This article was originally published in the July 2019 edition of Fukuin to Sekai [The World and the Gospel], a Japanese Christian journal, as part of a counteraction against transphobia on the Japanese Internet. This counteraction, which a group of scholars on gender/sexuality have been organizing since 2018, has so far included publishing a series of anti-transphobic articles, a hashtag campaign, and issuing an anti-transphobia statement consigned by thousands. In response to these actions, however, there have been some posts defending Japanese trans-exclusionary discourse, written in English presumably to appeal to people with kindred ideas overseas. On these premises, the author has decided to publish a partly amended English version of her article to provide context and counterarguments to the Anglophone Internet sphere.
Excluding Whom for What? A Look at Transphobia in the Japanese Twittersphere Akiko Hori
(Translated from the Japanese version by Mana Sato)
Since summer 2018, there has been a torrent of discriminatory and exclusionary remarks against trans women (i.e. people who were assigned male at birth but live or wish to live as women ) in the Japanese Internet-sphere, especially on Twitter. Most of such remarks are coming from women who describe themselves as feminists. This article aims to outline and examine the circumstances of the issue as well as the points of contention to present what really is at stake. However, it should be noted that the article is written from where I stand, since it covers an ongoing issue on Twitter, a tool where, structurally, what I see is not necessarily identical with what other users see.
How it all started
On 2nd July 2018, I posted a link to a news article on my Twitter account, which read:
“Ochanomizu University [a women’s university in Tokyo] announced on the 2nd that they will accept transgender students who identify as female even if they are registered as male, starting from academic year 2020. According to the education ministry, this move is unprecedented in [the history of] Japanese women’s universities” (Kyodo News, 2nd July 2018).
In no time, my tweet was retweeted at least 4,500 times and received more than 7,000 likes. Many commented on the news positively.
However, this led to some questioning the relevance of women’s universities (“Do we still need women’s universities when women can receive university education without much issues?” “If they’re going to accept people who are registered as men, why not just turn Ochanomizu into a co-ed university?”). Some others voiced their concerns with tweets such as, “How are we supposed to know whether [the applicants] are really transgender or not?” or “There might be weirdos who try to pose as transgender”. Among all such voices, a tweet by Naoki Hyakuta, a novelist, garnered the attention of many.
“Cool, I’m going to start preparing for entrance exams so that I can get into Ochanomizu University in 2020!”  (5th July 2018)
Many replied disapprovingly to this tweet, stating that Hyakuta has “carried his joke too far”, is “insensitive”, and “discriminatory towards transgender people”.
In an online article  published on the 5th, the same day as Hyakuta made his controversial statement, tweets of others’ such as, “Won’t there be men who would lie and get into the University?” and “What if something happens?” are introduced as misunderstandings coming from inaccurate knowledge and as transphobic. That this article came out after a mere three days following the University’s policy reveal demonstrate how prominent such discriminatory remarks towards trans women were.
Trans people at bay and the ensuing battle.
In a press conference held on the 10th, Kimiko Murofushi, the President of Ochanomizu University, stated as follows:
“We’ve held a number of info sessions on campus, about 20 for faculty staff and alumnae, 3 for students. From the students, we have received very positive reactions and no objections against the [new] policy”  (10th July 2018).
Nevertheless, more and more people on Twitter started to take issues with the prospect of trans women accessing women-only spaces in universities, such as bathrooms and changing rooms.
Many treated trans women like would-be criminals, asking, “What if something happens?” Some called out such remarks as discriminatory, and trans folks themselves provided detailed explanations of their reality. Exclusionary remarks against trans women, however, continued to escalate.
On 9th January 2019, a blog post titled “Twitter killed my friend from high school ” appeared on an anonymous blogging platform. The blog post explained how a trans woman, a friend of the poster, was exposed to malicious tweets after Ochanomizu University declared their admissions policy update, and eventually took her own life.
Many who read this blog post would have felt that the moment they feared had come. Yet, the discriminatory discourse intensified. Suffering both mentally and physically from the cruel online abuse hurled at them, many trans women deleted their Twitter accounts. In a mere six months, Twitter had turned into a gruesome space.
As a scholar of gender studies and feminism, I had been working since late in December to provide information concerning this issue in a comprehensive way. I wanted to do something against this situation where trans folks themselves are battling transphobia while bizarre forms of gender theory and feminism affirming such phobia are rampant. However, just when fellow scholars and I laid out a plan to publish a series of online articles, “Twitter killed my friend from high school” was posted.
Here is an excerpt from the blog post.
“Six months ago, she was overjoyed to hear the news that Ochanomizu University will start accepting trans women… [but] on Twitter, people teased her, saying that she had minority privilege , and called her ‘male-bodied’. She found that, when she searched Twitter for the word ‘trans’, attacks and abuse against trans people came up in horrifying numbers. She saw men joking, ‘I’m gonna dress as a woman and get into a women’s university, too’. She saw such tweets appearing on her timeline, even though she did not do anything [i.e. follow people sending out discriminatory tweets]. She saw so many people tweeting out their hate against trans people, mocking them, excluding them. She saw her trans comrades on Twitter getting so deeply hurt that they had to turn to therapy. She herself was gravely depressed, and she once burst into tears after telling me, ‘This is too tough to take’” .
Many are suffering under similar circumstances. Praying that no more people choose to take their own lives like this woman did, I completed my own article. We decided on the hashtags we will use: #トランスジェンダーとともに (toransujendā to tomoni/together with trans people) and #ともにあるためのフェミニズム (tomoniaru tameno feminizumu/feminism for living together). Under these hashtags, I tweeted out my article titled “Toransujendā to feminizumu: Tsuittā no sanjou ni taishite kenkyūsha ga dekiru koto (Transgender People and Feminism: What Scholars Can Do Against the Atrocity on Twitter)”  (5th January) published on wezzy, a web magazine endorsing our project. Articles by other scholars followed and are archived on WAN (Women’s Action Network), a feminist information portal, so that all related articles can be found there .
Although many people read our articles, the transphobia itself was continuing to seemingly no end. Determined to do everything we could, we issued a statement titled, “Feminists and Scholars of Gender and Sexuality Oppose Discrimination against and Exclusion of Trans Women”  and called for co-signers. We collected 3,242 signatures between 23rd February and 10th April. We counted 2,715 valid signatures. 1,368 agreed to publish their names.
Preparing for the release of the statement, I got choked up inside. We had co-signers from all walks of life; various gender identities and occupations, both sexual minorities and majorities. They had sent us messages wishing for this ordeal to end as soon as possible, emphasizing with the suffering of trans women. So many individuals were willing to publicize their names to speak up against the discrimination against trans people. Is our voice reaching the ears of the girl who took her life? Are we visible to the eyes of trans folks who are exposed to the malice on Twitter? We are living with you, and we will continue to do so. We want you to find us. And we want you to survive.
Nevertheless, the storm of transphobia is still raging on. There even were people who attempted to bring transphobic signs to the Women’s March held on 8th March. Such is what has been happening so far from July 2018 to April 2019.
Contention 1: Women-Only Spaces
What were the points brought up in the transphobic/trans-exclusionary discourse? I have identified three core contentions which will be explained citing actual remarks on Twitter. The biggest issue so far has been the use of women-only spaces by trans women. The “apprehension” for trans women entering a women’s university, which people expressed upon Ochanomizu University’s policy update, soon converged into the “apprehension” for sharing bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms with trans women, eventually replaced with a claim that allowing trans women into women-only spaces “will encourage male sex offenders to trespass”.
“So far, we have been able to spot suspicious people because men aren’t supposed to be in women’s bathrooms. But if we allow trans women (who look like men but are women inside) into women’s bathrooms, we won’t be able to tell them from criminals and female students will be in danger” (10th July 2018).
The discourse of fear associates trans women with crimes. To counter such a discourse, people explained that, in reality, trans women live their daily lives discreetly to avoid troubles and that many hesitate to use women’s bathrooms, even suffering from dysuria due to the limited number of unisex bathrooms. Nevertheless, those critical of trans women accessing women-only spaces expressed their fear of male bodies with insistence.
“Exercising caution against male-bodied people is not undue discrimination against trans women, definitely not transphobia. When women who have suffered violence at the hands of cis hetero men put up their guards against male bodies which is what the criminals had in common, this is not discrimination against trans women but rather a natural reaction coming from their fear of cis hetero men”  (26th October 2018).
These tweets portray trans women as “male-bodied” and justifies it by citing discrimination against women as well as sexual violence suffered by women. Many have pointed out that directing the fear of violence committed by men towards trans women is plain wrong. Nevertheless, those who repeat trans-exclusionary remarks strictly adhere to the gender binary framework and give reasons after reasons to rationalize the exclusion of trans people.
“Well, if this was a society where we don’t have to put up our guards against male-bodied people and all universities are co-ed, we won’t have to fuss about trans people or whoever they are. But in Japan today, I’d have to say it’s quite natural for women who are [sexual] assault victims to be wary of them as male-bodied people”.
“Don’t tell me it’s discrimination. You must consider why we have to put up our guards. Also, stop complaining to women, and complain instead to the society for not being harsh enough towards men who continue to assault women or such acts of assaults by men. But they come and intimidate cis-hetero women before anyone else. That kind of attitude makes them look like they’re taking advantage of the structure of sexism”  (6th July 2018).
These tweets claim that those who regard trans women as dangerous are not transphobic, and that such accusations of transphobia are in fact a form of discrimination against women. In reality, however, trans women are suffering low wages, unstable employment, belittling, discrimination, and sexual violence for being a woman , no less than (or even more so than) cisgender women.
Public baths are described as the supposed site where cis women are confronted with the “fear of suddenly seeing a penis”. Trans women have the right to bathe in public baths (we must remember that, precisely because the society fails to recognize this right, trans women still experience great inconvenience in shelters in the event of natural disasters). In reality though, trans women (who have penises) cannot readily access public baths. One blogger explained, “For trans women who wish to live in peace, the most stressful of situations is ‘their former gender becoming the topic of discussion’. Therefore, for most MtFs who have not undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS), entering the women’s section in a public bathhouse while having a penis is the most unthinkable of all actions” . Nevertheless, people continue their attempts to scare cis women by spreading the false rumor that trans people with penises would come into women’s baths. It must also be noted that these people ignore sexual offences committed by cis women while repeatedly emphasizing trans woman sex offenders.
People making trans-exclusionary remarks online recognize trans women as “male-bodied” and emphasizes sexual violence committed by trans people in women-only spaces. However, such views are completely inconsistent with reality. Moreover, trans women are not responsible of our sexist social structure, nor of sexual violence committed by men. They are naming the wrong people as their enemies. The discourse looking to exclude trans women from women-only spaces seem to have two pillars: considering trans women as men based on prioritization of biological sex, and a form of discrimination called “misgendering” that comes with such a view.
Contention 2: Biological Sex and Misgendering
There was a case where the fear and apprehension towards male bodies were expressed in a different way. This happened when it was reported that trans women came in first and second place in a women’s athletic conference in the US.
“I think this is unacceptable. If we accept this, we would be taking away scholarships and future opportunities that biologically female athletes would have been able to gain. We cannot just disregard biological sex based on someone’s gender identity” (21st November 2018).
Another user responded to this tweet, pointing out that “turning this into an issue of [defining] ‘real’ women would lead to the exclusion of certain people”. However, the poster of the original tweet retorted, stating, “Obscuring the definition of ‘women’ would result in people losing access to women-only spaces which they previously were able to use”. In such contexts, “biological sex” is brought up as the criterion that defines ‘women’.
However, the division between man and woman based on “biological sex” is not as obvious as we believe it to be. The history of sex verification in sports is a testament to the difficulty of such dichotomization. We should also note that we hardly ever conduct chromosome analysis when assigning genders to babies upon birth. Moreover, human beings cannot be dichotomized neatly into “male/female” because humans have gender identities which are deeply tied to the ways in which individuals are situated within a society.
The topic of sports, however, was quickly cast to the side, and then came the claim that trans women have “male-body privilege”. Trans women have been labeled as “male-bodied” and thus not really “women” but describing trans women as male is a form of misgendering . Twitter, Inc. forbids such actions, stating that “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals” is degrading .
However, people continued to claim that trans women are “male-bodied” and that they have “male-body privilege”, even after others pointed out that misgendering is discrimination. In response to this situation, trans folks and allies started using the slogan “toransu josei ha josei desu (trans women are women)”. Nevertheless, tweets like, “No matter what their gender identity is, they’re not ‘women’ and they shouldn’t be allowed in women-only spaces nor in women’s universities to begin with’  are still being sent out, ever so nonchalantly. Feminists calling for an end to discrimination while discriminating against others? This is not the way things are supposed to be.
Contention 3: Who are “Trans Women”?
Those who misgender trans women emphasize the penis as the root cause of sexual violence. Such a fixation on penises has evolved into attempts to divide trans women into those who underwent sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and those who have not, culminating in a demand to define who really is “transgender”. This is a judgmental attempt to separate trans women who qualify to use women-only spaces from those who do not.
The term “transgender” encompasses a wide array of individuals. People who experience gender dysphoria may or may not wish to undergo SRS (and if they do, the number of procedures they choose to undergo may vary). Likewise, they may or may not opt for hormone therapy. In other words, trans women are people who live as women, but they do so in the diverse ways that they have chosen individually. The definition of “transgender” already exists, as is stated at the beginning of this article. The voices stubbornly calling for further definitions was in fact a snare; their aims were to recognize only those who underwent SRS, changed their registered gender, and can pass as cis women as “trans women”. Some scholars came under fire for refusing to present “definitions” that would function as such a snare, but there is no way we are becoming accomplices in the exclusion of trans women.
Who are we to fight against?
Most of those who spread transphobic/trans-exclusionary discourse are women who define themselves as feminists. They have empathized with the #MeToo movement and raged against medical colleges discriminating against female applicants. They have considered discrimination against women as an issue of human rights and voiced their anger as such. However, they claim that supporting transgender rights would mean taking away cis women’s “share” of rights.
“There’s no way we can wholly accept trans women when female-bodied women are yet to be saved. That should be the step to be taken after female-bodied women are saved. Don’t rely on us, act by yourselves. We women have our hands full”  (8th March 2019).
Human rights have no room for prioritization. Since when did fighting for our rights mean taking away someone else’s? Haven’t feminists appealed to the male-centric society not to set aside solving women’s issues, that our issues are nothing else but human rights issues?
Kazuko Tanaka, who supported sexual minority students in International Christian University by improving the campus environment, narrates her experience as follows:
“Being a part of the majority, I cannot understand first-hand the issues sexual minorities are facing. So, I had thought that constructing a system where the minorities themselves can make claims when their rights are violated would help bring about change in their surroundings. However, it turned out that making such claims per se is very difficult”.
“What we need to do, then, is to raise a new question which would cause sexual majorities to become stakeholders. In other words, we must ask ourselves how we, the majority, are to fight as stakeholders against cultures and structures that form the basis for discrimination and bigotry that sexual minorities suffer from. The majority needs to tackle this oppressive structure as their own issue instead of trying to ‘help’ sexual minorities” .
Who is responsible for the girl who took her life? It is us, our society. In a society where being cisgender is the norm, cisgender people, i.e. the societal majority, are the ones who laid the grounds for the suffering of and the discrimination against trans people. Aren’t feminists supposed to be the ones to notice this responsibility before anyone else, recognize what goes on as an issue of human rights, and demand that the society must change? There is no second-guessing the need to secure the safety of women-only spaces and protect women from sexual violence; however, when we say “women”, we mean trans women, too. If we cannot agree on this premise, there is no way we could build a society where everyone is granted freedom and dignity. Amid this nightmarish confusion, I still firmly believe that it is the mission of feminism to bring about a society where every single person is respected and treated equally.
Akiko Hori is a scholar of gender studies and feminism. After completing her masters in the Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University, she has taught in a number of colleges and universities including Kansai University. Her works include Yokubou no Kōdo [The Codes of Desire] (2009, Rinsen Book Co.) and “Karera ga Honki de Amu tokiha ni okeru Toransu Josei no Shintai Hyōshō to ‘Bosei’ [Body Representation of a Trans Woman and ‘Motherhood’ in Naoko Ogigami’s film Close-Knit]” (2019, Jinken Mondai Kenkyu [The Journal of Human Rights]).
Mana Sato is a translator based in Kyoto, Japan. Her recent works include Against the Storm: How Japanese Printworkers Resisted the Military Regime, 1935-1945 (2019, Intervensions) co-translated with and edited by Kaye Broadbent. She has also worked on Japanese subtitles for the Serbian film The Train Driver’s Diary (Dir. Milos Radovic), set to be released in Japan in August 2019.
 The Statement "Feminists and scholars of gender and sexuality oppose discrimination against and exclusion of trans women" (https://wan.or.jp/article/show/8643)
 wezzy “Ochadai ‘seijinin ga josei no toransujendā nyūgaku-ka’ de akirakani natta shakai no toransufobia (Transphobia in society surfacing after Ochanomizu University ‘accepting transgender people who identify as women’) https://wezz-y.com/archives/56285
 Komiya, Tomone “‘Josei senyou supēsu’ to toransufobia (‘Women-only spaces’ and transphobia)” https://wan.or.jp/article/show/8211
 Kazuko, Tanaka (2018) “Toransu gakusei shien kara mietekita koto: ICU deno keiken (What we have learned from supporting trans students: My experience in ICU)”. Nihon Joshi Daigaku Ningen Shakai Gakubu LGBT Kenkyūkai [Ed.] LGBT to Joshi Daigaku: Daremogaa Jibun rashiku Kagayakeru Daigaku wo Mezashite (LGBT and Women’s Universities: The Path towards Universities where Everyone can Be Themselves) Gakubunsha.