Curious flock to see sex-change monk-to-be
Thin Sandar, a chicken-seller in Myanmar, had always dreamed of being a man. When she inexplicably grew a penis last month, the 21-year-old treated it as an awe-inspiring omen—as have the thousands of stunned villagers who have travelled to a pagoda to see him.
“On the morning of the full moon day of June 21, I noticed my thing [sex organ] was not the same as before,” Thin Sandar, who now goes by the male name Than Sein, said in an interview at his home.
“And my breasts disappeared,” Than Sein added.
“So I called out and showed it all to my mom and dad.
It was very strange.”
It is strange enough that he has attracted significant attention in this deeply superstitious country, where the unexplained can quickly be exalted to hold powerful spiritual significance.
People privately concede Than Sein is a hermaphrodite. Several medical experts have examined him, and he awaits test results from the central women’s hospital.
But few have come forward with a medical explanation of the transformation as they await an official report by the health ministry, whose experts have also examined Than Sein.
“We can not say right now if she has really undergone a sudden gender change,” said a township official who declined to be named, adding that Than Sein’s birth certificate shows that he was born a girl.
“It can be confirmed when we receive the report from the health ministry, although some medical check-ups have shown her to be a true man,” he added.
Hermaphrodites, also known as intersexuals, are often born with ambiguous genitalia, or have both testicular and ovarian tissue in a single person.
Dr Aye Sanda Khaing put it in layman’s terms in a local journal.
“Her penis appeared at the site of her clitoris,” the medical doctor was quoted as saying.
Regardless of the official findings, local villagers and other curious Myanmar nationals are flocking to the Aung Myay Thar Yar pagoda, in this new satellite township 19km from Yangon, to see Than Sein for themselves and make donations to him or the temple.
Up to 400 gather at the pagoda each day, often in a courtyard under colorful umbrellas to ward off the sun’s rays, waiting for the chance to talk with and touch Than Sein.
“I have never heard of anything like this, so I came to see him,” 21-year-old housewife Thandar Win said. “If I was not married, then I too would want to become a man!”
When word spread of Than Sein’s transformation, locals raced to his home to see for themselves. Authorities, sensing a possible security hazard—and, perhaps, an opportunity—hastily arranged for him to be moved to the pagoda to accommodate more visitors.
Than Sein appeared comfortable with the sudden attention in the new surroundings. Wearing a checkered longyi, the traditional Myanmar pants commonly worn by men, he sat on a rug in the pagoda’s side building, flanked by his parents.
“I was so happy,” father Kyaw Htay (46) said about his son’s developments. “I wanted other sons so they could offer themselves as Buddhist monks, but I had only two daughters.”
Occasionally, Than Sein stepped out to talk with excited visitors, who shook his hand, stroked his arm and wished him well.
A Myanmar state television crew has already interviewed him and awaits the military junta’s permission to air the broadcast nationwide.
As he waits for the final test results, Than Sein said he firmly believes he has been transformed, and will enter the monkhood for a period of time and seek spiritual contemplation and guidance before deciding whether to marry and raise a family.
“Whenever I went to the pagoda, I prayed to become a man in my next life,” he said, referring to the Buddhist concept of rebirth.
“Now I’m happy because my dream won’t have to wait until my next life, it’s already come true.”—AFP