- The Washington Times
Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Washington Spirit forward Kumi Yokoyama came out as a transgender man in a video posted Saturday on former teammate Yuki Nagasato’s YouTube channel.

Yokoyama, who signed with the District’s professional women’s soccer team in December 2019, said during the interview that living in Germany and the United States showed Yokoyama that it can be possible to live openly. The Japanese native said there isn’t as much understanding and acceptance there regarding LGBTQ culture, but Yokoyama recently joined a group of Japanese athletes opening up about their sexuality.

“I’ve dated several women over the years, but I had to stay closeted in Japan,” said the athlete, who uses they/them pronouns, in a video translated by the Japan Times. “In Japan, I’d always be asked if I had a boyfriend, but here [in the United States] and in Germany, I’m asked if I have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

“When my girlfriend said there was no reason for me to stay closeted, it really hit me,” Yokoyama said. “Coming out wasn’t something I was enthusiastic about, but if I think about my life going forward, it would be harder to live closeted, so I found the courage to come out.”

Yokoyama played for the Japanese women’s national team at the 2019 World Cup in France, and was featured in eight games during the 2020 season and had two starts this year. Canada international and OL Reign midfielder Quinn — who talked publicly about transitioning in 2020 — is an inspiration, Yokoyama said.

“[Quinn] wore a [sweatshirt] that said ‘Protect Trans Kids’ before a game, and I realized that’s what taking action looks like,” Yokoyama said. “To be able to accept people you have no relationship with, that’s the kind of person I’d like to become, and I hope we can create that society.”

The 27-year-old had surgery to remove breast tissue seven years ago, but has held off on hormone use, because “I would have been caught by doping tests if I was on hormones.”

Yokoyama plans to undergo additional gender-affirming surgeries after retiring from soccer.

The soccer player has been sure about being male, not female, since a young age.  

Yokoyama wore short hair in elementary school and refused to wear feminine clothing during the traditional Shichi-Go-San ceremony, a rite of passage for 3- and 7-year-old girls and 5-year-old boys.

“I never saw myself as a girl, so I hated puberty,” Yokoyama said. “When I reached adulthood, I thought I’d maybe play soccer for another one or two years, so after that season ended, I had my breasts removed.”

In a tweet, the Washington Spirit supported Yokoyama’s announcement. And Spirit manager Richie Burke told the Japan Times following Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Chicago Red Stars that he and the team support Yokoyama. He said the National Women’s Soccer League franchise was aware of Yokoyama’s transition when the player signed in 2019.

“We have no time for hate, we only have time for love in our football club,” Burke told the Japan Times. “I love Kumi, always will, and I’ll always have a special place for somebody with that mentality. They are very brave, they are very committed to this process, and if that’s what they want to do I’m going to do whatever I can do to support them. As long as they’re happy, I’m happy.”

Yokoyama also received support from Shiho Shimoyamada, who became Japan’s first openly gay professional athlete in February 2019. Shimoyamada plays for Sfida Setagaya in Japan’s Nadeshiko League.

“To smile this much when you’re coming out isn’t very common and it was incredibly moving,” Shimoyamada tweeted, which was translated by the Japan Times. “I hope Kumi’s thoughts reach as many people as possible.”

Yokoyama isn’t interested in playing “a leading role” in the LGBTQ movement in Japan, but would be involved in activism moving forward.

“Lately the word ‘LGBTQ’ has become more commonly known in Japan and been covered by the media, but people in my position aren’t able to raise our voices and talk about it,” Yokoyama said. “Japan may be a small country, but if all of us speak up together then we can help raise awareness.”

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