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Miyagi resident overcomes adversity to weave new identity as woman

Ameru is seen knitting in this photo taken in Sendai on March 1, 2017. (Mainichi)

"Every day I used to kill the woman in me." So says a 47-year-old resident of Miyagi Prefecture who goes by the nickname "Ameru."

    Ameru was born a male, but struggled with gender identity for many years. In March 2011, her parents and grandmother died in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami disaster. On top of that she lost her job.

    Four years later, Ameru started knitting for the first time while crafting dolls for a part-time job, and was filled with the sense of being a woman. "I'm not going to hide myself anymore," she thought. It was a turning point for Ameru to decide to start living as a woman.

    May 17 marked the 27th anniversary of the World Health Organization's decision in 1990 to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, and the day is now commemorated as the "International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia." Recently, Ameru got involved with an LGBT support group, and started a knitting class. "Ameru" comes from the Japanese word meaning to knit or weave, and Ameru is now weaving a life as her "true self."

    Born as the eldest son in her family, Ameru felt uncomfortable about gender from a young age, and was warned by her father about feminine gestures and attitudes, and teased by friends.

    "When I woke up I would first kill -- kill the female in me. Every day was a day of suicide for me," Ameru recalls.

    Perhaps because of the tough time she faced, she can't remember much of her days at junior high and high school.

    In her early 20s, Ameru moved to a mountain village in Miyagi Prefecture and married a woman. They had two children, a boy and a girl. During the day Ameru was a farmer. Being skilled in detailed tasks, Ameru made clay dolls in the evenings.

    In 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck, and Ameru encountered the disaster in an apartment near her parents' home, to which she had returned due to family circumstances. Her parents' home near the sea was washed away by the tsunami, and she lost her parents, grandmother and company job. Devastated, Ameru returned to the mountain village, and resumed the tasks of growing vegetables and making dolls.

    In the autumn of 2015, four years after the quake and tsunami, Ameru was making a snowman for an exhibition, when the idea of knitting a scarf for it -- because it looked cold -- occurred to her. She bought a ball of wool from a 100-yen shop and when she started knitting she was overcome with a strange sensation, as if heart symbols were flying out of her hands one after another. She was filled with the sense of being a woman, and couldn't hold back the tears. She decided to accept herself as she was.

    In the spring of 2016, Ameru started receiving gender identity disorder treatment, which often includes psychiatric and hormonal therapy. Her children, who were in high school and junior high school, expressed understanding, telling her she could live with confidence. Still, she can't help but worry that their marriages might be affected in the future.

    In April this year, Ameru launched a knitting class and she has three students. She joined an LGBT support group, conversing with people with the same types of concerns.

    "It will be good if it helps others know, 'There are people like this,'" she said. An end to the anxiety of having to hide her identity does not seem too far away.

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