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Misinformation on transgender women spreads in Japan, even at LDP study session

Tomomi Inada, second from left, is seen speaking as the head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s committee to study sexual orientation and gender identity at a meeting held at the party's headquarters in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on April 8, 2021. (Mainichi/Miyuki Fujisawa)

TOKYO -- A move to discriminate transgender women based on misconceptions such as, "men can enter women's bathhouses by stating that they are women" is spreading. In recent years, posts viewing trans women using "women-only spaces" as a problem have been circulating on social media. The argument was also presented at a study group meeting for Diet members, and could influence policy decisions.

    The Mainichi Shimbun interviewed experts to clear up such misunderstandings and prevent inappropriate attacks against transgender people. Transgender people identify as being of a gender that differs from the sex that they were assigned at birth. A trans woman is a woman who is registered as a male at birth, but identifies as a woman.

    A study session under the theme "LBGT out of control" was held in Tokyo's Nagatacho district at noon on March 26 by a ruling Liberal Democratic Party parliamentary group promoting female lawmakers' empowerment. The group is co-headed by former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada. Diet members, local assembly members and other participants were apparently seen nodding while listening to a lecture that portrayed transgender women as a threat to cisgender women (those registered as female at birth and identifying as women). The lecture was given by Koji Shigeuchi, adviser to the LDP's committee to study sexual orientation and gender identity.

    Ruling and opposition parties are currently advancing discussions on a bill on sexual minorities, including LGBT people. While opposition parties proposed a law to eliminate discrimination against LGBT people, the LDP's committee headed by Inada is instead aiming to establish a bill to promote people's understanding of LGBT issues by taking measures to spread the right knowledge.

    An outline of the Liberal Democratic Party's bill to increase people's understanding on LGBT issues is seen in this photo taken on May 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Miyuki Fujisawa)

    Since the study session was not open to the media, the Mainichi Shimbun asked participants what was said during the session. Shigeuchi, who is male, apparently said if the LDP's bill does not pass, "I could say that I'm a woman from today and be able to enter women's bathhouses." His explanation seemed to suggest that men could participate in sports as women and enter women's bathhouses simply by saying they were women. His theory was that this kind of environment "is dangerous for women," and that trans women pose a threat to cis women and their empowerment, according to participants.

    When asked about the lecture, an official at Inada's office replied, "As it was held privately, we cannot answer in detail," but generally admitted to what the participants described. They added, "That does not mean Ms. Inada shares or agrees with (Shigeuchi's lecture)."

    Shigeuchi is the representative director of the Association for the Promotion of LGBT Understanding. The general incorporated association's website describes him as having been active in advising the government to gain further understanding of LGBT issues. In 2016, he received the Japan Pride Award from Fruits in Suits Japan, another LGBT-related general incorporated association, along with Inada.

    Tomomi Inada, co-head of a Liberal Democratic Party parliamentary group promoting female lawmakers' empowerment. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

    When the Mainichi sent an email asking for an interview, Shigeuchi declined, saying, "It was a party meeting held privately, so I cannot comment on the matter."

    Regarding the view that trans women pose a threat to women-only spaces, Yuriko Iino, a project research associate on the study of feminism at the University of Tokyo, says posts that exclude or attack trans women began to stand out online in Japan around July 2018, when Ochanomizu University -- a women's university -- announced it would accept transgender women as students.

    Similar movements occurred in the U.K. after a bill to allow people to legally change their gender status by self-declaration was proposed in 2018. Some opponents of the bill deliberately spread misinformation, saying, "men can enter women's bathrooms if they say they are women," to evoke anxiety and make the existence of trans women seem dangerous.

    What is wrong with this view? First of all, transgender people have the right to live as the gender that they identify with and to be treated by others under that gender identity. Treating a trans woman as a man can deeply hurt them, and is an act ignoring their dignity. Shigeuchi's remarks are problematic in the first place in that they regard trans women as men.

    Lawyer Yuka Tateishi, who is familiar with legal issues concerning sexual minorities explained, "In recent years, there have been more judicial cases granting legal protection to transgender people who are living as the gender they identify with."

    The Liberal Democratic Party's headquarters is seen in this file photo taken in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Kazuhisa Soneda)

    Regarding the use of women's bathrooms and changing rooms by transgender women, restrooms consist of stalls, and though no one takes their clothes off in front of others, people tend to point out that "other users may feel uneasy." However, Tateishi maintained that "there's no reason to restrict someone's use only because other people feel uneasy about it."

    A woman who changed the gender of her family register from male due to gender dysphoria was refused a golf club membership, and in a 2015 appeal in a subsequent lawsuit seeking damages, the golf club's claim that "members feel strong anxiety and confusion" was dismissed as "abstract and lacking in concreteness."

    What about public spaces like bathhouses where users become undressed? The appearance of genitals of transgender people depend on whether they've had gender reassignment surgery.

    Tateishi commented, "When it comes to facilities where all users have to get undressed, it can be considered a reasonable decision to treat people differently depending on whether they've had surgery or have physical gender differences." In other words, if it's a place where other people can see their genitals, facilities can restrict a transgender person's use depending on the situation.

    This file photo shows a restroom sign. (Mainchi/Miyuki Fujisawa)

    Some say that there will be an increase in the number of male sex offenders posing as trans women, but the lawyer clearly stated that stereotyping transgender people as potential criminals "is prejudice and discrimination." Even if a man who is arrested for a sex crime lies that he "is a transgender woman," the nature of the crime does not change, and he cannot use that as an excuse.

    Tateishi pointed out, "Whether a person is transgender or not can be determined swiftly by examining the presence or absence of gender changes, whether the person has a history of hormone therapy and other information. Even in a case where a man pretends to be a woman and breaks into a facility, it should be discussed separately from transgender issues."

    Iino commented, "Nevertheless, some people may feel scared. But there's no reason to exclude someone just because of those feelings." She added, "It's important not to look for easy answers to such complicated issues. Public spaces are for everyone. Efforts are required to make them available to a diverse range of people such as by making adjustments according to each individual case and discussing the rules each time."

    (Japanese original by Japanese original by Miyuki Fujisawa, Digital News Center)

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