If some doctors like to play God, Dr. Kim Seok-Kwun is content just correcting the Big Guy’s goofs.
As Dr. Kim Seok-Kwun begins surgery to create a functioning penis for a Buddhist monk who was born female, he is well aware of the unease his work creates in deeply conservative South Korea. The devout Protestant known as the “father of South Korean transgender people” once wrestled with similar feelings.
“I’ve decided to defy God’s will,” Dr. Kim, 61, said in an interview before the monk’s recent successful surgery to become a man. “At first, I agonised over whether I should do these operations because I wondered if I was defying God. I was overcome with a sense of shame. But my patients desperately wanted these surgeries. Without them, they’d kill themselves.”
Religious objections long loomed large.
When Dr Kim first started doing the surgeries in the 1980s, his pastor objected. Friends and fellow doctors joked that he was going to hell if he didn’t stop. He now feels a great sense of achievement for helping people who feel trapped in the wrong body. He believes he’s correcting what he calls God’s mistakes.
“Some people are born without genitals or with cleft lips or with no ears or with their fingers stuck together. Why does God create people like this? Aren’t these God’s mistakes?” Dr, Kim said. “And isn’t a mismatched sexual identity a mistake, too?”
That kind of talk has earned him the enmity of many fellow believers, including the Rev. Hang Jae Chul, president of the Seoul-based Christian Council of Korea, who called sex-change operations “a blasphemy against God” and claimed that “they make the world a more miserable place.” As for Dr. Kim’s remarks, Hang said they are “cursed and deplorable.”
Two years ago, irate Christian activists in South Korea forced a TV channel to cancel a talk show featuring transgender people, who are used to taunts, discrimination, and violence.
On the other hand, transgender issues are more freely debated than before since the rise to stardom of Dr. Kim’s most prominent client, the actress and singer Harisu, who underwent male-to-female surgery in 1995.
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