Pato-chan, as nicknamed to protect her identity, is a transgender woman originally from the Philippines who arrived in Japan in 2015. Because she overstayed her visa, she was detained within the detention center of Tokyo Regional Immigration Services for 15 months, where she was totally isolated because she is transgender.
Pato-chan answered my call from her bed. She feels physically and mentally ill since her experience at the detention center of Tokyo Regional Immigration Services. She now lives with her brother in Chiba prefecture. “I suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). The thing is, I am afraid to get out of the house. I have the feeling like everything is falling. For the moment, I can’t do much but to take my medication. I have doubts and negative thoughts.”
This 28-year-old transgender woman, native of the Philippines, came to Japan in january 2015 to visit her sick father. She had a tourist visa, and she overstayed the limit period. One night, she was on her way to go to the bento factory where she was working, and she got an unexpected identity check by police, in the street.
“I told them the truth immediately. That I had no proper visa, no passport with me, and that I overstayed my time limit. They took me with them.” Detained from July 2019 to October 2020, she spent 15 months at the detention center. “I was put in a solitary confinement cell with see-through walls where they could see my toilet,just because I am transgender. They didn’t allow me to stay with women or with men. I applied many times to be put in women’s or even men’s cells. But they told me,‘if we put you in the men’s cell, you can’t talk like a woman, you can’t dress like a woman, you can’t use your emotions like a woman.’ They told me ‘you can’t make relationships there!’ How crazy, I am not here to make relationships.. They are so ignorant.”
Besides isolation treatment, she was also required to stay in her cell on her own for 22 hours a day. She only had 2 hours of free time to take a shower, exercise, walk, use the phone , accept family and friends’ visits. All the other detainees had 7 hours a day for those activities. “I was always in a limbo status : what will happen to me ? I was locked and alone. My cell was such a small room.” She remembers the other detainees having Sayonara-parties and Christmas and New Year parties but she wasn’t allowed to participate. She always stayed alone in her cell.
Quickly, Pato-chan starts to feel despair. “I got depressed. It was so hard just staying in this room, watching television for 15 months. They don’t care about the people inside.” After she attempted suicide several times, “they just gave me some medecine, and that was it.” Shortly after her arrival at the detention center, her health started to degrade even more. As a transgender woman, Pato-chan needs to take a specific medication for her transition, but she couldn’t access them for 8 months. She has not gotten surgery yet and she has been taking hormones since 21.”I told them that if I stop my treatment, my body will have bad symptoms. And it happened: body changes. I started to vomit blood, my heartbeat was fast, ect. They were scared so they eventually let me visit a transgender hospital last spring.”
“I just wanted to fight for my human rights”
Even though she wasn’t the first, Pato-chan was the only transgender person at the detention center when she was there. The only solution they found was to put her to isolation and prevent her from socializing with anyone else inside the facilities, whether men or women. “I just wanted to fight for my human rights”.
Now, because of karihômen (authorization to get out of the detention center) status, Pato-chan can’t work or go out of Chiba prefecture without permission. Right now, she just follows the procedures in the court to get her visa while taking care of her health. “I never imagined something like this would happen to me here. I want to live a normal life. Even if something like this happened to me, I would be happy to stay here. But Japan is still very ignorant about how to deal with people like me.”
Transgender community represents about 10 000 people in Japan. In 2018, the University of Ochanomizu in Tokyo, a female-only scholar establishment, created a surprise with an unprecedented announcement in the education sector: the campus pledged to welcome all female students identified as women on its benches, thus including transgender women, for the start of the 2020 academic year. “My tweet, intended to relay this information, had been retweeted 4,500 times and liked 7,000,” recalls Akiko Hori, a university specialist in gender equality and feminism. While the overall initiative was applauded, a wave of discriminating comments flooded the social network. “Transgender women are more discriminated against because they are perceived as a danger or a threat, especially when they have not undegone surgery,” explains the specialist.
The concerns included that they would be allowed into places like bathrooms and locker rooms and that this might scare other students. Among the most vocal comments on Twitter were those who supported the idea that people could lie about the reality of their identity in order to gain access to these common spaces with bad intentions. Japanese society remains “conservative in its vision of the family,” added Akiko Hori. “It is often the man who goes to work and the woman who gets married and becomes a stay-at-home mom. The framework of family life is rigid and this undeniably makes the daily life of people who do not fit into the boxes more difficult. ”