There is really no way to ease into a subject like this and quite frankly, I do not want to. On March 16, The Economist published an article discussing a Japanese Supreme Court ruling made earlier this year. When publicizing the article, The Economist tweeted, “should transgender people be sterilised before they are recognized?” followed by a link to the article. This was the first line of the piece, a very poorly chosen tagline to stand on its own. When read in context with the full article, that question is followed by the sentence, “earlier this year Japan’s Supreme Court decided that the answer is yes.”
This royal screw-up on the part of The Economist prompted a massive wave of backlash across news sources and social media, after which they promptly deleted the tweet and issued a lackluster apology. But the ineptitude and lack of social tack possessed by The Economist is not what I want to talk about. Their faux-pas has started a much needed conversation about the rights of transgender individuals and their struggle to legally become even a fraction as equal as cisgender individuals.
The Economist’s article reports on Takakito Usui, a Japanese citizen and transgender man who sued his government for requiring that he have his ovaries and uterus removed and replaced with traditionally male genitalia before he could be legally recognized as a male. Ultimately, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled against Usui in late January, upholding their law that transgender citizens must undergo sterilisation and reassignment surgery before they can be legally recognized as their true gender.
This law brings up a multitude of issues. The most important of these, yet the least talked about, is the diversity of trans bodies and identity presentations. Not every trans man feels the need to receive a mastectomy and not every trans woman wants a phalloplasty. I am nonbinary, meaning I do not identify as male or female, but I take testosterone injections, a biologically male hormone, to help build the body I feel is true to my identity. Again, not every nonbinary person feels the same or takes the same actions that I do. Designating surgeries, and in effect body types, for specific identities perpetuates a harmful dichotomy defining what it means to be male and female. It completely disregards the bodies and feelings of tens of thousands of people.
Another glaring issue with this law is money. While Japan has a universal healthcare system in place where taxes cover the majority of medical expenses, this does not pay the entire medical bill for gender reassignment surgery. Japanese National Healthcare will only cover up to 70 percent of the costs associated with the required surgery. To make things even more difficult, in order for an individual’s procedure to be covered by the national healthcare, they must meet a slew of requirements that range from difficult to downright discriminatory.
First, they cannot be receiving hormone reassignment therapy or possess any pre-existing conditions. The second of which is an intentionally vague qualification used universally to deny medical coverage. They also must be single, under the age of 20 and have no children. Finally, they must receive a psychiatric evaluation which formally diagnoses them with gender identity disorder. Only then will they receive, at best, coverage for 70 percent of the procedure cost.
This is systematic natural genocide, plain and simple. In order to live and be recognized like any cisgender Japanese citizen, trans individuals must give up their right and ability to reproduce. Even more subtly, their government has created stipulations for medical coverage such as age, romantic involvement and existing children, which intentionally isolates trans people and stifles the production of a loving and educated generation. All of these are blatant indicators that the Japanese government wants to let the trans population to die off without the opportunity to help raise and influence the next generation.
One could argue that you do not need to have children to create change and educate others. You could adopt, or become a teacher. However, this removes the right for a parent to choose whether or not they want to reproduce. This completely removes the ability for these individuals to have children without adopting or fostering and removes a great deal of agency for bodies which are already deeply politicized. Everyone is a product of their parents in some form or another. They raised and taught us. We interpreted the world through them before we were able to understand it on our own. Growing up with healthy, happy diverse parents fosters an ingrained sense of acceptance which rallies and rhetoric cannot teach in the same way.
I grew up in a predominantly white, suburban, southern town, and it has taken me so long to discover and accept my identity as a trans person. I had no idea how to explain what I was feeling. I had no resources or role models in the media or my community to look to for advice. I did not learn the term “transgender” until high school and even then, I did not fully understand it until college. Having visible transgender people in my life would have completely changed my upbringing and my journey of self-discovery.
What the Japanese government and Supreme Court have done is criminal. It is the systematic discrimination and destruction of a population. Transgender individuals should not have to give up their basic human bodily functions and rights in order to be presented equally with cisgender individuals in the eyes of society and the law.