The Man Behind the Bloodstained Suit: The Father of the Circumcision Civil Rights Movement

September 18, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Since the 1970s, Brother K has stood on street corners around the country peacefully protesting a silent, hidden war on American boys and men — circumcision.

A pioneer of a new kind of civil rights movement, Brother K has fought for 40 years for men to have the same right to bodily integrity and autonomy as women do in America.

In other words, he believes men should have the right to decide for themselves, as informed, consenting adults, whether they’d like to participate in a religious ceremony that involves having a significant portion of their genitals cut off.

You may have seen the Bloodstained Men and Their Friends on a street corner near you. They travel all over the country in white suits with crotches painted red, holding signs educating people about what was taken from them, or their fathers, and pleading with them not to take it from their sons.

It’s more than the human foreskin “intactivists” like Brother K are trying to save, it’s a man’s sense of physical, emotional and spiritual wholeness.

“Circumcision is a life-changing, devastating injury to any human being, male or female,” Brother K tells me in the interview below.

“No one disputes that female circumcision gravely injures a girl in her body, her spirit and her mind. Boys are no different.”

“It’s the gravest, most severe injury you can inflict on a human being, to cut off part of their genitals. There’s no greater injury unless you just want to bash in their skull.”

It was such a grave injury to him personally, that it prompted him to change his legal name to “Brother K” in 1980s. The K stands for “kind.”

“I had to change my name to heal myself spiritually,” he says.

“I came to understand I’d been subjected to a religious circumcision in the disguise of medicine, and that was just infuriating and disturbing to me… that I had to live with this evil on my body.”

He learned about the Jewish ritual of naming a boy on its 8th day of life, the same day he is circumcised.

“I figured if it’s that important what if I uncircumcised myself by giving myself my own damn name. And it worked. I am a whole man. They got my body, but spiritually I am whole.”

In the interview above, Brother K tells the story of how he refused to take breast milk or formula for three days after his circumcision. Terrified that he was going to starve, his parents procured goat’s milk for him, which he finally took on the third day.

Refusing to nurse is a common response to circumcision, as the trauma breaks trust between the baby and mother. Brother K believes it broke his trust in humanity as a whole.

“I didn’t want anything to do with this world,” he says.

While it may sound dramatic, his theory is backed by tons of research conducted by medical doctors and psychologists.

Circumcision is an unimaginably torturous surgery performed on the most sensitive part of a baby’s body, wide awake, without anesthesia.

According to psychologist Ronald Goldman, babies retreat into themselves after the attack, unable to trust the world around them, and the trauma can remain hidden deep in their psyches, affecting how they interact with other people, for life.

Brother K described a recurring nightmare that started when he was around 8 years old, in which the universe was being split into two and his struggle to keep it together. He believes it was symbolic of the feeling that his body was being ripped into two during his circumcision.

He calls the experience “utter annihilation — the annihilation of the self.”

“You are completely dehumanized,” he says. “Circumcision is meant to destroy you spiritually. It’s meant to take away your individuality.”

Brother K says whoever invented circumcision couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate part of the body for breaking a person’s spirit and turning them into an “automaton servant of the State.”

“If you peeled the skin off your forefinger, it would be limited to your finger, it wouldn’t reach all the way into your soul,” he says.

“People understand that human sexuality — the union between a man and a woman, or between you and your partners — there are deep spiritual feelings created. It’s not just physical pleasure. There is some deep psychic mechanisms at work, and it’s not in the finger.”

Brother K and his life partner Carol Anne Babyak

I asked Brother K if he thought there was any link between circumcision and rape culture, expressing my personal opinion that circumcision is worse than conventional rape. This was his response:

“It certainly falls into a unique category where penetration of a child’s genitals with a metal object, ripping them open with that metal object and then cutting part of the genitals off with another metal object… the violence, the barbarity of it … it can even make you stop believing that there’s any goodness in human beings.”

After Brother K met his life partner Carol Anne, she helped him start piecing together the unsolved mysteries related to his circumcision — his mother’s story of his refusal to eat after his birth, a story he’d heard in the schoolyard about how boys have part of their penis cut off because “it’s cleaner,” the strange sensation of what he initially thought was a roach crawling up his penis throughout adolescence, the recurring nightmare, and painful sex during his teenage years.

A seasoned political activist, who’d protested against the Vietnam War in college, Brother K knew firsthand the power of peaceful protest. “We took down Nixon and got rid of the draft.”

“So in the mid 70s, when Carol Anne and I started talking about circumcision, I remember asking her ‘how come people protest everything, but there’s never been a protest against circumcision?'”

“What I didn’t realize was, I couldn’t expect someone else to do it, I had to do it.”

So, they spent the summer of 1979 at UC Santa Barbara researching circumcision, informing students and professors about it, and working on a book about its history.

Brother K and Carol Anne

After picketing outside several hospitals and California’s state capitol, the couple started gaining attention from the Sacramento Bee, the Associated Press, and eventually made it on the nightly television news.

Brother K took a break from intactivism in the 80s and 90s to help raise his daughter, not wanting his life to be consumed by the issue, but came back into the fight well-rested when the American Academy of Pediatrics declared there were benefits that outweighed the risks of circumcision in 2012.

Brother K, Carol Anne and their daughter

“That got my blood boiling,” he said, so he decided to come out of “retirement.”

He and six friends headed to New Orleans to protest at the AAP’s annual convention.

One of the young intactivists, the late Jonathan Conte, showed up with a surprise — seven bloodstained suits for them to wear.

Doctors and nurses came rushing out of the convention center with their jaws dropped open, taking pictures, Brother K said.

“The bloodstained suit was the most powerful protest symbol in human history. I’d never seen such a powerful image.”

After that, Brother K started a Facebook page called Bloodstained Men and Their Friends, where he’s been organizing protests and posting daily for the last six years, waking up millions of Americans to the secret nightmare of circumcision.

He and his friends travel the country, protesting in hundreds of cities, in all kinds of weather, all year long, supported only by donations.

At 71 years old, he plans to continue his work “as long as his legs will support him.”

“I’m doing the work for America’s future I wish someone had done for me.”