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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: You advised a pre-op transsexual to use the ladies' rest room, and I'll bet you caught heck for it. Abby, people who object to transsexuals using the rest room for the gender they are about to become may not be aware of the following: Male-to-female pre-op transsexuals are REQUIRED to live as a woman for one year prior to the surgery. This includes obtaining a driver's license in the new gender and name, with a signed form from their endocrinologist. They should not continue to use the men's rest room.

A pre-op transsexual has, by virtue of hormones taken, no interest in being in the women's rest room other than to use it. These individuals are doing everything they can to deal with their new identity. A male-to-female pre-op transsexual has, for all intents and purposes, made a permanent commitment and deserves support in this decision.

Believe me, they do not want to be discovered. They take great pains to make sure they are not. It's surprising that the person who wrote to you had not received coaching from his doctor.

In this era when gender and sexual expression are no longer being hidden in the closet, the woman next to you in the rest room may or may not look like she belongs in the ladies' room, but appearances are not a reliable clue to her real identity. Sign me ... WATCHED MY EX-BOYFRIEND GO THROUGH THE WHOLE PROCESS

DEAR WATCHED: I received a slew of mail from women who were outraged at the thought of a male using the women's rest room for any reason. So I did some further research and contacted John Bancroft, M.D., director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. He said:

"I advise my transsexual or transgendered patients that when they present themselves as women they should use the women's rest room and vice versa. Women should feel no concern about the occasional transgendered person doing this. What such people want more than anything else is to be seen and accepted as a normal female. I provide my gender reassignment patients with a formal 'To Whom It May Concern' letter to carry at all times, explaining that they are in this process of transition -- and if there are any questions, to contact me."

I would like to thank you and Dr. Bancroft for your valuable contribution to this column.

DEAR ABBY: My daughter is graduating from high school in May. She is a very special girl who has touched the lives of many people. We would like to extend invitations to these people to attend an open-house party, but we do not want them to feel obligated to bring a gift.

How can we tactfully communicate this message on our invitations? -- MINNEAPOLIS MOTHER

DEAR MOTHER: Use the old standby: "Your presence will be our daughter's cherished gift, and we respectfully request no other."

CONFIDENTIAL TO "TO DRESS, OR NOT TO DRESS": The following may help you make your decision: "All women's dresses are merely variations on the eternal struggle between the admitted desire to dress and the unadmitted desire to undress." -- LIN YUTANG, CHINESE PHILOSOPHER

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600