BANGKOK – If you are a real Thai Buddhist, you probably know about ‘buat phra’ or becoming a monk for your mother. Since the very old times, Thai people believe that all Thai men have to become a monk when they reach the age of 20
Like many other Thai men, Kittaphak Duangchai, 30, from Lampang province in northern Thailand wants to be ordained as a Buddhist monk.
It is a rite of passage that symbolizes a simple life of duty, purity and sacrifice, which would ultimately bring merit, as many Thais believe.
“I am doing it for my mother. I also believe that this will erase the bad karma that has befallen me,” he tells the press on Sunday through an interpreter in Bangkok.
But the seemingly simple act of filial devotion has become almost insurmountable for the boyish-looking young man with close-cropped dyed hair and a smattering of facial hair.
Duangchai was born a hermaphrodite – he has both male and female sex organs. But, in Thailand, only males can become monks.
Despite growing facial hair and experiencing an enlargement of his penis at 17, he was told point blank that he could not join the monkhood.
When Duangchai reached the age age of 20 the chief abbot in his home province Lampang – about seven hours’ drive from Bangkok – told him that as he was registered a female at birth; he could not be a monk.
“I was heartbroken. It was hard for me because I didn’t ask to be born this way.”
Even though he was registered as a girl, he was raised by his parents as a boy.
Mr Duangchai dressed like one too and played with other boys in his village.
Except for his policeman father and self-employed mother, nobody knew his secret.
His family was reportedly too poor to afford any kind of surgery.
His mother was quoted in the Phuket Gazette as saying that she “felt very sorry for her son because he wanted to have his vagina removed but the family could not afford it”.
Since then, Mr Duangchai has had surgery to remove his female reproductive organs.
“Right now, I just have a 1cm slit which needs to be sewn shut. Previously, when I menstruate each month, a little blood would drip from this hole.”
He now has more male hormones too, but says that both his sex organs are “not 100 per cent” functioning.
The soft-spoken Mr Duangchai says: “It’s sad that I will never be able to have children. I have accepted this fact.”
He managed to change the “female” status on his identity card to “male” on Oct 4, attracting media attention.
Since then, he has appeared in Thai newspapers and on TV programmes.
Showing a newspaper report on him, he says: “People who read my story say that I have movie-star looks. They say I should become an actor overseas.”
Earnestly he adds: “That’s why I would like to come to Singapore one day to star in a drama or movie.”
But for now, his fame is helping him with his more immediate needs.
“I’m raising funds of 300,000 baht (S$12,000) for another operation to enlarge my penis along with some other reconstruction surgery.”
He is now working “almost for free” at a Buddhist monastery in Chiangmai teaching English, mathematics and science.
He claims he has been trained in IT, but doesn’t have a permanent job.
He does hope, however, to have a more permanent relationship with his on-and-off girlfriend he refers to only as “Ni”.
“She’s a qualified nurse who is a little shy now that I’m regularly featured in the news,” says MrDuangchai, showing her photo.
“One day, I hope I will be man enough for her, and be allowed to serve with other monks.”
When contacted for his views on Mr Duangchai’s case, Singapore Buddhist Federation secretary general, Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, says: “I have not come across another person with a similar fate, yet this isn’t any fault of his.
“After he goes for his surgery to become a ‘full man’, I see no reason why he shouldn’t be reconsidered to join the monkhood.”