The school day in Japan begins like it does in classrooms across the world: with roll call. There is one big difference, however. The class list used to take attendance is in many parts of the country separated by gender; first the boys' names are called and then the girls'. Fortransgender children, the daily humiliation of raising their hands for a gender they don’t identify with is a painful reminder they are somehow different.
“I, too, experienced this pain,” said Tomoya Hosoda, a 25-year old transgender man and former lab technician from the town of Iruma, an hour outside of Tokyo.
“The system is a constant reminder of conventional gender roles and can be hurtful to those who are transgender,” Hosoda added. “I want to help the children who are still experiencing that pain.”
Last month, Hosoda took the first step toward that goal. He was elected to the Iruma City Council, making him the first transgender male politician in Japan, and one of just a handful worldwide.
“One reason I ran for office was to let Iruma residents know there are LGBTQ individuals among them,” he said. “ I also wanted to show transgender children who are suffering in silence that they, too, can lead a normal life with a bright future.”
Hosoda felt from an early age that he was different from his peers. “I had been uncomfortable with my gender since kindergarten, but it wasn’t until around high school that I truly understood that I was transgender.” He came out when he was 20.
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Japanese society is often harsh to those who don’t conform, and Hosoda considers himself lucky not to have experienced any anti-LGBTQ prejudice. “My family and friends were surprised, but they all reassured me that they did not think of the person they knew as Tomoya Hosoda any differently.”
While he aims to promote LGBTQ rights and advocates for mixed-gender registries while in office, Hosoda understands his position as Japan’s first male transgender politician will place everything he does in the spotlight.
“I worry that what I say in public will be taken as the opinion of all transgender people,” he said. “I can’t say if I’ll be a role model to those who are transgender or not. As Japan’s first female-to-male politician, I just want to make an impact and work hard to represent both the transgender community and my local constituents.”
More than anything, he hopes his mere visibility will lead to wider acceptance of those who are transgender. According to a 2016 report by Stonewall Japan, estimates of the trans population in Japan range from 4,500 to 46,000 people.
“I believe that prejudice is born of ignorance,” Hosada said. “People need to be taught the reality of what it means to be LGBTQ. Broadening the understanding of the LGBTQ community will take us one step closer to equal rights.”