For gay, transgender and nonbinary individuals in Japan, filling in forms can be daunting. But how to handle it?

The term “sexual minority” in Japanese refers to anyone who falls under the LGBT+ umbrella, and while lesbian and gay people have been fighting hard for equality as of late there is still a long, long way to go. Transgender individuals in Japan face an especially high risk of discrimination, regardless of the gender they intend to be recognized as, and this struggle is heightened when it comes to bureaucratic paperwork, of which Japan is inordinately fond.

A 60-year-old man in Kyoto Prefecture’s Joyo City recently sent in a letter to the Kyoto Newspaper’s readers’ column concerning the gender question on a form to apply to a senior citizens’ club. Though the form only included “male” and “female” options in 2018, the 2019 edition of the form added a third option: sono ta, meaning “other”. These three options would then be tallied in order to record gender distribution throughout the club, which provides financial aid to its members.

The man claimed in his letter that the phrasing of the “other” option holds a nuance of “unusual” and therefore could create possibilities for discrimination.

In 2018 there were calls to eliminate the gender category entirely, with those pushing for the change feeling it is “unnecessary” to disclose one’s gender to join the club. The option remained due to a desire to track the gender of members for equality purposes (to protect against gender discrimination as well as for secretarial records).

According to the city’s Department of Elderly Care, the “other” option was originally intended to be a free choice that the user could write in their own answer for – but for ease of processing data it became just one option. Those responsible for curating the forms stated “we acknowledge of the complaint and intend to discuss it within the club.”

The topic of gender is quite complicated across the world, but in a country with particularly rigid gender roles these complications are amplified. Individuals who identify as “X-gender” or “chuusei” (analogous to the English term “nonbinary”/”androgyne”) rarely find a way to describe themselves on official forms. Transgender men and women who have yet to transition may find it distressing to “out” themselves on forms if there is a likelihood staff will take them to task. And then of course, there are people who crossdress despite being comfortable with their assigned gender, who can also find themselves getting hassled for what they put down on their forms.

One of the most popular suggestions for addressing the problem of form terminology is just to allow users to write down their own gender in their own words, but even that comes with drawbacks. When people are given the option to write their own answers it becomes much more time-consuming to collate the data. Do you group the shojo (girls) with the onna no hito (women), or are they separate categories? If someone self-describes as okama (a controversial term for gay men and crossdressers) do you create a separate section for them?

There are no clear-cut answers as of yet, but the Internet is certainly rife with debate.

“So what do LGBT people even want to be done about this?”
“I mean, if they end up going so far as including a ‘prefer not to say’ option you may as well just get rid of the gender question altogether…”
“Do they have an option for intersex people?”
“I don’t care if people are gay or whatever, but I can’t stand people who complain about this sort of stuff.”

While people may have their complaints with bureaucracy and its limits, something nice to keep in mind is that the general populace have become much more accepting of LGBT identities in Japan as of late. At the end of the day governmental forms are created by people, so as attitudes change, maybe we’ll find a way to make sure everyone can be recognized by society for who they really are.

Source: Kyoto News via Hachima Kikou
Top image: Flickr/se7en