A Japanese transgender man, Gen Suzuki, 46, has filed a court request to have his legal gender recognized as male without undergoing sterilization surgery as prescribed by national law. His case highlights the urgent need for Japan to revise its outdated and harmful transgender legislation.
In Japan, transgender people who want to legally change their gender must appeal to a family court. Under the “Gender Identity Disorder (GID) Special Cases Act,” applicants must undergo a psychiatric evaluation and be surgically sterilized. They also must be single and without children younger than 20.
In 2017, during its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Japan pledged to revise the law. But despite mounting domestic and international pressure, the government has failed to do so. In 2019 Japan’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the law did not violate Japan’s constitution. However, two of the justices recognized the need for reform. “The suffering that [transgender people] face in terms of gender is also of concern to society that is supposed to embrace diversity in gender identity,” they wrote.
UN experts and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health have both urged Japan to eliminate the law’s discriminatory elements and to treat trans people, as well as their families, the same as other citizens.
Momentum is growing domestically as well, as legal, medical, and academic professionals are speaking out against the law. In 2019 a transgender woman sued the Japanese government over a law that prevents her from having her legal gender officially changed from “male” to “female,” only because she has an 8-year-old child.
Even the name of Japan’s law reflects the need to reform it. Referring to “gender identity disorders” is fundamentally out of sync with international medical standards. The World Health Organization (WHO) removed “gender identity disorders” from its International Classification of Diseases in 2019, and governments have until January 2022 to update their diagnostic coding systems, meaning the phrase should no longer be on the books.
From Suzuki’s case to the WHO, to the growing voices of experts at home, the message is clear: Japan needs to change its regressive law now.