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Monday, 18 December, 2000, 13:22 GMT
Sex change shown on net
By Seoul correspondent Caroline Gluck

A South Korean clinic has caused a furore by broadcasting a sex change operation over the internet.

Many say the webcast is simply sensationalist, but those behind the project say it will promote a better understanding of trans-gender surgery.

Since the operation was shown a few weeks ago, the medical internet firm advertising the sex-change surgery has registered more than 19,000 hits.

The surgery, which took seven hours, was edited down into a 10-minute broadcast. But it does not pull its punches and is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Urologist Dr Chang Song Sun, who performed the operation, defended his decision to allow it to be shown.

"Some people might be horrified. But I hope this operation will encourage others," he added.

"People want more information before they undergo such a radical step - and I think this will help."

Hope

Dr Chang also dismissed criticism that the broadcast was simply commercial and sensationalist.

"Most of the people who visit the web site are seriously considering having the operation. Most are already on hormonal treatment," he added.

"I don't think it will attract other people to look at the site out of pure sensationalism."

The patient who underwent the male-to-female sex change operation is a 27-year-old pianist Hae-young.

She agreed to allow the cameras in, believing it might offer hope to others.

Dilemma

Hae-young - not her real name - says that for years she felt trapped in the wrong body. She was bullied as a child and faced discrimination when she grew older.

"I think there are a lot of people who are going through similar dilemmas.

"I want to try and give some hope to those people who are considering having this operation", said Hae-young, who paid around $16,000 for her operation.

"It's their decision. It's up to them whether or not they have surgery, but at least they can see the reality."

The reality now is that Hae-young looks just like a woman. She is expertly made-up and dressed in leather trousers and a fitted top.

Her genitals were cut and remoulded into a vagina, her adam's apple was removed and she now has breasts.

But despite her pleasure at the result, Hae-young is leaving South Korea for Europe, where she hopes to start a new life.

She says the reason is that there is still little tolerance of homosexuality and transexuality in conservative South Korea - one of the strongest Confucian societies in Asia.

But those traditional views are increasingly being challenged.

Changing times

Just a short distance from the clinic, an enthusiastic audience claps and whistles through a show featuring a cast of gays and transsexuals.

One dancer, Sumee, had a sex-change operation 10 years ago - when she was just 17 years old. She returned to South Korea just a few months ago, after working abroad.

"Things have changed a lot. Ten years ago in Korea, there weren't so many people who could understand a person like me, but now there are more and more," she says.

Prejudices won't disappear overnight, but attitudes are changing. Broadcasting the sex change operation may represent part of that shift - even if critics say it's simply bad taste.

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01 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Gay actor stuns S Korea
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