7.13.2005

'What the Hell Is That?!'

Mystery 'Sex Change' Has Curious Flocking to Myanmar Monk-To-Be

from AFP

HLAING THAR YAR, Myanmar - 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 traveled to a pagoda [temple] 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, told AFP in an interview at his home.

"And my breasts disappeared. So I called out and showed it all to my mom and dad. It was very strange."

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.

Local villagers and other curious Myanmar nationals are flocking to the Aung Myay Thar Yar pagoda. 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 told AFP.

"If I was not married, then I too would want to become a man!"

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. "Although some medical checkups have shown her to be a true man."

Hermaphrodites, also known as intersexuals, are often born with ambiguous genitalia, or have both testicular and ovarian tissue in a single person.

Medical doctor Aye Sanda Khaing put it in layman's terms in a local journal: "Her penis appeared at the site of her clitoris."

As he waits for the final test results, Than Sein said he firmly believed he had been transformed, and would enter the Buddhist 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.

"Now I'm happy because my dream won't have to wait until my next life, it's already come true."

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