The application for a change of name was filed in D.C. Superior Court on Jan. 13, 1976. When no creditors, heirs or ex-spouses came forward to protest, it was routinely approved. Walter Faw Cannon, the judge decreed, would henceforth be known as Faye Cannon.

Why would a 51-year-old man change his name?

"For reasons of family tradition," Cannon's application said. "The applicant wishes to assume the name of his maternal family as his first name . . . Faye is a modern-day variation of the applicant's maternal surname, Faw."

But that wasn't the reason at all. The reason was that Faye Cannon had decided to come all the way out of the closet.

Cannon wears women's clothing. For more than a year, he has worn women's clothes every business day to his job as curator of the history of classical physics and geosciences at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of History and Technology.

"I don't classify myself as gay, because I don't know what the word means," said Faye Cannon, who also calls himself Susan. "I define myself as a male woman. There I know what the words mean."

Cannon, a tall, balding, broad-shouldered baritone, said he has been teased only once in the 15 months since he hung up his men's suits forever. He insisted that relations with his museum coworkers are better, not worse. He knows that historical groups may now blackball him from opportunities to lecture and write, but he said that has not yet happened and may never.

"The psychological impact has been stronger than I expected," Cannon said. "I have known about myself for years. But I didn't know how satisfying it would be.

"I feel I'm dressing up as a clown when I wear men's clothes."

Cannon wore men's clothes throughout an academic career that could not have been much more illustrious. The son of the former dean of the Duke University Divinity School, he received a B.A. degree from Princeton, and an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Harvard. He was on the history faculties of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley before coming to the Smithsonian 13 years ago.

Cannon lives alone in a small apartment near Dupont Circle. His parents and his only brother are dead. He has never married.

Cannon has no glib or simple explanation for the way he is. "One would have to be a superpsychologist to understand the balance of forces," he said. One thing he is sure of is that he will not tamper with his male body. "No sex change, no hormones, no self-psychiatry," he said.

Cannon ascribed the timing of his decision to come out of the closet to job security. It was not until July 3, 1975, that the Civil Service Commission barred discrimination against homosexuals. Soon after that, Cannon began going to work in women's clothes - usually skirts and blouses, with some jewelry.

He still runs a considerable risk however. Civil Service employees are supposed to avoid "infamous or notoriously disgraceful conduct." Violators are those "whose social behavior is so bizarre or so clearly aberrant that the conduct in itself evidences depravity."

Firing is warranted "only when the notoriety accompanying the conduct can reasonably be expected to adversely affect the person's ability to perform his or her job or the agency's ability to carry out its responsibilities."

Cannon's responsibility at History and Technology is to choose and collect all the museum's exhibits that touch on his field. He is also responsible for providing further information, in person, to museum visitors who ask.

That might be expected to stun a few folks now and then, but Cannon claimed that it has not. Nor, he added, has office life been harder or less productive since he "came out." Rather, he said, it is more honest.

Otto Mayr, chairman of the department of science and technology at the museum, said Cannon's choice of dress has produced "a lot of mumbling" among fellow staff members, but no complaints from the public.

"We like to think of the Smithsonian as a liberal place," Mayr said. "This is not anything we're going to attack him on. We decided we would not pay a lot of attention to this. Honestly, personally, it doesn't bother me."

Mayr said, however, that two civil service actions, neither connected with his change of name and dress, are pending against Cannon: one concerning overuse of sick leave, the other "job performance." Mayr would not speculate on the outcome of the two actions.

He did say that Cannon is "a born rebel" who would "provoke people in the past." His mode of dress "is, obviously, the ultimate provocation," Mayr said.

Cannon said his basic motive for dressing as a woman is not to shock, but to allow "everybody to know you as you are. Other people had to make an adjustment. I didn't."

Cannon said he formally changed his name to make things official and simpler now that he wears women's clothes in public. "How do I prove I'm who I say I am at a new bank?" he asked. "They're obsessed with driver's licenses, and I don't drive." He said he has not encountered any credit difficulty since the name change was approved.

Cannon stressed that his conversion could not have been so easy if he lived anywhere else. District of Columbia law forbids discrimination against homosexuals, and it is not a violation of the law in Washington for a man to wear women's clothing.

Because this is not the case in Maryland, Virginia or about 40 other tsatse, Cannon rarely ventures outside Washington. "I don't have a very wide range of places I want to go," he said. "I'm going to the same places I always went."

Cannon has a ready explanation for the tolerance he said he has found here. "Washington is a majority made up of minorities," he said. "I come out as one of the minority people, too."

That accounts for the especially good reception Cannon said he receives from black and female cow-workers. "I'm no longer one of the upper ruling class," he said. "People who are nobody special recognize that I'm nobody special, too."

His most awkward times occur when children approach him in stores to ask if he is a man or a woman, Cannon said. But the awkwardness, he insisted, is on their part, not his. He said he answers "both," and lets it go at that.

Cannon said he has had little contact with Washington-area gay organizations. "I'm not a meetings type," he said.

In all, Cannon seems as content as could be expected. "It's been a very fine thing," he said. "I can't imagine going back to the old way."