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Transsexuals and their supporters have teamed up to seek public acknowledgment of those who suffer from gender identity disorder and to pressure the government into allowing sex changes to be recorded in official documents.

The NAO group, which stands for No Assignment of Opposite Gender, takes its name from a character in a popular TV drama focusing on a junior high school student with gender identity disorder.

The group has set up a Web site that provides information on transsexuals and the discrimination they suffer.

It has also tied up with lawmakers from both the governing and opposition parties to address the challenges faced by transsexuals, said Masae Torai, a member of the group.

Torai had a sex-change operation from female to male in the United States in the late 1980s. He said that having changes of gender officially recorded in family registers is one of the group’s goals.

Six people who have undergone sex-change operations, including Torai, filed civil suits in 2001 seeking to have their new gender recorded in their family registers. Three have had their requests rejected, while rulings on the others are still pending.

“I believe many other transsexuals in Japan are now struggling to gain legal approval to have their gender change listed in their family register, although I have not yet had any contact with them,” said Torai, a freelance writer in Tokyo.

Although courts have turned down several requests, Torai said, “I have been employed as a male part-time lecturer at the state-run Mie University, and another state-run university also plans to accept me as a male lecturer.”

Because their new gender goes unrecorded in official documents, many transsexuals can only get part-time jobs because such employers do not require them to submit residence certificates, Torai said, and they also cannot enjoy the social benefits afforded to ordinary married couples.

Aya Kawakami, a NAO member who lives as a woman, said, “As an association, I hope we will be able to push lawmakers and administrative bodies to allow us to register gender changes on official documents, such as family registers and medical records.”

Satoru Ienishi, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan with a seat in the House of Representatives, said, “The government should allow people to alter their registered genders if they are medically identified as (having gender identity disorder) and undergo a sex-change operation.

“As a lawmaker, I intend to ask the Justice Ministry and others where they stand on this issue and how they plan to tackle it.”

Ienishi led a group of plaintiffs in a lawsuit concerning HIV infection from tainted blood products.

Transsexuals are predisposed to identify with the opposite sex, often feel at odds with their bodies, and sometimes harbor a desire to undergo surgery and hormonal treatment to change their gender.

The Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology introduced guidelines for sex-change operations in May 1997, recommending that patients receive psychiatric counseling and hormone therapy before undergoing the procedure.

Experts estimate that there are anywhere from 7,000 to 70,000 people with gender identity disorder in Japan.

The association is planning to hand out light blue ribbons bearing the NAO logo and ask people to wear them as a show of understanding for transsexuals.

Ryoko Wakatake, a member of the group, said, “I want people to wear the ribbon to show they stand by those with (gender identity disorder).”

Wakatake, a municipal assembly member in Koganei, western Tokyo, worked for the adoption of a written opinion by the assembly in September seeking official recognition of gender changes. She said, “The color of the ribbon symbolizes our hope that people with (the disorder) will be able to live under a blue sky.”

The written opinion, which the Koganei assembly unanimously adopted, was submitted to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, as well as the public management and home affairs minister.

“As long as transsexuals face unfairness, they feel gloomy even under clear and sunny skies,” Wakatake said.

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