At no point have I ever had to grapple with the decision to have my genitals surgically removed. Perhaps the same is true for you. While these may seem an odd set of affirmations to open with, they help illustrate a basic truth: How we think about a law can vary greatly depending upon whether or not it is likely to affect us personally.

Until recently, I was able to consider Japan "progressive" in having adopted a law way back in 2003 that made it possible to change one's legal gender. That the law was framed in terms of addressing gender identity "disorder" was inconsequential to me since it was not me who was being branded as "dysfunctional." Similarly, the fact that to be eligible for a change of gender the applicant had to have no functioning reproductive glands as certified by two doctors, which would generally mean having undergone sex reassignment surgery, seemed like just another box that needed to be checked: They were not my reproductive glands, after all.

In fact, for some time I was more interested in the fact that the law was tied to the koseki (Japan's family registry system) and thus only seemed to benefit Japanese people. Going through the process mandated by the law enabled one to change the gender recorded in their family registry and thereafter be treated as the new gender for purposes of any laws where that attribute was relevant. Since only Japanese people have family registries, it seems there was no way for non-Japanese residents to change their gender in the eyes of the law.