Boxer fights through gender disorder

Women's champ suffered through years of doubts

by Takeshi Ozawa

Kyodo

Years ago, Go Shindo used to dream of becoming a teacher or a firefighter. But as she struggled with her gender identity, bullying by university classmates and despair from social discrimination, there was a time when she gave herself to alcohol and even contemplated suicide.

Now, the 26-year-old, with the world women’s boxing flyweight title under her belt, no longer tries to hide or look away from the problems she faces. While no easy feat, Shindo has gone public with her situation and hopes others suffering from gender identity disorder can find comfort and courage through her.

Shindo, whose name remains Megumi Hashimoto on her family registry, spent her early childhood playing with boys, running around wearing shorts passed on from her brother. In elementary school, she never wore skirts. And she ran around with her upper body naked even as she approached her adolescent years, prompting an alarmed teacher to phone up her parents to alert them to it.

“I didn’t understand at all what was so embarrassing about it,” Shindo recalled.

Entering junior high school, she had no choice but to wear a skirt as it was part of the school uniform. But inside, Shindo adored the boys’ uniforms: jackets with stand-up collars.

In senior high school, she began to like other girls, resulting in classmates talking about her behind her back and calling her a lesbian. Shindo then decided she had to hide her sexual orientation, keep her mouth shut and devote all her energies to playing basketball.

In university, she made the women’s basketball team but fell in love with a senior teammate. The romantic relationship was not welcomed by rest of the team. In the end, her girlfriend ended the relationship and Shindo was deserted by her teammates.

As she agonized over her life, Shindo came to learn that she had gender identity disorder. She took a leave of absence from school and became part of the night life crowd, where she found others like herself.

Gradually, Shindo’s life fell apart. After a few months, an acquaintance who was a nightclub hostess, sat her down and said, “Seeing the way you are now makes me sad. You are simply trying to look away from your real self, running away (from reality).”

Upon hearing those words, Shindo realized that she had until then always blamed other people for being prejudiced and failing to comprehend and accept her sexual orientation. She finally became aware that what was most important in her life was to affirm her identity. So she revealed her gender identity struggle to her parents and also told old friends from junior and senior high school.

After being able to accept her real self, Shindo was determined to get her life back on track, back to the days when it was centered on sports rather than alcohol.

Shindo wanted to exercise to get fit again, so she enrolled at the Kuratoki Boxing Gym in her neighborhood in the city of Wakayama.

“What I had lost, I found here — my own self toiling hard and doing my best,” Shindo said. “I was immediately drawn into this from the beginning.”

In 2008, soon after she joined the gym the previous December, Japanese professional boxing opened its doors to women. Tetsuya Harada, the 68-year-old head of the gym, suggested Shindo turn professional.

At first, Shindo was hesitant as she still wanted to become a firefighter. It was her father, Koichiro, 58, who gave her the decisive push. “You truly shine when you’re playing sports,” he said.

Of course, Shindo is not without her doubts and discomfort about engaging in women’s boxing despite identifying as a man.

“Should I continue women’s boxing like this?” she wondered for a time while considering the possibility of undergoing sex-reassignment surgery and changing her sex in the family registry.

Shindo finally consulted a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with gender identity disorder. At the same time, the psychologist gave her the following advice: “If life is completely miserable then perhaps (one may consider it), but you are shining bright and at your best right now. There is no need to hastily amend the registry.”

“What is important is not the decision of whether to live as a man or a woman, but the environment in which you can keep going with a smile,” the psychiatrist told her.

After failing in her first world title bid overseas, Shindo won the women’s WBC flyweight title this spring by defeating by unanimous decision the then-champion in a bout held in her hometown, Wakayama.

Nowadays, Shindo takes a positive approach to her struggle. “If I became a man, would my life become happier just because of that? Would everyone not hold any prejudice against me anymore?”

“That is not the point,” she said. “Whether I am a man or a woman, this is something I must face up to and continue to tackle for the rest of my life.”

Many people with gender identity problems find it difficult to publicly disclose their situation. “I just happened to be one who could say it out loud,” Shindo said. “I hope that when others see what I’m doing, they will also find the strength to hang in there and keep trying.”

“I hope to be their source of courage,” she said.

Asked if she is never afraid in boxing, Shindo giggled and said, “I’m not afraid to be punched. But I do have intense fear about losing — especially to women. After all, my (real) rivals are men.”

  • Me Piper

    I don’t think that the Japanese government as yet allows sex changes to be recorded on Family Registers, so even if Shindo san has sex reassignment surgery she won’t be able to register herself anew with her local ward office. The reason is that the Japanese government defines gender genetically, not physiologically. Sex reassignment surgery does not/cannot change one’s male/female chromosome structure. A woman altered to appear male retains her XX chromosome pattern, and a male altered to appear female retains his XY pattern.
    I tend to agree with this definition of gender because it is irrefutably true, and besides which it is just plain simple, which is good.
    The psychiatrist’s comment “What is important is not the decision of whether to live as a man or a woman , but the environment in which you can keep going with a smile” sounds really stupid and unprofessional to me. Why should a psychiatrist talk about her “smile?” It does nothing to meaningfully address her gender identity disorder. You can be as miserable as hell but just keep smiling? Chin up? Keep a stiff upper lip? Ganbatte? It’s a Japanese thing, really, maudlin sentimentality. But it kind of diminishes the psychiatrist’s professionalism in my eyes and makes him/her sound just silly. What a stupid, meaningless thing to say to a patient

    • Bradie Wright

      very well put!
      Sadly there are too many psychiatrists out there who are like that. I wish Shindo the best of luck.

  • Fynn

    If Shindo-san identifies as a man, even without sexual reassignment surgery, isn’t it rude of the article to constantly use feminine pronouns to address him? Perhaps Shindo-san didn’t specify pronouns, since gendered pronouns aren’t prevalent in Japanese like they are in English, but it still seems rude to use “she” if Shindo-san identifies himself as a man.