Japanese transgender community emerges

Dallas Voice – Hiroko Tabuchi – Associated Press

TOKYO ? To most Japanese, Takafumi Fujio ? with cropped hair, thick arms and deep voice ? is a typical, middle-aged salaryman. But until four years ago, when the food company worker started on a range of hormonal treatments, he was a woman, a housewife and mother of two.

Fujio is one of an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 Japanese who believe they were born the wrong sex, a sexual minority that has been largely hidden from view in Japan.

But that is quickly changing.

Japan?s first sex-change operation was performed in 1998, and its first transsexual and gay politicians were elected to public office in 2003. A groundbreaking legal reform allowing some transsexuals to change their officially registered sex took effect the following year.

The advances ? the result of long years of work behind the scenes ? have given Japan?s sexual minorities rising self-confidence and a greater willingness to come out of the closet despite the country?s long-prized conformity and disdain for displays of individuality.

?These changes have been way overdue,? Fujio said at a recent interview in Tokyo. ?I think the law got people thinking, ?If the country has recognized these people, they must be acceptable after all.??