I met Kiyoka about a year ago at a store where we both worked part-time. At the time, they seemed like a normal 18-year-old girl and they had just moved to Tokyo for school.
We had a lot in common and clicked instantly and they felt like a little sister to me. They opened up to me later though that they actually identify as genderfluid and pansexual. I was beyond honored that they trusted me with this, especially when their own family doesn’t even know, but I was more surprised because meeting someone who is open about being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is extremely rare here. It is still very difficult to come out in such a conservative country like Japan, so I would like to introduce you to my beautiful friend Kiyoka ono and their experience living as a genderfluid individual in Japan. It started when they were 15. Their twin brother started dating a girl and they began to like her too. This led them to do some research and this was their first time learning about anything LGBTQ+ related and realized that they were in fact genderfluid. Later that school year, she did a presentation about people in the LGBTQ+ community but she continued to keep her identity a secret. They themselves didn’t necessarily care about what would happen after coming out, but their brother was in the same grade and school as well and they didn’t want him to become a target for any bullying that might happen. Japanese school uniforms are very heavily gendered and were a struggle for Kiyoka. Female uniforms are very feminine usually complete with a skirt and male uniforms are masculine and have pants. This had a toll on their young, adolescent mental health, never fully feeling like themselves at school. Their long hair was another struggle. Kiyoka has absolutely beautiful long, black hair but long hair is usually associated with femininity so once during high school, they cut it really short. Everyone around them was very surprised but they didn’t regret it. Dating is where it gets really difficult. They need someone who can accept them in their fluidity but that is hard to find here in Japan. Her first boyfriend said that he accepted and understood their identity but one time in a message called them his “girlfriend” and this made Kiyoka uncomfortable. Since then, they have dated three other men in Tokyo but Kiyoka knows that these men see her as 100% female and so it never lasts too long. Kiyoka has yet to have their first sexual experience but they can already see how it could be difficult. Being biologically female, in a sexual space, they’re a woman. When they feel that expectation to be female, it turns them off. They need someone who sees and accepts Kiyoka and all their fluidity and loves them as a person so much so that they can forget about what gender they are in bed. As for Kiyoka themselves, looking at their nakes self can still be hard. They remember when they hit puberty and feminine curves started to show, they did what they could to lose weight. Their saving grace was the fact that their breasts didn’t grow a lot so at least their upper body still looked neutral. Another problem that came with hitting puberty was their period. It’s a monthly reminder that their biological gender is female. Kiyoka does see positive changes happening in society here in Japan. Her current university uniform recently started allowing females to wear pants. There is also a rise in LGBTQ+ based dramas here in Japan so representation is on the rise. Their mother has started becoming more educated and has said that she would be okay with whoever Kiyoka marries regardless of their gender. However, same-sex marriages are still not legal in Japan so there is still work to do here. They also know that their father would not be accepting of their identity. Kiyoka recalls being an angsty teenager when they started figuring out their identity and not knowing how to go about everything in their daily life but they have since let go of that pressure and have matured and accepted themselves as they are. They don’t have to understand everything yet because we are all constantly growing and learning more about ourselves on a daily basis. Their message to anyone else struggling with their own identity is that it’s okay to take it slow, you don’t have to have it all figured out now. They hope that one day, asking about someone’s gender identity or sexuality will become as open and common as asking someone what their favorite color is.


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