He applied early last year to the U.S. Postal Service for a $5.65-an-hour job as a clerk-typist, performed well on the applicant's tests and soon after received a letter offering a temporary six-month position.

Then, he says, he told his supervisor-to-be that he planned to undergo a sex-change operation in the fall. He also said that as part of his psychological adjustment to the impending surgery, his doctor recommended that he start wearing a dress. While he was "thanked for being candid" by a senior postal official, he says, he was told it would be disruptive to have "people like me working there."

The job offer was withdrawn.

The man, who is now legally a woman after a court granted her a name change and new birth certificate, sued the postal service last month in U.S. District Court here in what could become the first federal court test in the nation of a transsexual's right to privacy in hiring.

"I was crushed. Just totally devastated," says the 32-year-old woman, who had the sex-change operation in November 1983.

The woman was permitted by Chief U.S. District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr. to file the lawsuit under the name Jane Doe, and her case has been adopted by the ACLU and the Women's Legal Defense Fund. She is represented by two lawyers, Victor M. Glasberg and Jonathan Smith of Alexandria, who volunteered their services.

According to Glasberg, earlier lawsuits filed by transsexuals were based on Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act barring sex bias in employment. They have fared poorly before judges who did not view a sex change as the kind of sexual status envisioned by the civil rights law.

"You can't imagine the torture and psychological trauma I've been through since that happened to me," she said. "It's not as if I did something wrong. My God, that's how they tried to discriminate against blacks 30 years ago."

In a meeting with postal service personnel chief Stephen A. Leavey, in which she explained her planned operation, Jane Doe says, she offered to come to work "dressed as a boy, if that'll make you feel better," but she was turned down.

Leavey referred calls about the case to postal service attorneys. The lawyers have not responded to the lawsuit in court. But, said associate general counsel Stephen Alpern, "We feel, quite simply, that we are not in violation of the law."

The suit also seeks relief under the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which bans hiring discrimination against the handicapped. While the law has been interpreted by the courts to include such diseases as alcoholism, its application to a transsexual would be a novelty.

Jane Doe says she was living on food stamps and welfare at the time she applied for the postal job. "I was totally stunned. I needed the job very much." She says she recently had been fired by a private firm after company officials learned she intended to change her sex.

"I hope the lawsuit will establish a legal precedent so that this won't happen to anyone else again," she said. "There are hundreds and thousands of people like me out there who just give up."

At this point, she wants the postal job more to prove that point than to make a living, she says. Since she got the postal service stamp of disapproval, she has found comparable employment as a clerk-typist at another federal agency -- "which only shows that Leavey's assumptions were erroneous," she said.

She says she filed the lawsuit as Jane Doe because only a few of her coworkers know the truth about her sexual identity.

"The difficulty with this case," said agency lawyer Alpern, "is that this individual was in transition." Alpern says -- and Jane Doe agrees -- that Leavey told her to reapply after her medical situation was resolved and that the postal service "would take another look."

That night, she said, "I must have cried my entire weight in tears.

"It was totally unacceptable to me. Like other people, my abilities and skills are in my brain . . . . "

With a high school diploma and two years of college education, Jane Doe says, she had performed well above the minimum standards for government clerk-typists in testing. On May 20, 1983, she received a letter signed by Leavey formally offering her a position.

Jane Doe then told her prospective bosses about her need to begin dressing as a woman.

According to Jane Doe, her supervisor and another superior indicated that wearing feminine clothing would be acceptable. But later that day, she says, she was called by an employe in Leavey's L'Enfant Plaza office to set up an interview. At the meeting, she said, Leavey "thanked me for being candid about my situation. But he said it would be disruptive to have people like me working there."

She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but she was turned down in a ruling two months ago.

"It's not fun, believe me," she said. "If I could have lived my life any other way, I would have done it. It's not a picnic. I had no say in the matter. I had no choice, any more than you have a choice of color of skin. All I'm asking is to be treated as an individual, nothing more, nothing less."