Trans man challenges Japan’s cruel, archaic gender laws with historic legal action

People hold up signs reading 'equality now' during a rally organised by an activist group in support of LGBT+ legislation in Shibuya district of Tokyo, Japan

Gen Suzuki, a Japanese trans man, has filed a request with a Japanese court legally change his gender without having to undergo surgery and be sterilised.

Suzuki, 46, filed a request on Monday (4 October) with the Hamamatsu branch of the Shizuoka Family Court to alter his family registry to align with his gender identity, Mainichi reported.

Currently, Japanese law requires transgender people to get sterilised before they can legally change their gender. According to Mainichi, any changes to family registers in Japan, which record information about an individual including their gender and familial relationships, require permission from family courts.

After filing the request, Suzuki held a news conference with his female partner, saying they intended to get married. He said he found it “nonsensical that transgender people cannot enjoy marriage equality in Japan” unless they switch genders in their family registers.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) previously called on the Japanese government to revise Law 111 to “bring it into accordance with international human rights standards and medical practices so that individuals’ gender marker in the family registry can be changed without having to satisfy any medical conditions”.

It said the government needed to abolish the “current conditions of sex reassignment surgery and irreversible infertility” and the “requirement that applicants have no underage children”.

Trans activist Fumino Sugiyama said in an interview with the BBC that he isn’t legally recognised as male by the Japanese government because he has “not taken out my uterus or ovaries”.

“I may look like a middle-aged man, but the family register says I’m a woman,” Sugiyama said.

He added that he cannot legally “get married to my partner” and doesn’t have “any legal ties with our children”.

“It’s okay when everything is all right,” Sugiyama told the BBC. “But if she becomes ill, or if something were to happen to our child, I might not be able to visit them in the hospital or sign a waiver.”

Japan implemented the Gender Identity Disorder (GID) special case law in 2004. Under the law, transgender people must meet five requirements before they can legally change gender. The individual must be at least 20 years old, not presently married, not have any underage children (under 20), must be sterilised and have genitalia that “closely resemble the physical form of an alternative gender”.

In 2019, the Japanese supreme court unanimously upheld the law requiring trans people seeking to legally change their gender to be sterilised. Takaito Usui, a trans man, appealed to the court to overturn Law 111, but the supreme court rejected his case, ruling the law was constitutional.

However, according to the AFP, the court acknowledged “doubts” were emerging on whether the rule reflected changing societal values in Japan.

According to Mainichi, Suzuki previously told reporters that he would be willing to appeal his case to the supreme court if it is rejected.