LONDON (Kyodo) Every day female tourists flock to the ancient city of Kyoto to dress up as geisha and fulfill a lifelong fantasy.
But one studio was a little surprised to find that one of its customers was British transsexual Mary Murdock, who wanted to have her photos taken in the elaborate costumes.
Initially, bosses at Studio Shiki’s in Kyoto were unsure what to do as they had never had a request from a transsexual. But the manager said she was satisfied Murdock, who is undergoing treatment to transform her from male to female, was sufficiently female to participate.
Murdock was told it was the first time a transsexual had dressed up as a geisha in a Kyoto photography studio, and she now wants to bring other transsexuals to Japan from Britain to enjoy the experience.
She would also like Japanese society to be more tolerant of transsexuals, many of whom she says have to conceal their desires and meet in private to dress as women.
Murdock, 68, is calling on the Japanese government to enact further reforms to make the lives of transsexuals easier.
Murdock traveled to Japan two years ago as part of an organized tour and took the opportunity to visit one of the photography studios in Kyoto to dress up as a geisha. The studios are popular with foreign tourists and students. Male customers are able to dress as samurai.
Murdock told hotel staff that she had always wanted to dress up as a geisha and given over her measurements for the fitting the next day. They “didn’t bat an eyelid,” she said.
But Murdock said the studio manager was a “bit surprised” when she turned up and said she was unsure she could let Mary dress up.
The company’s Web site states that the geisha transformation is only available to women.
“I told her that I’m a girl really and she looked at my breasts (which have been growing due to hormone treatment) and my skin and that made up her mind,” Murdock said.
Murdock thoroughly enjoyed the experience of dressing up in the kimono and having makeup applied to her face in order to resemble an apprentice geisha, or “maiko.”
“The robes were very heavy and I admire the geishas,” she said. “I couldn’t do it.”
There were also lots of young Japanese tourists dressing up as geisha in the studio but Murdock suffered no negative comments from those who thought her action might be going against tradition.
“The Japanese girls accepted me as a girl,” Murdock said. “They talked to me as a girl and it was a case of all girls together and some of them had their photos taken with me. Nobody said to me ‘This is wrong.’ “
Murdock said she has always been fascinated with Japanese culture and wanting to dress as a geisha was a natural desire, given the fact she believes she was born with a female brain. She loved the geisha’s elegance and the way they gracefully carry themselves.
Although Japan’s first sex-change operation took place in the late 1990s, many transsexuals still suffer from discrimination in society.
From 2004, transsexuals in Japan have been able to change their sex on family registration documents. But this can only be done after they have had a sex-change operation and, if they have had children, the change of sex on record is forbidden.
The delay in changing sex on record until after the operation does cause problems. For example, some transsexuals are reluctant to commit to full-time employment and join companies where they have to submit documents showing their sex at birth.
Murdock described the situation in Japan as “rather cruel,” noting that she was able to change her sex on her passport about four years ago even though she has not yet had a sex-change operation. In Britain, where the operations have been conducted since the 1950s, transsexuals are allowed to get married.
One Japanese transsexual Mary spoke to said she was “very envious” of Murdock’s plans to dress as a geisha and “would have loved to have done it” but could not due to pressure from Japanese society. This left Mary feeling “very sad,” she said.
Murdock says she hopes that she can arrange future trips with fellow transsexuals and female friends.
“When I got back I showed my photos to other (transsexuals) and they said they would like to do it without exception,” Murdock said. “They loved the clothes and the makeup.”
Murdock, who was born Malcolm, has been undergoing hormone therapy for the last four years and says a final operation to transform her into a woman is “imminent.”
As part of her treatment she has seen a psychiatrist, has changed her name and has been dressing as a woman.
Murdock’s story came to light in British newspapers and magazines late last year following media interest in a completely unrelated issue in her local community. Her geisha tale was reported in several national newspapers and women’s magazines.
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