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Gamberton, Lyman (2022) "Each Life Has its Place": Transgender Existence in Contemporary Kansai. PhD thesis. SOAS, University of London. DOI:

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My PhD dissertation is an ethnography of transgender identities in Japan with a focus on Kyoto and Osaka. To date, Japan has not figured as an area of interest in Anglophone Trans Studies; nor has transness been the subject of much scholarly attention in Japan related anthropology. I bring the two into dialogue based on eighteen months of fieldwork, Autumn 2018-Summer 2020. Almost all extant work on 'Trans Japan' has been done by cisgender [non-transgender] researchers: no full-length study of transgender Japanese lives by a trans researcher is yet available in English. What work does exist centres on Tokyo. With a few notable exceptions, most academic studies of trans communities in Japan use either slurs or clinical terminology, neither of which find much favour in trans circles today. The literature as it stands therefore has considerable gaps in the areas of language, location, and lived experience. This thesis redresses all three by taking the reader into Kansai's understudied trans communities through the lens of a transgender ethnographer. My central research question is: How do transgender people in Japan maintain trans identity in relation to the 'legal' transition requirements demanded by the Japanese State? I am particularly interested in the language that Japanese trans people use to describe themselves and each other, away from Gender Identity Disorder [seidōitsuseishōgai] towards dignity, creativity, and play. This is an ethnography of the 'trans ordinary': what all the days in trans people's lives look like when we are not in the Gender Clinic, the family court, or the operating room. My theoretical framework is the ethnomethodology of gender: specifically, the idea that we all are 'passing', and that any study of trans people tells us equally as much about the constructed nature of cisgender identity. Trans people in Japan are far from a monolithic category. Rather, they comprise a diverse and complex social group with different personal and political aspirations, as well as different ideas of what being transgender means to them and to the wider community. My thesis explores both the collective struggle for trans liberation and the individual ways in which my respondents make lives for themselves. My most significant finding is that of the assumed complete inextricability of heterosexuality from 'proper' gender. Trans people's genders are provisionally acceptable on the basis of their straightness, with no awareness or visibility of gay trans people within or without the community. Based on my respondents' testimonials, on conference papers, and on my on-the-ground involvement with LGBTQ activist groups in Kyoto, I found that trans existence in Japan is undergoing a seismic shift, little of which is visible even to the mainstream public and which is almost completely unknown abroad. Some changes to trans people's collective condition are positive. As of August 2018, for example, health insurance must cover all transition-related care; more and more municipalities are passing anti-discrimination ordinances. However, trans people still have no concrete protections regarding healthcare, education, housing, and many other key areas, although the movement to challenge such discrimination is gathering steam.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Fabio Gygi
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 30 May 2022 14:31

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