National

Gender-neutral Canadian activist shows solidarity with Japan's LGBT communities

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

Gemma Hickey entered Japan this week with something no Japanese national can obtain — a gender-neutral passport in which the gender category shows neither female nor male, but an “X.”

The 42-year-old Canadian, who became one of the first in the country to receive such a passport, made their first visit to Japan with the passport on Monday to screen the documentary “Just be Gemma,” which tells the story of Hickey’s gender transition.

“I’m here in solidarity with the activists from Japan,” said Hickey during a media briefing session held at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo on Wednesday, in a show of support for the 13 LGBT couples who filed lawsuits against the Japanese government on Thursday seeking damages for not allowing them to marry. “I hope that sharing my experiences and challenges will build on good works that activists in Japan are doing.”

Hickey, who does not identify as a female or male and instead uses the pronoun “they,” was born and raised as a female and thought of themselves as gay during their teenage years — Hickey was not familiar with the word “transgender” at the time. Later, Hickey came out as transgender and underwent surgery and hormone treatment.

“But, I never really felt like I could fit into this binary of male or female,” said Hickey.

Hickey’s home province of Newfoundland and Labrador handled Hickey’s request to change their birth certificate to “X” after the case was brought to the Supreme Court in 2017.

In the same year, the Canadian government officially started implementing the “X” gender designation in legal documents such as passports, joining a few other countries across the globe including Denmark, Germany and Australia.

After receiving a gender-neutral passport, Hickey felt liberated when they were not stopped by airport staff to question why Hickey’s masculine appearance did not match the gender specified in their passport.

“I was often stopped by the security and had to stand aside. It was embarrassing as I was traveling with my mother,” said Hickey. “With a nonbinary passport, such troubles have never happened so far.”

Issuances of nonbinary passports seem to be a distant goal for activists in Japan, where same-sex marriages are not legally recognized. But Mika Yakushi, a representative director of the nonprofit organization ReBit, which studies LGBT issues, has noted that a similar trend is slowly spreading at the municipal level.

“There are many municipalities that have begun erasing questions related to gender in documents when it is not necessary,” Yakushi said during an interview with The Japan Times on Wednesday.

Hickey, a longtime activist who helped change the legal landscape of Canada, said that by traveling to countries with a nonbinary passport, they hope to make a positive international impact.

“There are many things I can learn from the cleanest and most organized city, Tokyo, and I hope I can leave some positive impacts in Japanese society,” Hickey said.