Many Americans were shocked this week to learn of a trans man who is challenging Japan’s archaic law that requires trans people to be sterilized before legally changing gender.
The law in question, which was passed in 2004, mandates that trans people must have all of their original reproductive organs removed and provide proof of gender reassignment surgery before they can legally change their gender. The law also states that a trans person cannot legally change genders if they have children who are still minors.
According to the Human Rights Watch, the law is based on the outdated notion that being transgender is a”mental illness” (an idea that was thrown out by the WHO in 2019).
But a 36-year-old trans man named Gen Suzuki is ready to fight for his rights. On October 4, 2021, he officially filed for a gender change, despite not having the surgery. He told Japanese news source The Mainichi,
“It is wrong for the state to force an unwanted surgery. There should be various options.”
Critics of the law are unsure of his chances of winning the fight. If history is any indication, Suzuki will be unlikely to win. The same law was challenged just a few years ago in 2019 when a trans man, Takakito Usui, claimed the law was unconstitutional. The appeal went all the way to Japan’s Supreme Court, where the law was upheld unanimously by four judges.
That said, trans rights advocates were encouraged when two of the judges expressed an openness to changing the law in the future.
While this transphobic law may be news to many Americans, it’s certainly nothing new to the rest of the world. There are at least 10 countries in Europe and Central Asia alone that have such laws on the books, including the Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia, Romania, and Slovakia.
Of course, these laws only exist in countries that are actually willing to recognize that trans people exist. According to the 3rd annual Trans Legal Mapping Report, there are still many countries that refuse to acknowledge trans people, and worse, many countries that criminalize the very act of gender expression.
As of 2019, there are 13 countries that outright ban a trans person’s right to gender expression, which they refer to as “cross-dressing”. These countries include Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malawi, Malaysia, and Nigeria, among others. Punishment ranges from steep fines to prison time to the death penalty.
While the United States might not have such horrifying laws on the books, we’d be remiss not to address that trans rights are currently under siege in this country as well. This year already has a record-breaking amount of anti-trans laws on the books, with many bills targeting healthcare access, bathroom access, youth athletics, and more (you can see a full list on the ACLU’s website).
Worst than that, however, is the increasing violence against trans people. As of the writing of this article, at least 40 trans and/or gender non-conforming people have been murdered in 2021, which is dangerously close to breaking last year’s record of 44. The majority of the victims are Black trans women.
We may not have death penalty laws for gender expression, but for many trans people, merely being themselves can be a death sentence. It’s important that we continue to fight for trans rights in this country and around the world.
To learn more about how you can stop anti-trans violence, head to the Human Rights Campaign’s website here.