Japan’s highest court upholds sterilizations for trans people

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Japan’s Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a transgender man, Takakito Usui, to overturn Law 111, which requires applicants to “permanently lack functioning” reproductive parts in order to qualify for gender affirmation.


The Supreme Court of Japan upheld an abhorrent law that explicitly requires trans people to be sterilized in order to have their gender recognized by the state—a terrible blow to trans people’s rights, and reproductive rights generally.

Trans people are denied the right to have their gender legally recognized in many countries. But even where they have attained this basic right of recognition, they face other forms of state repression.

In Japan, Law 111 allows for legal recognition of a trans person’s gender identity after transition. But it explicitly demands that the transition entail sterilization and surgical alteration of genitalia, which is not something universally desired by transgender people. Law 111 was challenged by Takakito Usui, a trans man, but the Supreme Court of Japan upheld the law as constitutional on Jan. 24.

Among the governments of the world that allow individuals to legally change their gender, many still require medical or surgical interventions that lead to sterilization. Though the European Court of Human Rights ruled against these sorts of requirements in 2017, 14 European countries continue to demand sterilization as part of gender recognition (source: Transgender Europe)! And many states in the U.S. continue to demand surgical intervention to change important documents like birth certificates and state IDs, leaving pre-op and non-op transgender individuals at risk of being outed in a country with extremely weak protections, where they exist, against discrimination.

It is important to note that most governments where gender recognition is possible (including the U.S.) pathologize the state of being transgender, forcing trans people to go through a difficult process that makes their gender a question of medical inquiry. So even where invasive surgeries are not required, transgender people face hurdles wherein states treat them as abnormal medical subjects.

But being trans is not a disease, and no one can vouch better for the gender identity of a person than the person herself. Instead of allowing the governments of the world to determine arbitrarily and cruelly which bodies should be deemed authentic, and which surgeries should be required of trans people regardless of their own desires, we should trust that no people other than themselves can determine their own gender identities. Mere self-identification is the only thing that should be needed to legally change one’s gender.

It is dehumanizing to have to get permission from the government to be who you are, yet there are only a few countries in the world (such as Ireland) where people may legally change gender with a mere statutory self-declaration. We must stand in solidarity with the movements in the world for self-identification, for rights to gender recognition, and against the pathologization and repugnant violations of bodily autonomy by all states against trans people in the world.

Furthermore, we need a trans inclusive reproductive justice movement that accounts for the myriad experiences within the working class, and the various ways in which the right to reproduce is denied to workers. The denial of bodily autonomy is paramount for the ruling-class goal of disciplining the workforce and creating oppressed “surplus” populations.


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