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In Memoriam: On the Passing of My Personal Hero and Friend Jonathon Conte

For those who knew him personally, he was a bright and friendly person. But on the inside, he was tormented by many things, and circumcision was near or at the top of this list of grievances.
Jonathon Conte
Jonathon Conte

It is with deep sadness that I write this. Last Monday, May 9, I lost a dear friend and fellow activist, Jonathon Conte.

For those who knew him personally, he was a bright and friendly person. But on the inside, he was tormented by many things, and circumcision was near or at the top of this list of grievances.

Conte accomplished many things during his life. First and foremost, he was the lead organizer of Bay Area Intactivists. Conte was instrumental in the 2011 San Francisco MGM Bill initiative to extend the female genital mutilation law to protect children of all sexes. He also spurred me on to become more active and start the NYC Intactivists group. Conte and I kept in touch frequently and shared strategies and had ongoing projects together at the time of his death, including maintaining the events listings on IntactNews.

When people asked Conte about his sexual orientation, “Are you gay or straight?” he would coyly reply, “I’m an intactivist.” He was a very private person. We both went to the Genital Autonomy Symposium at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the summer of 2014. Conte and I climbed onto a rooftop overlooking the campus under a starry night. It was his idea. I laid bare my inner workings to Conte and he barely talked personal details about himself. But he did mention his family back in Florida whom he cut off all contact from, a very difficult thing to do. We shared our concerns with the intactivist movement, expressed our common frustrations and talked strategy. I’m really grateful we shared that moment together.

In the recent past, I’ve become concerned about Conte. I watched as he took to the streets to do more and more unplanned solo protests against circumcision, seemingly without break. I recognized outward signs of sadness that were growing. Just before his death, Conte shared his mother’s day photo on Facebook that he’d shared years previously, his face wearing an expression of deep torment. His face in that photo expresses how he constantly felt about what was done to him, what was done to many of his friends, what was done to millions of boys and girls and intersex children, and what is and continues to be done. Conte frequently hid these feelings behind a smile. But it is these feelings that drove him out into the streets to act. And he often bravely shouldered so much weight all by himself.

Jonathon Conte killed himself on Monday, May 9, 2016 at his home in San Francisco. I've been feeling so devastated since hearing this news early the next morning. But I also feel so fortunate for having counted him as a friend, and will carry forth his legacy for the rest of my days.


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Thank you Jonathan for this very real and moving account of your relationship with Jonathon Conte. His death was a devastating experience for me and so many others. I am inspired to move forward and speak out more honestly about forced genital mutilation or #HGM - human genital mutilation. HIs example coupled with the screams and pain caused by this terrible human rights violation will are the voices I hear above the lies, arrogance, ignorance and denial of those that, practice, promote and profit from what is child abuse.

Thank you, Jonathan, for this personal account of Jonathon's life and death. I did not have a chance to meet him personally, and had hoped that might happen in Seattle this summer. Yet, his powerful and intimate presence in his Bonobo interview led me to feel like I knew him. Even though he was intensely private, he was very present and deep in revealing his knowledge and feelings about forced genital cutting.

I, too, speculated that his intense activism was both a therapy and an increased burden on his emotional state, having experienced something like that at a time in my own life. Suicidal ideation is common in those times.

I have rarely felt such a loss for someone I never met, because he made one feel like you had met him. His work lives on in all of us, rededicated to ending the kind of pain that lead to his death.

Thanks again for your tribute to this dear man!

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May you rest in peace, as memories of you live on, Jonathon.
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