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Japan’s Supreme Court Just Upheld a Law Forcing Surgery and Sterilization on Trans People Culture

Japan’s Supreme Court Just Upheld a Law Forcing Surgery and Sterilization on Trans People

Written by Stephan Horbelt on January 25, 2019
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The four judges on Japan’s Supreme Court on Jan. 24 ruled unanimously to uphold a law requiring the forced sterilization of trans people before they are able to legally change their gender.

Takakito Usui, a Japanese trans man (pictured above on right), wanted to change his gender on official documents without undergoing the forced sterilization process. It was his appeal of the case that Japan’s Supreme Court today rejected.

The 2003 law, referred to as Law 111, requires that a person seeking to change their gender legally must have “no reproductive glands or reproductive glands that have permanently lost function.” They must also have “a body which appears to have parts that resemble the genital organs of those of the opposite gender.”

Usui must accept this ruling by Japan’s Supreme Court as final. He has said to the press following the court’s decision, “The essential thing should not be whether you have had an operation or not, but how you want to live as an individual.”

The Japanese court’s reasoning in upholding forced sterilization concerns the prevention of “confusion” in relationships, in mainstream society and with children. The court did acknowledge, however, that the forced sterilization requirement is invasive, which means it should be re-examined over time as public attitudes and societal norms change.

The high court writes, “Suffering related to gender, felt by people with gender identity disorder, is also the problem of society as a whole, which should encompass the diversity of sexual identity.”

Last summer, in June 2018, the Japanese government decided it would subsidize trans citizens’ gender-affirming surgery, barring any pre-existing medical conditions. That would allow trans people undergoing surgery to only 30% of surgery costs.

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Fumino Sugiyama is another Japanese trans man who is unable to marry his girlfriend because he has no desire to undergo surgery. (Photo courtesy of NBC News / Daniel Hurst)

Still, those seeking that subsidized gender-affirming surgery must meet stringent requirements. They must have undergone forced sterilization, must be single and without kids and must undergo a psych evaluation.

The concept of forced sterilization to ensure recognition of trans identity is not specific to Japan. Switzerland, Greece and more than a dozen other European nations have also required it. It wasn’t until April 6, 2017, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the policy, calling for 22 countries under its jurisdiction to change their laws.

As The Economist says, forced sterilization has “dark echoes of eugenics.” The original basis for such a requirement, which originated in Sweden in the early 1970s, was that trans people are mentally ill and thus unfit to care for children. Though Sweden removed the requirement in 2013, by that time forced sterilization had already become the norm in several other countries.

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