Japan Is Coercing Transgender People Into Surgical Sterilization for Legal Recognition


Japan should “stop forcing transgender people to be surgically sterilized if they want legal recognition of their gender identity,” argues a new harrowing 84-page Human Rights Watch report.

Currently, Japan’s Gender Identity Disorder Special Cases (GID) Act requires anyone who wants to legally change their gender to first appeal to a family court. “The procedure is discriminatory, requiring applicants to be single and without children under age 20, to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to receive a diagnosis of ‘gender identity disorder,’ and to be sterilized,” explains the report. Specifically, the law requires that successful applicants do “not have gonads or permanently lack functioning gonads,” and “have a physical form that is ‘endowed with genitalia that closely resemble the physical form of an alternative gender.’”

“Japan should uphold the rights of transgender people and stop forcing them to undergo surgery to be legally recognized,” said Kanae Doi of Human Rights Watch. “The law is based on an outdated premise that treats gender identity as a so-called ‘mental illness’ and should be urgently revised.”

The Japanese government and Supreme Court have defended the sterilization requirement by expressing “concerns related to trans men becoming pregnant, saying they ‘may cause confusion in society,’” says the report. This argument is counter to a 2016 United Nations report which called “forced or otherwise involuntary gender reassignment surgery, sterilization or other coercive medical procedures” what it is: “abusive.” As Human Rights Watch notes, “mandatory surgical interventions amount to coercion.”

While some transgender people may want to undergo surgical procedures, the report explains, “requiring all transgender people to do so is contrary to international law and a violation of transgender people’s basic rights.” This requirement can prevent people from obtaining legal recognition, according to the report, which interviewed 48 transgender people in Japan. “Of course I want to change the gender on my official family register, and have relationships with my significant other,” said a transgender woman living in Tokyo. “But the walls that I have to overcome are just too big.”

It can also coerce people into medical decisions they otherwise would not have made. Yasuhiro, a 30-year-old transgender man living in Osaka, underwent surgery in order to be legally recognized as a man. He told Human Rights Watch, “I had to choose between being legally recognized for who I am and keeping my body the way I wanted it.”

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