Elected to the City Council of Iruma in March last year, Tomoya Hosoda has a whole range of issues that he wants to tackle while in office, many of which revolve around a broader acceptance of diversity—including in terms of age, gender and physical ability—in Japanese society.
That is in part driven by the fact he grew up as a girl, but wanted to be a boy.
Hosoda, 26, is the first openly transgender man elected to public office in Japan, and activists have described his election victory as a marker for the rights of transgender people in this country and the wider community of sexual minorities.
“The image that most Japanese have of transgender people is based on the entertainers who dress as women on television shows here”, Hosoda told BCCJ ACUMEN. “The image I get is that they are laughing at these people—they are comical characters.
“But there is much less knowledge and understanding of a woman making the transition to becoming a man”, he said.
Hosoda says he can trace his own transition all the way back to his childhood. Born as Mika, Hosoda said he never felt like a girl as he was growing up, did not want to wear a skirt to school and similarly rejected the notion of wearing a kimono to the traditional coming-of-age ceremony for female 20 year olds.
In his teens, Hosoda was not aware that it was possible to transition from female to male and had never met anyone who had completed the journey. That changed after encountering a man online who had completed the transition from a woman and encouraged Hosoda to explain his feelings to his parents.
Concerned at their reaction, Hosoda wrote a letter to his mother.
“They were surprised”, Hosoda admitted. “But they accepted it.”
Once over the initial shock, his parents supported their child on the change to manhood. Hosoda underwent sexual reassignment surgery in 2014, after which he was able to alter the gender entry in the all-important official family register.
Working for diversity
Three years later, comfortable in his new gender, Hosoda felt ready to run for office. And instead of concealing his past, he ran a completely open and frank campaign for The Democratic Party.
His business cards carry the phrase “Born a woman”, while his campaign literature pulls no punches and explains that he is a transgender man. The leaflets that he handed out also detailed his commitment to working for diversity in society.
“My main policy is to acknowledge diversity, and that is everyone from older people to children, women and men, people with disabilities, sexual minorities and others”, he said.
Hosoda also believes that more efforts are needed to make sure that children are not exposed to discrimination and, consequently, discriminate against others themselves.
“We believe that children are able to respect human rights and can nurture the sense of individuality in others”, he said.
Hope and confidence
Another area that he is working to promote is a better understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues in society as a whole and, more specifically, among officials in Iruma City. Hosoda also wants to create a counselling service based at the city hall where teenagers struggling with their sexual identity can seek advice.
“I want to see children who are suffering at present—because they have no-one to talk to—smile again”, he said. “I want them to be able to look towards a brighter future with confidence”.
And he believes that, while young people living in urban areas have better opportunities for discussing the issues that trouble them, the suburbs and rural areas are less well served.
“I never felt any prejudice in my previous workplace and I never experienced criticism because of who I am during the election period”, he said, although he is aware that not everyone is so fortunate.
Aya Kamikawa blazed the trail for transgender Japanese when she was elected to the council for Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward 14 years ago. Born male, Kamikawa has been campaigning for a change in the law to permit transgender people to officially alter the gender on their family register.
The law states that only individuals who have been diagnosed as having a gender identity disorder and have undergone sexual reassignment surgery can legally change their gender. Kamikawa and other rights activists say the law, as it stands, discriminates against those who have yet to undergo surgery and those who do not want to have surgery. And that, they say, can encourage discrimination.
Marker for change
The Japan chapter of the UK-based LGBT rights charity Stonewall has hailed Hosoda’s victory.
“Tomoya Hosoda’s successful election campaign serves as a marker for the often-imperceptible changes in Japanese mentality towards sexual minorities”, said Loretto Cunningham, president of Stonewall Japan.
“His win also builds on the success of Aya Kamikawa in changing media representation of trans people from comedic props to a more serious portrayal and discussion of trans issues”, Cunningham told BCCJ ACUMEN.
“We hope to see this help educate the general population and encourage the trans community”.