Japan’s LGBT+ Laws Need to Change

By David Chen, Staff Writer

Courtesy of the Japan Times

Self-determination: the ability to say you are who you want to be, to freely express your identity and your authentic self without social coercion. It’s an intrinsic component of individuality. Imagine who you would be in a world without anyone telling you how you should act, behave, or aspire to be.

It is difficult to imagine that world because society will always possess expectations over how we act, what we should value, and who we will become. That is not to say society is innately harmful towards all of us, but its expectations do actively harm those who do not wish to conform to its norms.

One of these norms is a binary gender system. While recognition of the fluidity of gender as non-binary has improved in recent years, members of the LGBTQ+ community have yet to truly experience full access to a society that does not discriminate against them, in every part of the world.  

Japan’s Supreme Court has recently upheld a law created in 2004 requiring transgender people to be sterilized before legally changing their gender. Takakito Usui, a transgender man who wanted to change his legal gender status, has appealed to the court which requires applicants to “permanently lack functioning reproductive parts.” The court unanimously rejected his case.

This law acts as a deterrent for trans people to come out. If the state is unwilling to recognize that someone is trans, then they are similarly unlikely to offer legal protection if that person is discriminated against for his or her identity. Japan’s culture is one where pressure for conformity is strong. Moreover, it is coercive for transgender people to be sterilized when they would otherwise choose not to. Nearly 7,000 Japanese citizens have undergone sterilizations to have their legal genders changed.  

The law also reveals the state’s refusal to officially recognize transgender identities. Even if a trans person is open about his or her identity, he or she is forced to adhere to the label given from birth. For example, in Malaysia, officials have arrested citizens for wearing clothing deemed inappropriate to their legal gender. The implicit message from the state is that their identity is pre-determined at birth rather than what they choose unless they are willing to remove the function of their reproductive system. In other words, sterilization is the only mechanism in which trans people may access their legal right to self-determination.  

Japan lacks legal recognition for same-sex marriage. This is in spite of the growing support for gender diversity. A poll conducted by advertising firm conducted by Dentsu, an advertising firm, revealed 70% of respondents support stronger legal protection for LGBTQ+ people.

The binary gender norm is changing. No one should feel trapped in a predetermined identity. With local attitudes supporting self-determination for everyone regardless of gender, it is time that society’s laws reflected that.