You think being transgender in the western world is tough? Well, you’re right. But people in Japan have it far worse.
The Supreme Court of Japan recently ruled to uphold a national law that critics say discriminates against transgender people who were pronounced a girl or boy at birth but grew up feeling as if they were living inside the “wrong” body. (A boy born with male reproductive parts may self-identify as being a girl – and vice versa.)
The Japanese government forces any transgender individual who applies legally to change her/his official identity documentation so that it matches her/his transgender self-identification to consent to medical sterilization.
Under Japanese law, anyone who thinks they were born into the “wrong” body type (male vs. female) has a mental problem that must be confirmed by multiple expert opinions by medical professionals.
Law No. 111 does permit any transgender person to gain legal recognition of their gender preference – as long as at least two medical doctors diagnose that person with “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID). The doctor duo must be “physicians equipped with the necessary knowledge and experience to give accurate diagnoses on this matter, based on generally accepted medical knowledge.”
Law No. 111 passed in 2003 and went into force nationwide in Japan on July 16, 2004.
Japan defines GID as “a person whose biological gender is evident, but who holds a persistent conviction under which they psychologically identify themselves as being of the opposite gender.”
The Japanese Family Court decides cases concerning legal gender recognition. In addition to obtaining two or more medical diagnoses of GID, the transgender applicant must supply these additional proofs to qualify for transgender ID:
- Age 20 or older
- No underage children (below age 20)
- No gonads or the permanent lack of functioning gonads
- A physical appearance that is “endowed with genitalia that closely resemble the physical form of an alternative gender
Japan’s Law 111 is the country’s first official gender recognition policy. But critics call Law 111 abusive and discriminatory. They want this law reformed or abandoned.
Some societies allow transgender people to take hormones or elective sex reassignment surgeries so that their physical bodies match up with their mental self-images.
The Human Rights Watch group stated that:
“Gender development should have no bearing on whether someone can enjoy fundamental rights, like the ability to be recognized by their government or to access health care, education, or employment.”
Human Rights Watch maintains that legal gender recognition should be based on the self-declared gender identity of the applicant – without the legal conditions of being unmarried with no children younger than 20 years old.
In April 2012, two Gay Japan News and Rainbow ACTION supporters of Japanese lesbian, bisexual women and transgender people (LGBT) released “A Shadow Report”which claimed that Law 111 is illegal:
“Japan’s Constitution guarantees fundamental human rights and prohibits discrimination on the basis of ‘race, sex, social status or family origin.’”
The LGBT community in Japan “is characterized by invisibility, marginalization, silent prejudice and stigmatization,” according to the report.
The Shadow Report pointed out that neither Japan’s Law for the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims nor the Public Housing Law applies to same-sex couples.
Another example of gender inequality in Japan can be found among junior high and high school students who must obey strict male/female school uniform policies. Before a transgender pupil may wear the uniform of her/his perceived gender, a GID medical diagnosis is required.
The school uniform policy has caused so much angst in transgender students that they take extensive and repeated absences from school. Some socially-pressured students drop out of school entirely rather than endure government-sponsored humiliation and discrimination.
Transgender students who want their official college paperwork or job application to reflect their true gender identity feel pressured to have a sex change operation beforehand.
In 2016, a bipartisan group composed of members of Japan’s Diet (parliament) made plans to discuss revising and relaxing Law 111 – but these talks were never held. Japan’s Ministry of Health defended its LGBT policies, saying the State needs “objectivity and certainty” when determining whether a person is transgender.
In 2018, the Japanese government announced its decision to subsidize gender-affirming surgeries for transgender residents who are not receiving hormone treatment or have any other pre-existing medical conditions.
On January 24, 2019, the Japanese Supreme Court just upheld Law 111 because its purpose is “to reduce confusion in families and society.”
Four judges reached a unanimous decision after a transgender man named Takakito Usui filed the appeal to his country’s top court. Lower courts had rejected Usui’s attempts to secure legal recognition as male “without having his female reproductive glands surgically removed.”
The four Japanese justices justified their decision by saying that Law 111 prevented “problems” in parent-child relationships which could lead to “confusion” and “abrupt changes” to their society.
Human Rights Watch responded that Japan’s Supreme Court ruling was “incompatible with international human rights standards, goes against the times and deviates far from best global practices.”
The only encouraging news from Japan’s recent high-court ruling was that the four justices said Law 111 was invasive and should undergo regular review as cultural attitudes change over time.
Presiding justice Mamoru Miura and one other justice wrote that “doubts are undeniably emerging” regarding Law 111.
All eyes are turning to Japan, host of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the nation’s capital. Will transgender discrimination bring shame to the Empire of the Sun?