Gays, transsexuals work forunderstanding


Keiji Hirano(Kyodo)


TOKYO ― Gays, lesbians and transsexuals in Japan are looking to cooperate to improve the Japanese public's understanding of them and the challenges they face.

They are gearing up for legal fights to be guaranteed the same subsistence rights as heterosexuals. They also hope to set up a joint support center in the near future to offer each other advice on overcoming difficulties they have in leading their lives.

"Transsexuals are asking to be allowed to change their gender in their civil registry, and homosexual couples are seeking rights and benefits equal to those of heterosexual couples," said Satoru Ito, a gay activist and Hosei University lecturer.

"Each of us aims at different goals," said Ito, who also runs the Sukotan Project with his partner to promote public understanding of homosexuals. The Sukotan Project organizes lectures, arranges publishing and offers counseling to homosexuals.

"But we believe we will be able to work in a coalition to achieve them through social as well as legal means," Ito said.

As the first step, Ito recently edited a book with Masae Torai, a transsexual activist. The book consists mainly of essays by gays, lesbians and transsexuals.

In "A Book for Understanding a Variety of Sexuality," transsexuals described how they have led difficult lives because their congenital gender differs from that with which they feel comfortable and to which they want to belong.

Some said that out of concern over the public's view of them, they isolated themselves in their rooms at home.

"I did not feel like going out because of my gender-neutral appearance with long hair and hormone therapy," noted one transsexual.

Torai said some transsexuals work only part time because they do not want to submit to their employers their residence certificates revealing their sex. Others are reluctant to see doctors as they do not want to be stared at near hospital counters.

As for homosexuals, one gay man noted it was difficult for him and his partner to rent an apartment in which to live together because landlords rejected their sexual orientation. Another said his parents cried when he told them he was gay.

One lesbian said she dropped out of college due to mental stress before she herself had accepted her sexual orientation.

Both transsexuals and homosexuals pointed out in the book that while many corporations in Japan rule out discrimination against the disabled and foreign residents, they avoid mentioning homosexuals and transsexuals.

They also said they want to enjoy equal benefits guaranteed to ordinary couples, such as inheritance rights and visiting guarantees at hospitals when a partner falls seriously ill.

In May last year, six people, including Torai, who have undergone sex-change operations filed lawsuits seeking to change their gender in the civil registry to be able to enjoy basic social benefits, including marriage.

But a family court rejected a plaintiff's demand in August on grounds that there are still questions on the causes of gender identity disorder.

Ito said while he himself plans to take some legal action to ensure human rights protections for homosexuals, he wants to support the legal struggle being waged by transsexuals.

"Transsexuals and homosexuals have been acting separately on their own behalf, and we have not fully understood each other," he said. "But I think we can work together to promote mutual and public understanding and to ensure equal rights for everybody."

"We also plan to establish a community center-like place, where gays, lesbians and transsexuals can get together and interact with each other," he said.

For the past several years, Ito has held joint lectures with Torai at colleges and workshops for teachers. (Kyodo News)

September 28, 2002