A trans man in Japan has filed a request to have his gender legally recognized without being forcibly sterilized as currently required by Japanese law.
Gen Suzuki, 46, filed his request on Monday in the Shizuoka Family Court, according to Japanese daily newspaper The Mainichi. Family courts oversee changes to family registers, which record births, family relations, and gender. While Suzuki has undergone hormone replacement therapy and top surgery, he doesn’t wish to get bottom surgery, citing a “heavy impact on physical and mental health.”
“It is wrong for the state to force an unwanted surgery,” Suzuki told the Mainichi. “There should be various options.”
The newspaper also reported that he and his female partner hope to marry, but in order to do that, Suzuki would be compelled to legally change his gender, as trans people cannot get married without doing so in Japan. If his request is rejected, he has indicated interest in appealing to Japan’s Supreme Court.
In 2019, Japan’s Supreme Court rejected a similar appeal from Takakito Usui, a trans man, who claimed that the sterilization requirement was unconstitutional. The court disagreed, claiming that the requirement was constitutional as it is “meant to reduce confusion in families and society.” While the ruling was unanimous, two judges acknowledged that social mores were changing, and proposed regular reviews of the law with respect to “personality and individuality.”
That same year, however, a woman was denied her request to legally change her gender because she had an eight-year-old child, even though she complied with the government’s surgical requirements and had relinquished custody of her child. Other trans parents have been forced to do the same, with Fumino Sugiyama, the co-chair of Tokyo Rainbow Pride, writing that “the most painful thing” for him to grapple with was not being a legal guardian of his child.
“My girlfriend gave birth to the child last year, and we are raising the kid in our house,” Sugiyama wrote in a 2019 op-ed for Reuters. “But it doesn’t matter how many times I change diapers or feed the baby, I have no legal rights – legally I’m just a ‘roommate’ helping out.”
Japan’s Gender Identity Disorder Special Cases Act, which was passed in 2004, has five requirements for trans people seeking to legally change their genders. Applicants must be 20 or older, remove their reproductive organs, and have a body that is “endowed with genitalia that closely resemble the physical form of an alternative gender.” Additionally, people cannot apply to legally change their gender if they are currently married, or if they have a minor child.
But pressure has been steadily mounting against the outdated law for years. In May, watchdog organization Human Rights Watch released a report that examined the impact of the law on the country’s trans population, with community members claiming that the legislation undermined their dignity. The organization also claims that the law is “contrary to international human rights law and international medical best practices, violating fundamental human rights.”
The name of the law itself is outdated, as “gender identity disorder” is no longer used as a diagnosis in many major medical organizations. In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders dropped “gender identity disorder” from its list of diagnoses. Denmark was the first country to declassify trans identity as a mental illness on a federal scale, with the World Health Organization following suit in 2019.
Nevertheless, many countries still classify trans people as mentally ill and force them to undergo sterilization in order to be legally recognized — including several states in the U.S. Although not a federal requirement, eight states — including Texas, Kentucky, Iowa, and Georgia — demand proof of surgery, a court order, or an amended birth certificate to change the gender marker on an identity document, according to the Movement Advancement Project, which tracks discriminatory legislation across the country.
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