Fumino Sugiyama, a transgender man, had always felt trapped in a girl’s body while growing up.
Now, following breast-removal surgery at age 27, and after taking hormone therapy and growing a beard, the 34-year-old is a leading campaigner in Japan for better understanding of sexual minorities.
In early May, Sugiyama was at the head of a parade organized by nonprofit organization Tokyo Rainbow Pride, where he works as a co-leader to provide help to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The parade in Tokyo’s Shibuya district drew 4,500 participants, the most since its inception in 2013.
Sugiyama is also known for having played a central role when Shibuya Ward passed an ordinance last year allowing certificates to be issued recognizing same-sex partnerships as being equivalent to marriage.
The ward was the first municipality in Japan to adopt such an ordinance and several others have since followed suit.
“Without realizing, we had given up on living” like non-LGBT people, Sugiyama said. “But the enactment has offered us hope that we can bring about change if we pursue it.”
The ordinance is not legally binding, but highlights the importance of gender equality and respect for diversity.
It calls for nondiscriminatory treatment in situations such as looking for housing or visiting a partner in a hospital. Violators can be publicly named.
Sugiyama believes the move has raised public awareness of sexual minorities.
According to an internet survey of some 70,000 Japanese men and women aged 20 to 59 conducted last year by marketing company Dentsu Inc., 7.6 percent — or 1 in 13 people — identified themselves as LGBT.
A native of Tokyo, Sugiyama always felt that he was born in the wrong body. He remembers how he cried when he had to wear a skirt for the entrance ceremony to nursery school, and how he wet his underwear while trying to pee as a boy.
Sugiyama continued to feel uncomfortable living as a girl through elementary, junior high and high school. He hated wearing a girl’s uniform but he was never able to tell anyone.
“Every morning, I felt like, ‘Oh, I have to pretend to be a girl again today,’ ” Sugiyama said.
Sugiyama felt that he did not fit in anywhere whenever he was asked to specify his gender, such as when writing his resume and completing a questionnaire.
It was in his sophomore year at high school when he learned that his condition matched those of people with gender dysphoria.
After breast removal surgery, he looked at his flat chest and thought, “I finally became who I should be.”
In 2006, Sugiyama came out publicly as a transgender man by publishing a biography titled “Double Happiness.”
“It’s not that I wanted to change society, but rather I wanted to let people know who I am,” he said.
The book revealing his experiences and struggles struck a chord with people with gender dysphoria, and he received over 1,000 letters and text messages.
An overwhelming number of sexual minorities also came to meet Sugiyama in Shibuya, where he was working as a volunteer collecting trash on the streets.
Ken Hasebe, 44, now the mayor of Shibuya Ward but then a member of the ward assembly, had organized the trash-picking activity and was shocked to find that so many people were battling social discrimination and prejudice due to their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The ties that developed between Sugiyama and Hasebe resulted in the enactment of the Shibuya ordinance.
Sugiyama currently speaks about his experience at schools and businesses 40 to 50 times a year, and responds online to children who struggle with their sexual orientation, telling them, “You are not alone.”
“This is probably the task assigned to me in this life,” he said.
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