Life ain't easy for a boy named Luciana.

Luciana Buonocore would like to be known as Luciano. In fact, he would like to be known as a man. Because he is one. He was born a male 28 years ago, but the birth certificate mistakenly calls him Luciana and designates him "female."

You might think that correcting such an error would be simple. But a succession of schoolteachers, priests, town officials, central government authorities, cops and judges have unwittingly conspired to keep Buonocore trapped in the bureaucratic body of a female.

So seven years ago, Buonocore went to court to try to become Luciano, "male." Setback followed setback there, and finally things became urgent when he decided to get married. Italy does not recognize same-sex unions, so it was impossible for him, as Luciana, to tie the knot with his fiancee.

Buonocore was driven to try an unorthodox legal tactic. He appealed to a court in Torre Annunziata, south of Naples, to have his sexual identity overturned under Italy's sex-change law. He's never had a sex change, but no matter. If he could prove he was a he, his lawyers reasoned, the court would have to alter his birth certificate and let him change his name to boot. "It was a trick," he said in an interview. "But it was an open trick."

Last week, a judge agreed. He ruled that Luciana is really all man and always has been, and whatever the pretext, it was high time to put things right. "I'm going to get married right away," the soon-to-be Luciano said.

Buonocore's ordeal is a cautionary tale about Italy's devotion to official documents, even when they collide with evident reality. In Italy, you don't exist without an identification document, not to mention a taxpayer number and, in many jobs, a professional card of some sort. The birth certificate is a foundation for obtaining many of them.

His case is also a classic example of the Italian collective zeal for putting things off and passing the buck, sometimes with tragic consequences. In the city of Sarno, a mammoth mudslide not long ago carried away buildings that had been put up in channels that were supposed to be left clear as a pathway for future mudslides. Much was made of the subsequent "discovery" that they had been built illegally and that inspectors had warned of danger.

Civil court cases take an average of 10 years to reach a conclusion, as judges take their time studying and restudying papers and find endless reasons not to reach a verdict. The country's prime minister has been on trial for various charges of corruption for a decade.

Buonocore was born into an impoverished family in the mountains near the picturesque Amalfi coast. On the sea side of the mountains stand some of Italy's plushest villas, a playground for the rich. Literary luminaries including John Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham and Gore Vidal have been bewitched by the coast's charms. On the landward side, the mountains are steep and infertile and, for Italy, relatively inaccessible. Apartment blocks are tatty.

Throughout Buonocore's childhood, teachers dutifully, if callously, registered him as Luciana in school. A priest baptized him as Luciana because, well, that's what it said on his birth certificate. Kids teased him.

When at age 14, Buonocore applied for a national identification card, he was refused on the grounds that his evident Luciano-ness -- budding facial hair, deepening voice, hands that look like sledgehammers -- did not match the sex on the birth document. At 18, he tried to join the army but was rejected because no women were allowed in at the time.

He couldn't get a driver's license, either, because town officials would not print "m" for an applicant whose birth records said he was "f." So to get around, he drove a three-wheeled utility vehicle called the Bee, because you don't need a license to drive one. "In the summer, when the beautiful girls are at the beach, they wouldn't look at me. No one looks at a guy in a Bee," he said.

"At any time, someone could have taken the trouble to say Luciano is male and do something about it. But it was easier to do nothing," said his attorney, Alfonso Attanasio. "That's the way things are."

For years, Buonocore made his living hauling timber from the mountain ravines by mule to towns for use as firewood or as scaffolding for grapevines or trellises for lemon trees. It was work that required little contact with the Italian state, so most of the time, Buonocore could ignore his identity problem. His parents didn't read well enough to notice the femminile designation. An alcoholic father and a mother who labored in the vineyards and groves never thought it important enough to pursue, Buonocore recounted.

But finally, seven years ago, Buonocore reached the stage of enough-is-enough. He filed a suit. But in that case, a judge refused to order a correction on suspicion that there might have been a baby swap when Buonocore was born and there was a real Luciana out there somewhere. No one thought of ordering a DNA test, and the judge ignored doctors' testimony that Buonocore was born male but mislabeled.

He kept with it, and it didn't hurt that he'd drawn the interest of the local media and then national TV. For the past few weeks, Buonocore has enjoyed his Warholian 15 minutes of fame. He appeared on the country's most watched television talk show. Newspaper articles described his plight under headlines like "He's a man, but the State declared him a woman" and "Man turns to fake sex change to set the record straight."

Finally, the court in Torre Annunziata hearing the sex-change case ordered an inspection. All of his male attributes were in order. "In light of the clinical examination, there remains no doubt about the fact that the inspected was of the masculine sex from birth," the court report said. The court also carried out a chromosome test. Those, too, were found to be the male type. "Naturally, the chromosomes cannot be changed in the course of one's life," the report noted.

"I don't know what I'll name my kids yet," Buonocore said, when asked if the name Luciana was off-limits for them. "But I'll sure take the birth certificate to my lawyer."

When Buonocore realized that he couldn't legally marry his fiancee, he got into gear and got his sex "changed" on paper.Manly, yes, but prove it: Luciano Buonocore, mistakenly registered at birth as a girl, has had to go to court to prove that he really is a he.