I can’t believe these countries force trans people like me to be sterilised

Only this week, Japan ruled the requirement unconstitutional.

I can’t believe these countries force trans people like me to be sterilised
A Japanesepro trans sign
Why should someone’s marriage have a bearing on whether they can change gender? (Picture: Yuichi YAMAZAKI / AFP)

When it comes to making progress on LGBT+ rights, in the UK and abroad, it can feel like one step forward and two steps back.

This week a landmark judgement in Japan ruled that requiring trans people to be sterilised prior to changing legal gender markers was unconstitutional.

This is, of course, cause for celebration – the law had rightly been criticised for years for being abusive, cruel and a breach of people’s human rights – but the decision is still tinged with sadness, and a reminder of how far we need to go in the pursuit of equality. 

Not only because the judges refused to fully rule on a further cruel clause mandating that the genitals of a trans person must ‘resemble’ the opposite gender, but because there is a chance that politicians in the socially conservative country will fight or fail to enact the ruling.

The 11 countries in Europe and Central Asia requiring sterlisation of trans people who want their gender identity formally recognised

According to TGEU, these are the 11 countries:

  • Andorra
  • Bosnia & Herzegovina
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kosovo
  • Latvia
  • Montenegro
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Turkey

This does not take into account the countries of Europe and Central Asia that do not have a legal gender recognition procedure in place – or countries outside of this area.

It means that of the five arbitrary and inhumane ‘requirements’ trans people need to meet to change gender – being over 18 years old, being unmarried, not having underage children; having genitals that resemble those of the opposite gender, and having no reproductive ability – four still remain. 

It is nonsensical – why should someone’s marriage have a bearing on whether they can change gender?

For a country that is modern and advanced, Japan’s approach to LGBT+ rights hasn’t improved nearly as much as in many other places in the world.

As an example, it is the only country in the G7 that doesn’t recognise marriage equality.

Seeing judgements on LGBT+ equality, good and bad, makes me reflect on my own experiences, and how fortunate I have been to have been raised in Iceland, a country that doesn’t impose such inhumane laws. 

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My home country has gone even further since, and trans people can now change their legal gender marker at the start of their transition, updating their ID to navigate society with documentation that better reflects and matches who they actually are. 

It’s terrifying to think that I would have been forced to be sterilised, and I can imagine that for trans people who want to be parents, it’s a horrifying prospect that your government and country doesn’t want you to reproduce just because of who you are. 

How clauses like this can be passed in the first place truly is harrowing, and tells us a lot about how mistreated trans people are in the world, and how people don’t fully see us as equal to other human beings.

And it shows how slow progress can be – even the introduction of this clause, in 2003, came as part of a law that first allowed people to change gender. Victories for LGBT+ rights often seem to be tinged with defeats.

Changes like this are crucial to trans people – being forced to use an ID that no longer reflects how we live our lives can cause serious issues. 

It can cause problems when people use public services, when we travel and even when we seek medical help.

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In Japan, those opposing the ruling of the court made the same tired arguments that will be familiar to those of us in the UK who spend our days battling misconceptions put forward by anti-trans voices. 

The arguments about ‘women feeling unsafe’ around trans women in particular, and that it could cause ‘legal confusion’.

These are, in my view, not credible arguments – all rulings like this will do is to allow trans people to live with dignity in society.

That’s all we want.

Thankfully it seems that opinions in Japan are changing, as recent polls show increased support for LGBT+ friendly laws like recognising marriage equality.

I hope that this landmark judgement in Japan will have a ripple effect and will pave the way for more change and equal rights for transgender people in that region, and across the world. 

Japan may have removed the requirement for trans people to be sterilised, but there remain an estimated 11 countries in Europe and Central Asia that still have one in place – including Turkey and Finland. 

Progress is being made in some places, like in Sweden, where trans people who were forced to undergo sterilisation are now being compensated, but there is clearly still a long way to go.

You only need to look at the hostility to the community in the UK to see that. 

While Britain isn’t nearly as institutionally hostile towards LGBT+ people as Japanese society is, regular readers will know we are not short of challenges.

As a trans person, it is exhausting to see our politicians using us as a political football in a country that has much more pressing issues than trans people using public bathrooms or trans women being housed in female wards.

Trans people are a part of every society in the world, and will continue to exist, no matter what is thrown at us by governments and siren voices opposing our rights.

Because at the end of the day, being trans is a part of the ordinary diversity of life.

The sooner we as a society and we as a world realise that, the sooner we can take steps to ensure trans people’s rights, eradicate prejudice and discrimination, and find ways to live in harmony together. 

Rulings like the one in Japan will always result in mixed feelings, because every sign of progress reminds us of how far we have to go to ensure that LGBT+ people can live with dignity.

Because wherever we are in the world, whatever our gender or orientation, that’s something that we all deserve.

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