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A group of six people who have undergone sex-change operations will file civil suits May 24 seeking to have their new genders recorded on their family registrations, an activist supporting transsexuals said Saturday.

They will be the first lawsuits of their kind since sex-change operations officially began in Japan three years ago.

The suits are intended to secure better social conditions for the transsexuals, who cannot get married and have difficulties finding jobs.

Of the six transsexuals, four were converted to men at Saitama Medical College in Saitama Prefecture and two became women, one in the United States and the other in Singapore.

In Japan, eight people have undergone sex-change operations in accordance with guidelines introduced by the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology in May 1997, with two men becoming women and six women becoming men.

The guidelines say patients should receive psychiatric counseling and hormone therapy before undergoing the operation.

While the operations free transsexuals from feeling trapped in bodies of the wrong sex, they still face various problems including being officially identified by their former genders, said Masae Torai, a 37-year-old freelance writer in Tokyo who became a male in the United States in the late 1980s.

Torai, who heads a private organization of transsexuals called FTM (female to male) Nippon, said most transsexuals “struggle not to reveal their ‘real’ sexes.”

“They hesitate to go to libraries as they have to show a registration card that shows a sex different from the one they appear to have, or many of them stay as part-timers as they do not want to submit to employers their residence certificates,” he said.

It is also impossible for them to enjoy the social benefits given to ordinary married couples because their genders in official documents remain unchanged, he said.

Japanese citizens are required by law to be entered on a family register.

Torai is still registered as female in his family registration.

“We want to change such circumstances in order to improve our living standards through the litigating tactics,” he told Kyodo News.

According to some medical studies, the incidence of transsexualism worldwide is estimated at about one case per 50,000-100,000 people, suggesting that more than 2,000 people in Japan believe they belong to the incorrect sex. Other than the eight who underwent operations at the two medical facilities, Torai estimates an additional several hundred Japanese have had sex changes in operations conducted outside the medical society’s guidelines, or abroad.

“I suppose many of these people have filed suits for legal sex changes, but there are virtually no statistics about the results of their legal battles,” he said.

A person who underwent the operation in the U.S. was allowed to change gender to female from male in 1980 by the Tokyo Family Court, but no similar successes have been reported, according to Torai.

He said five to seven plaintiffs are planning to file suit at the Tokyo Family Court and three other family courts nationwide on May 24, but all of them, except Torai, declined to reveal their identities for fear of discrimination.

Torai said, “I hope that those who are struggling in the courts individually will be cheered up by seeing our moves.”

Transsexuals are defined by the World Health Organization as those who have a desire “to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by a sense of discomfort with, or inappropriateness of, one’s anatomical sex, and wish to have surgery and hormonal treatment to make one’s body as congruent as possible with one’s preferred sex.”

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