written that you love talking about this very taboo subject and you hope to normalize conversations around it so that one day it may end. And now not every survivor wants to talk about their trauma. So I’m curious how talking and sharing very publicly through your writing, but also through you know media work, how is talking a part of your survival process? And did you always want to talk about this or are we just catching you at a different moment in this process?

Farzana Doctor (23:00):

Thank you for that question. Yeah I think you’re catching me at a moment. So for a long time, I started being an activist around this in 2015, and at the same time, I was really working through my own trauma around this. I stayed very much out of the spotlight. I did really background work. And I would watch my comrades be able to give media interviews and stand on stages and I would admire them so much but I just couldn’t do it, and anytime I tried in a small way, I would dissociate, I would sleep badly, I would be a bit wrecked. And at the same time, I was writing this novel about my community and Khatna, and it’s my fourth novel, so I knew what the promotion process would be like, and I knew that it would just be so much more powerful if I could follow their examples. And so I did more therapy, I practiced with journalist friends, and I still was dreading it. And then something happened. By the time I did my second interview, I realized that it was feeling good, that the questions that were coming my way were not feeling like intrusions. It felt like this book was an amazing vehicle, an opportunity to be able to do something I’d always wanted to do. And I really think that the more we talk about it, the harder it is for this practice to continue, because silence is the real villain here. It’s not, I mean it’s bad cutters continue doing it, it’s bad that the practice keeps happening, but I think it’s the silence that is the vehicle to keep it going.

Dr. Jess (24:42):

And so talking about it has been a part of your process of managing or working through trauma. What about writing? What led you to write “Seven”?

Farzana Doctor (24:53):

So “Seven” came I think from my activism. But writing novels is also this magical mysterious process, maybe all writing is, so I found myself sitting down with my coffee and these fully formed fictional scenes were just kind of oozing out. And I know by now to just let that happen, and by the time I had about twenty of those scenes, I was like “oh god I have a novel.” And you just have to follow that. There’s no other choice.

Dr. Jess (25:25):

And maybe we consider some of these approaches less traditional when we think about survivors, of all types of trauma, speaking publicly, writing publicly, like this isn’t really journaling, this is something public, and then activism. We may not think of those three routes but I think it is a reminder that working through trauma is so individualized.

Farzana Doctor (25:48):

And I don’t think that everybody should be public. And I don’t think everybody should you know, be pressured to do that. Often, there is a pressure to do that because you might be involved in some kind of activism, and maybe there’s not another survivor who can speak to that media person, and so you get pushed maybe prematurely into it. And then you end up kind of bleeding on stage, bleeding on the page, and it’s not a good thing. So each person has to really decide if this is the healthiest thing for them.

Dr. Jess (26:20):

Would you mind sharing a little bit more about your process of healing, anything else we’ve missed here, besides activism and writing and you mentioned therapy?

Farzana Doctor (26:29):

Yes so I’m a psychotherapist myself, who works with trauma survivors. So I knew as having various symptoms come up, for example I was having a lot of nightmares, I was having a lot of freeze responses during sex, I was crying during sex for the first time in my life when all of this was coming up. So I knew that it was time to go to therapy. And I also did some work to educate my therapist about Khatna, because I knew that most therapists haven’t been trained in this, most doctors haven’t been trained in this either. So I found someone I really liked, sent her lots of information and websites, and she was wonderful. And so we started with mindfulness work around sex and learning how to own the body again, and slow things down. I also did some work with a somatic experiencing therapist, which was really beautiful. Because trauma stays in the body until it can be released. And I’m also a therapist who enjoys IFS, or internal family systems therapy. So I did some of that work as well with a therapist and with myself. And that’s been really great. So those are some of the modalities that I went for.

Dr. Jess (27:49):

Would you mind speaking about somatic therapy? I think that’d be new to many of us.

Farzana Doctor (27:55):

So somatic therapy is a way of really kind of focusing the body in the therapy. So there’s this idea that we have these kinds of frozen responses to trauma, so there’s a really great comic, that an organization called NICBM, I think they’re called, have created, where they have this picture of a guy who is in a car accident and his fingers are just curled around the steering wheel and his eyes are bugging out and his face is rigid like you know, how you would imagine somebody would be. And then you know you next see him in another situation at a grocery store and he’s got the same expression on his face, and his hands are you know clasped around the buggy. And then there’s another picture where he’s at a barbecue, again, same posture, same face. And so there’s this idea that our frozen responses to trauma stay within our body. So if in this case of Khatna, the frozen response would be the terror. It would be not being able to push somebody off of you. It would be not being able to say “no, get away from me.” So these things get stuck, and so what can happen is you can be in a sexual experience with a wonderful partner, and you find yourself frozen and wanting to say “get off of me,” but you can’t. So that’s just an example. So work with those frozen responses, to do the push away, to do the words, to kind of free that from your body.

Dr. Jess (29:44):

And somatic therapist is a part of that process right? So it is hands on work therapy, and we know that in traditional therapeutic fields in the West, you know if we think about the APA, the American Psychological Association, and so many governing bodies, they are afraid to touch anything that has to do with touch, which is leaving out such an important sense right? When we think about our five senses, could you imagine doing therapy without speaking or hearing right, all of these different pieces. So I’m happy to hear about that. In terms of somatic therapy, if people are interested in learning more, would you have any recommendations on where they might seek additional resources?

Farzana Doctor (30:29):

They can just Google “somatic experiencing therapy.” And by the way, mine didn’t involve any touch, because I was working with somebody over zoom. And so a lot of it was, she was helping me sense into my body, and noticing what was going on, and then you know prompting me, because she had a sense, she was watching me. So you actually don’t have to be touched if you don’t want to be. And you know in the age of this pandemic, so much more therapy is online.

Dr. Jess (31:01):

That’s great to hear. And I do think of course, we’d rather not be in the pandemic, but learning that we can do these things virtually, is I think really meaningful. And it makes them more accessible to so many more people. Now, if we can go back to your book, in the reviews of “Seven”, I noticed that readers continuously noted that you address Khatna or FGMC from multiple perspectives, to help us to understand its cultural and religious significance. Can you provide some more context as to why some of your characters, so the cousins for example, including women, would value and support this practice? Because you know condemning a practice without context and understanding, probably isn’t going to be that effective, it can be very imperialistic, very colonial. So can you give us some context either in your own experience or through the lens of your characters, as to why people value Khatna?

Farzana Doctor (32:00):

Yes and I really wanted to write a book that was nuanced, because I wanted to get into all of that. As an activist, I can write a tweet that says you know, “FGM is child abuse.” But does that, will that, change minds and hearts of people who think that this is a normal thing to do? No, it won’t right? So what I like to say, is that if there’s any culture behind GFM, it’s the culture of patriarchy, which is a global phenomenon. So how it happened specifically though in our community, it’s the Dawoodi Bohra community, and this is a community where we have an apex leader, a little bit like how Catholics have the pope. And in our case, we have really been taught never to question him. And so anything he says must be done. So it can feel very sacrilegious, and I’m not a religious person, and I grew up in a home that was quite liberal. And yet even I’ve felt a little bit of this sort of discomfort or restriction, around challenging what he has to say. It’s just, that’s a real cultural phenomenon. So people don’t question, and they believe that he is really a benevolent figure. So if he’s saying something is good, than it must be good. And if you’re told, over you know, many, many, generations that this is something that actually makes girls good, and marriageable, and acceptable, then you believe it. And this is carried out by the women, the women are often as Mona Eltahawy likes to say, the women are the foot soldiers of the patriarchy. So they are the ones who enforce the practice, but they’re also the ones who have experienced the trauma themselves. And we know that trauma gets suppressed, you know trauma silences us. And so you know, they might have all kinds of feelings about it, but they’re not allowing themselves to feel it, and they might have dissociated completely as well. So until you break the silence and say, “hey this can be really harmful, it is harmful, you know a violation of a child’s body,” until people have that information and really think about it, and then challenge what they’ve learned, it can’t stop. And so I’ve tried to have characters in the book that really believe in it, and have to have conversations with my protagonist, who is fumbling her way through to understand it all, and who’s questioning them.

Dr. Jess (34:43):

Now when we look at this from the outside, so I know our listeners are across the world, but many in North America and Western Europe, how do we address, I think racist interpretations that create an “us” versus “them” right? “They” do wrong, “they” are patriarchal, in fact the whole world is patriarchal. Or even notions of white saviourism, where perhaps we want to support the movement but do it in a way that centres the voices of those who really have the understanding and experience? How do we begin with that?

Farzana Doctor (35:15):

Yes and I think it’s about learning how to be a good ally or being in solidarity. So look for the organizations that are survivor led, that are feminist and amplify their messages, donate to them. In Canada, we have the End FGMC network, in the US there’s the US End FGMC network, in Europe there’s a similar one that I think is called the EU FGMC, Ending FGMC, something network. So everywhere you go, there are these networks, there are these organizations, and so you look out for them. And I think just understanding that patriarchy is global and perhaps FGMC is not that different from rape culture. It’s not that different from sexual harassment. It’s not that different from you know, all of the mythology we learn about you know virgin and whore right? So it’s all the same bucket of garbage. So we kind of say, “here’s just another form of that garbage.” Then it’s not over there, it’s everywhere, and it’s us too.

Dr. Jess (36:28):

Absolutely, and do you run into conversations around comparing FGMC to circumcision of the penis?

Farzana Doctor (36:37):

Yes all the time. And people have a lot of questions about this particularly because sometimes that’s the language that’s used. “Female circumcision” is sometimes used in lieu of FGMC. So I think what we need to talk about here, is that the similarities between both is that it’s a violation of the child’s body, it’s an issue of lack of consent, right? But there is a difference, because the anatomy is different. So removing the foreskin of a penis versus the foreskin of clitoris is gonna look and feel very, very different right? Because of how different the genitalia are. You know when you think about the clitoral hood, it’s just such a thin membrane.

Dr. Jess (37:35):

And it’s tiny.

Farzana Doctor (37:37):

It’s tiny on a seven year old. And seven is the age, plus or minus a few years, that it happens in our community.

Dr. Jess (37:44):

I imagine even what you just said could be upsetting to people. You know when we think about circumcision as nonconsensual, I don’t know if you want to say anything about that Brandon?

Brandon (37:55):

I mean I’ve never really thought about it from that perspective to be quite honest. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Maybe I’m disclosing something now that I never had before.

Dr. Jess (38:10):

Yeah, you’ve never talked about it on the podcast.

Brandon (38:12):

It’s not something until this exact moment that I ever thought about. I’m not disappointed, I’m not, I haven’t really, to be quite frank, I haven’t ever thought about it. And now this conversation that we’ve had, and listening to you, is gonna make me reflect on it. Which is something I really appreciate about every guest that comes on, is an opportunity to think and reflect and think and dig a little bit deeper into my own experience. So it’s not that I don’t want to add to this conversation, I just feel that you know as far as on everything you’ve said is just so interesting to me, that I want to absorb, I wanna listen, I wanna hear, I wanna learn more. So yeah for my own experience, I don’t really know what else to say, other than I feel like I have a bit more reading and thinking to do.

Dr. Jess (39:03):

Well that aligns even with what you were talking about earlier Farzana, with regard to data, people don’t know necessarily if it’s affected them. And I’m not suggesting that being circumcised as a child for you, is the same as what somebody else experienced as trauma at the age of seven. I’m not saying, I’m definitely not saying that your circumcision was traumatic. I don’t think you’ve ever experienced it that way or feel that way, and probably never will.

Brandon (39:27):

I would agree that it’s not something that to me ever crossed my mind as being traumatic.

Dr. Jess (39:33):

Though we did talk about, when we used to talk about having kids, which we don’t anymore, but we talked about circumcision. I don’t know if you mind sharing this, but I mean I remember many years ago, you’re saying “well yeah. I’d want my kid circumcised because I’m circumcised.” And I remember saying “well, I don’t feel the same way, but let’s table it, because we’re not even really having a kid anyway.”

Brandon (40:00):

But I do feel differently now, even more recently.

Dr. Jess (40:03):

You mentioned “even more recently.”

Brandon (40:05):

Yeah, recently having these conversations, I feel like it’s an opportunity to learn. I feel like it’s an opportunity for me, in this particular topic, if we were to have a son and have the discussion about circumcising them, I think it would warrant a lot more research on my part before I made a unilateral decision, without thinking about all or a number of different perspectives. Like a number of different angles. Like you know, number one, what are my own existing thoughts, like why?

Dr. Jess (40:38):

And your biases like, why do you want your kids penis to look like your penis?

Brandon (40:44):

Exactly. And you know, thinking about some of these other, like the social pressures, cultural pressures, the aesthetic element, does that matter? The pleasure component, like all of these elements that could be affected by this decision that I’m taking on myself. And again, going back to what are my own, why am I doing this? And what is the purpose? What is the outcome?

Farzana Doctor (41:06):

So that’s an example of the nuance in the conversation right? I think that male circumcision, except for in cases where It’s deemed to be a religious requirement, it’s really like a social norm right, that is unexamined. And I think that’s what happens in the vast majority of cases with FGMC as well. Until it’s examined, it’s just this normal thing, even though it sounds terrible and traumatic and it is.

Dr. Jess (41:40):

Now your your main character Sharifa, who feels torn between her two cousins. As I understand it, in the beginning she wants to kind of find middle ground but is forced to reckon with a specific truth and take a position in the end. How important was it for your character to I don’t know if I can say come full circle, but you know take a stand that perhaps you know reflects your perspective or your experience?

Farzana Doctor (42:05):

Yes, and I knew that I was going to take her there. I wanted her to start though from a place that was quite clueless, because I wanted to be able to present the information in these digestible chunks for the reader. So that’s why she’s kind of confused and bumbling along. But I did know that I needed to take her to the human rights end of the argument, in the end. Because you know, I think that novelists and artists of all kinds have the ability to change the status quo, and to present possibilities through imagination.

Dr. Jess (42:50):

Right, and that’s what you’re doing. And I really appreciate the way you’ve done this with creativity, activism, through authorship, which I can’t fathom because I’ve written books, but I can’t even fathom what it’s like to write a fiction book, but also a book that brings in these political important pieces around characters, around sexuality, around religion, around cultural differences and sensitivity. So I’m really thankful for your writing. Folks can check out “Seven” by Farzana Doctor, available wherever books are sold. Really appreciate your time today, sharing your own story as well as a little bit more about your character.

Farzana Doctor (43:29):

Oh thank you so much. Both of you, Jess and Brandon for having me on your show. I really appreciate it.

Dr. Jess (43:35):

Thank you. And thank you for listening. Before you go, if you’re interested in Farzana’s book, I do have a discount code for you, twenty five percent off using the code DOCTOR25. So DOCTOR25 to save, if you’re interested in learning more and reading “Seven”, and there’s a reason it’s a best selling book, so do go check it out. Thanks again for joining us, wherever you’re at, have a great week.


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