Japan: “Male, female…other?” Form-makers consider possible LGBT discrimination in their terminology

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. Read more via Sora News