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Friday, Dec. 2, 2011

No easy 'cure' for gender disorder

Suicidal thoughts, then counseling, mastectomy, job


OSAKA — Ayumu Mogi felt uneasy about being female even before elementary school.

"My younger brother could stand up and pee but why can't I?" was a common perception for the child growing up near Tokyo.

In junior high school, Mogi would wrap a band around her breasts to appear flat-chested. Classmates noticed this and started calling her weird, and she became afraid of going to class.

It was in the ninth grade when she was first became aware that she might have gender identity disorder, after she saw a student just like her on a popular TV drama. The show made her realize she was not alone and got her thinking about her options.

"I wanted to go see a doctor but I didn't have the courage," Mogi said.

So she asked an Internet bulletin board acquaintance nicknamed Tomozou to accompany her to a psychiatric clinic in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, in summer 2002.

Mogi "had the look of a person who was cornered and followed me as if relying on her father," Tomozou, 38, from Tokyo, recalled.

The clinic, which helps people who feel uncomfortable with their gender, had a long line. Tomozou, who also has GID, was seeing a doctor there as well.

A month later, Mogi skipped school without telling her parents and visited the clinic again. Her medical chart notes "a strong desire to be a man" and "a sense of aversion to becoming an adult woman."

On her way back, she forgot to change into her school uniform at a train station and met her mother, who had come by car to pick her up. "What happened at school?" her mother asked.

Remembering her mother had also seen the TV drama about the student with GID, Mogi told her, "It looks like I'm one of them, too."

Her mother looked angry and didn't say a word, Mogi recalled. When they got home, her mother scolded her, saying, "You just want to be a heroine in a tragedy."

Mogi slashed her wrists and arms more than a dozen times. Her medical record the following June said she was "in pain just breathing" and "attempted to kill herself by jumping in front of a car but could not do it."

Mogi underwent counseling for five years.

"I had fallen to the deepest depth. I couldn't see anything ahead and I'd be lying if I thought I didn't have any fear. But I had to move on. I wanted to take a step that could pave the way ahead somehow," Mogi said.

She left home at age 19 and moved to Kyoto to start taking a university correspondence course.

She changed her first name, Ayumi, which is more associated with females, to Ayumu — a more masculine name — on her student ID.

Like Mogi, many people with GID are struggling with families who apparently do not understand what they are going through, as they struggle to find a place to fit into society.

Mogi said it was Tomozou's advice that encouraged her to be self-reliant: "It's better to think more about yourself and separate it from the family issue."

Mogi, who is now 24 and lives in Ikuno Ward, Osaka, recalled experiencing major changes on two fronts in the past five years.

One was physical. Mogi started taking male hormone injections at age 21, acquiring a deeper voice and more body hair. Last February, she underwent a double mastectomy. "It all came down every time to my dislike of my body," she said.

The other major change took place at work. Mogi took a job at a nursing home, assuming a male identity, after quitting the correspondence course for financial reasons.

At the job interview, Mogi wore a men's suit even though the sex entry on the resume said "female." After getting the job and reporting to work, Mogi's boss asked which gender the new employee wanted to go by, and was told a man.

Right after the breast surgery, work colleagues visited Mogi at the clinic. One of them, Yuki Kambara, 25, said, "He's like a clumsy brother and everyone likes him. Mogi is Mogi and GID has nothing to do with the workplace."

Mogi has obtained certification as a caregiver. "Both mentally and financially, I'm now at ease," said Mogi, who has also started studying to get into college.

In October, Mogi took part in an annual gathering of students with GID, teachers and their families at a hall in Higashiyodogawa Ward in Osaka.

Itsuki Doi, 49, a Kyoto high school teacher who began the series of meetings, said Mogi, one of the regulars, used to look despondent but now looks happy. "He's perhaps found a place where he belongs and that is helping him build confidence," Doi said.

Mogi's concern right now is relationships: "I tend to think about my body and cannot even touch another person. I wish I could have a relationship someday regardless of gender."

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