Last month, several transsexuals petitioned some 20 Diet members for legal changes that would allow people who have undergone sex-change operations to switch their gender on official registries.

Their encounters with those who have Gender Identity Disorder, as it is called in the medical community, apparently moved the lawmakers.

Several promised to launch intraparty study groups on the problems transsexuals face in society.

“I realized that we must likewise appeal to the general public by making ourselves and our problems visible,” said 35-year-old Aya Kamikawa, who was diagnosed as having the disorder in 1998 and underwent various operations to make her body closer to her preferred sex.

Hoping to raise public awareness of GID patients and transsexuals, Kamikawa announced last week that she will run as a transsexual for the Setagaya Ward Assembly in the unified local elections next month.

The Tokyo native has lived in Setagaya since 1998 and plans to run without support from any political party.

“Just knocking on lawmakers’ doors will not be enough, as we need broader recognition and support to make our lives comfortable in this society,” she said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.

The Family Registration Law stipulates that a register can be corrected only when “mistakes” are found. This bars those who have undergone sex-reassignment operations from changing their registered gender.

This poses great inconveniences for and humiliation to transsexuals in their everyday lives, such as when applying for official public documents or corporate insurance, which are all issued according to registered gender, Kamikawa said.

“I have avoided full-time employment ever since I decided to live as a woman, as it involves pension and health insurance registration, which would reveal my original gender to colleagues,” she said. “Many transsexuals live with a strong fear of their past being found out and are forced to live a socially unstable life.”

But judicial authorities have repeatedly rejected petitions filed by transsexuals to change their gender registration, on the grounds that sexual identity is determined only by sex organs and chromatids.

Kamikawa, a Hosei University graduate, initially found a job as a man at a public-interest foundation in Tokyo. But after five years, the stress from fulfilling social roles assigned to men exhausted her both mentally and physically.

In 1997, she told her parents that she wanted to live in accordance with her preferred gender. Since then, she has gradually established her identity and lifestyle as a woman, thanks in part to various surgeries and the support of friends who suffer from the same disorder.

Still, the decision to go public about having been born a man was tough for Kamikawa.

Her father, who initially seemed to have difficulty accepting his son’s new sex, gave her the final push.

“He said it is the most painful thing for him to see people looking at me purely with curiosity or in a condescending way, but he said if I am strong enough to fight those eyes, then I should live up to what I think is right,” she said.

“Also, all my transsexual friends said I look the most naturally feminine among us, and . . . cute enough to appeal to the broader public,” she added with a smile.

Raising public awareness of GID and working to amend the registry law is her prime agenda, but Kamikawa said she also wants to tackle problems affecting other minorities.

“For example, foreigners without visas are denied their basic rights and access to social welfare, just like transsexuals,” she said. “I want to lend an ear to all the people who are marginalized in this society and make Setagaya a place where anyone can pursue their chance of happiness to the maximum.”

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