Photo/IllutrationMichiru Umemiya, left, chats with her junior coworker at a lounge in Kitashinchi in Osaka. (Mihoko Takizawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Now in her 40s, transgender female Michiru Umemiya worries about her sunset years when she sees her septuagenarian mother.

She is among the staff members at Kamanbeiru, a lounge featuring drag queens and transgender talents in Kitashinchi, a high-end nightlife district in Osaka, who harbor insecurities about the future.

“It is fine as long as I can work, but thinking about what comes next makes me fearful,” Umemiya said with a concerned look on her face, which she rarely, if ever, shows at work.

Growing old doesn’t discriminate. But in an increasingly aging country, prospects are even gloomier for sexual minorities such as Umemiya.

Some of Japan’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community share their concerns on Twitter.

“I am worried about what will happen if I live a long life,” one tweet said.

“I don’t think I will live happily when I grow old,” another tweeted out a disquieting feeling.

At Kamanbeiru, the fear of old age hangs in the air.

“Sunset years, indeed. That’s what we are desperately worried about,” one employee said.

Ten staff members who are working at the lounge were born males and are now living as females.

Umemiya decided to live as a female at the age of 18. She started working as a showgirl in a nightlife district without telling her parents.

When she had enough savings in the bank, Umemiya had a sex-change operation at 29. In her mid-30s, she changed her gender on her family register. It took time but her parents accepted her for who she is.

GROWTH HORMONE SEEN AS RISK

Today, among Umemiya's worries is insurance.

There was a period of time when Umemiya was young and did not pay any insurance premiums, including for national health insurance. She wanted to save money to have a sex-change operation as quickly as possible.

“My senior colleague in the same industry told me that I should pay my insurance premiums. Otherwise, I would be in trouble in the event of an emergency,” Umemiya recalled.

Her senior told her, “For people like us, it is not easy to purchase an insurance policy.”

One of Umemiya’s coworkers at the lounge has previously been denied life insurance coverage.

“Because you take growth hormone injections,” her coworker was told.

A representative of a major insurance company said his company does not discriminate against LGBT people.

“But when one applies for an insurance policy, each application will be decided case by case based on medical history and information about past surgeries,” the representative said.

A sales employee from a foreign-affiliated insurance company said, “Hurdles for transgender people are high. Surgery and post-surgery outpatient visits are more likely to be considered as high risk.”

A gay man in his 30s, who lives in Osaka Prefecture with his parents, said, "I don't have a partner. If my parents die, I will be by myself. I wonder who would take care of me."

He joined a tour of a nursing home in Osaka in September. The visit was planned by a group envisioning ideal post-retirement lives for sexual minorities and their supporters. The facility has hired sexual minorities and foreigners under a banner of being “LGBT friendly.”

But the tour did not make him more optimistic about his twilight years.

“In reality, a nursing home is not an option for us,” he said. “Some of my gay friends make their living by working part time. Since they don’t have a family to feed, they don’t care about getting a full-time job.”

Many of his friends have said to him, “I cannot afford to live in a nursing home. I don’t have that kind of money.”

Another member of the group, a lesbian woman who lives in Tokyo with her partner, said, “We don’t have a role model who can make us envision a bright future.”

According to the woman, there are people who are regulars at bars and shops where LGBT people hang out but suddenly stop dropping by when they become old.

Such disappearing acts make her ponder, “Are we going to fade off somewhere when we grow old?”

GAY CANNOT BECOME GUARANTOR

An NPO called Purple Hands has been hosting seminars for sexual minorities to prepare for a better life after retirement. At a meeting held near Ueno Station in central Tokyo in October, about 20 participants expressed their urgent concerns.

“I want to be buried in the same grave with my partner who passed away,” said a lesbian in her 50s.

A gay man in his 60s said: “When my partner suffered from aggravated pneumonia and went to the hospital, we were told he could not be admitted unless he has a guarantor. Since I am not his family member in the eyes of the law, I could not be his guarantor. It was difficult to get him admitted to the hospital.”

In many cases, a same-sex couple, no matter how long they have lived together, are not considered “family.”

Sometimes, they are even not allowed to be by their loved one’s side at the final moment. At other times, they are not allowed to inherit the money and property that the couple have accumulated together.

The seminar encourages participants to gain knowledge on legal matters to ease their concerns. For example, people can prepare for a situation where they lose their judgment abilities due to illness by selecting a guardian who will manage their estate on their behalf.

Leaving a will and preparing documents in the event of an emergency are also recommended, according to the seminar.

Shibun Nagayasu, 52, secretary-general of Purple Hands, gives lectures at the seminars.

“In a life without events such as marriage and having children, it is difficult to find a reason for living and one can easily be socially isolated,” said Nagayasu, an openly gay administrative scrivener. “I want to create a place where (LGBT people) can obtain useful information on post-retirement and also form a connection with others.”

As an increasing number of the population is unmarried and aging in Japan, it is not just LGBT people who feel distressed at losing their social connections.

“Everyone grows old equally,” Nagayasu pointed out. “Preparing for old age is a universal issue not limited to LGBT people.”

According to Nagayasu, during the 1990s, young LGBT people in Japan became actively involved in a movement to enlighten the public on sexual diversity. They held events such as parades and film festivals. Women’s magazines featured topics related to gay people.

A TV drama series featuring same-sex relationships was aired. People then said, a “gay boom” had broken out. These youngsters, who became determined to live true to their sexuality, are called “the first generation” of LGBT people in Japan. Now, they are reaching an age where they are aware of growing old.

PROGRESS IN PUBLIC SUPPORT

Little by little, a move to support the understanding of LGBT people has been spreading among local governments.

Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, Osaka, Takarazuka in Hyogo Prefecture, among others, have started recognizing same-sex partnerships.

Osaka’s Yodogawa Ward has pledged support for LGBT people and opened a community space where they can gather together.

In 2016, four opposition parties presented a bill to ban discrimination against sexual minorities and prescribe penalties for occurrences.

The Liberal Democratic Party is preparing an outline of a bill to enhance the understanding of LGBT people by offering human rights education.

Naosuke Fujita, 58, chairperson of the Lawyers for LGBT and Allies Network, an organization based in Tokyo, hopes that the Diet enacts such bills so that LGBT people can live at ease.

“LGBT people are believed to account for 5 to 8 percent of the population of Japan. A law at the national level is necessary to eradicate discrimination against them.”

Fujita hopes lawmakers discuss and enact legislation in a nonpartisan way, while the eyes of the world are on Japan ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2025 World Expo in Osaka.

Shun Nakaoka, a lawyer who belongs to the Osaka Bar Association, has provided advice to LGBT people. Nakaoka, an openly transgender counsel who was born a male and now lives as a female, has been tackling issues such as domestic violence involving a same-sex couple and has joined an effort to improve the living conditions of incarcerated LGBT inmates.

“There are many sexual minorities who have concerns but cannot turn to anyone for advice because they don’t want their sexual orientation known,” Nakaoka said. “I want them to relax and ask for advice.”

HELP AVAILABLE ON LGBT ISSUES

NPO Purple Hands (working on LGBT post-retirement issues)

http://purple-hands.net/

Lawyers for LGBT and Allies Network (seminars to support LGBT)

info@llanjapan.org

http://llanjapan.org/

NPO QWRC (Queer and Women’s Resource Center) (hotline for LGBT)

info@qwrc.org

https://qwrc.jimdo.com/

NPO coLLabo Line (hotline for lesbians, female sexual minorities)

info@co-llabo.jp

https://co-llabo.jp/collaboline/

Rainbow Hotline (Proud Life) (hotline for LGBT)

http://www.proudlife.org/