A group of ruling coalition lawmakers is preparing legislation that would allow transsexuals to switch their gender on their family register after having sex-change surgery.
The bill, which is being discussed by a project team made up of lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, is aimed at allowing individuals diagnosed by psychiatrists as having gender identity disorder to apply to family courts to have their gender registration changed.
For years, transsexuals who underwent sex-change surgery have sought court approval to change their registered sex. They have also submitted numerous joint petitions to politicians and health ministry officials, seeking legal action to facilitate their quest.
“The bill is a long-cherished dream of GID patients,” said Chieko Noono, an LDP member of the House of Councilors and chairwoman of the transsexual bill panel.
“Although relatively conservative on family issues, the public finally appears to be aware of the problems haunting such people.
“The legislation is essential to reduce their anxiety in daily life and to help them fully participate in society.”
The Family Registration Law stipulates a register can be corrected only when “mistakes” are found, and family courts have repeatedly rejected petitions from transsexuals to switch their gender registration.
This inconveniences and humiliates many transsexuals trying to carry out everyday tasks, such as applying for official documents or public welfare programs, according to Aya Kamikawa, a 35-year-old transsexual who was elected in April to the Setagaya Ward Assembly in Tokyo.
Many transsexuals opt to work as part-timers in order to conceal their legally registered gender, causing them to live socially unstable lives, Kamikawa said.
Another major problem is that the current system effectively bars transsexuals from marrying, she said.
“But more than anything, this is an issue that directly affects one’s identity,” Kamikawa said. “It is just devastating to be reminded in official documents that I was born a man.”
In 2001, six transsexuals submitted petitions with family courts in a bid to change their registered gender.
Not one has been accepted, including a request by a GID patient who underwent a sex-change operation to become a man at the Saitama Medical School hospital, one of two hospitals in Japan authorized to perform sex-reassignment surgery.
The man, in his early 30s, whose request was rejected by the Supreme Court last week, said the planned legislation could constitute a last resort for transsexuals.
The man now lives with his female partner and her child from a previous marriage.
“I have fulfilled the roles as husband and father, but am not yet legally entitled to such status,” he said.
Saitama Medical School estimates there are between 2,200 and 7,000 people with GID in Japan.
The project team is now trying to get the bill approved by the coalition parties and submitted to the Diet by the scheduled June 18 close of the current session.
Team members are also asking various government ministries to examine the bill to get it to line up with existing laws under their jurisdiction.
“It may seem like just a question of sex, but such a legal change would entail adjustments to more than 100 laws, because all public documents and welfare services begin by identifying a person’s gender,” said LDP Upper House lawmaker Hidetoshi Yamashita, another member of the project team.
The team hopes to compile a concrete proposal sometime next week and present it to the ruling parties’ judicial affairs panels.
Because opposition lawmakers generally support this kind of legislation, the key to the success of their efforts is whether team members can win support from conservative lawmakers within their own parties, Yamashita said.
“Though senior lawmakers were generally unfamiliar with the issue, their understanding of the problems people with GID face has grown through our efforts,” Yamashita said.
He is confident the bill will at least be approved by the LDP’s judicial affairs panel.
To win approval from conservative members of the ruling coalition, who tend to uphold traditional family values, the bill sets various restrictions on gender-change eligibility.
Aside from having been diagnosed by two psychiatrists as having GID, applicants would have to be older than 20, unmarried, have no children, have undergone surgery to make intercourse as a member of their original gender impossible, and have, through cryosurgery, acquired the genital organs of their preferred sex.
These restrictions would effectively prevent Yoshie Honma from legally changing her registered gender, as she is married to a woman and has fathered two sons. Born a male, Honma, a systems engineer in her 40s, is now living as a woman, periodically injecting female hormones.
“When I married decades ago, I couldn’t dare to even dream that people with GID could win recognition and sympathy from the rest of society,” Honma said. “Many of them from my generation opted to marry in their registered sex and have children.”
Although Honma hopes the restrictions will eventually be relaxed to allow all those diagnosed with GID to change their registered gender, she supports the planned bill, as it is still a “great first step.”
The bill stipulates that legal amendments be made to meet the needs of transsexuals after three years.
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