Washington Spirit forward Kumi Yokoyama turned transgender on Saturday, becoming the most prominent Japanese athlete to do so in a country where acceptance of LGBTQ issues faces many obstacles despite recent trends in comprehension.
In a video interview posted to former Nadeshiko Japan teammate Yuki Nagasato’s YouTube channel, the 27-year-old said playing in the United States and Germany has shown Yokoyama that it is possible to live openly.
“I’ve dated several women over the years, but had to stay locked up in Japan,” Yokoyama said in the 18-minute interview. “In Japan I was always asked if I had a boyfriend, but here (in the US) I was asked if I have a boyfriend or a girlfriend.
“When my girlfriend said there was no reason for me to stay locked up, it really hit me. Coming out was not something I was excited about, but thinking about my future life , it would be more difficult to live locked up, so I found the courage to go out.
The former Nadeshiko striker, who competed in the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, said she had upper surgery, or the removal of breast tissue, after turning 20 and would undergo other gender affirmation procedures after retiring as a player. They cited Canadian international and OL midfielder Reign Quinn – who also made his 2020 transition public – as inspiration.
A tweet from Spirit stated that Yokoyama – like Quinn, who has a name – would use the neutral pronouns “they” and “them” in the future.
“(Quinn) was wearing a (sweatshirt) that said ‘Protect trans kids’ before a game, and I realized that was what the action was like,” Yokoyama said. “To be able to accept people with whom you have no relationship, that’s the kind of person I would like to become and I hope we can create this company.”
The Tokyo native first became aware of his gender identity as a child, cutting his hair in elementary school and refusing to wear female clothes for the traditional Shichi-go-san ceremony celebrated by 3- and 7-year-old girls and 5-year-old boys in Japan.
“I never thought of myself as a girl, so I hated puberty,” Yokoyama said. “When I reached adulthood I thought I might be playing football for another year or two, so after this season was over I had my breasts removed.”
“Normally you can’t have it unless you’re on hormones, but my doctor understood my situation. I would have been caught in doping tests if I had been on hormones, so I just had the best operation.
As same-sex marriage and LGBTQ acceptance have gained growing support among Japan’s younger population, athletes are often forced to stay locked up even after their playing careers have ended.
Transgender rights activist Fumino Sugiyama has been outspoken about his struggles when representing Japan in women’s fencing, while retired basketball player Rian Hill was revealed to be a transgender man last October.
Gon Matsunaka, director of Pride House Tokyo, expressed hope that a recent wave of Japanese athletes who have come out as LGBTQ would lead to more support for those still in the closet.
But Matsunaka lamented the recent failure of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to pass a bill promoting understanding of LGBTQ ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
“I was deeply involved in the bill and only felt a sense of crisis after it failed,” Matsunaka told the Japan Times. “But for a former Japanese international like Yokoyama, coming out this way sends a big message.
Nagasato has supported Pride House’s efforts in the past and she is very aware of gender issues and raises them with the Japanese public, so for her, hosting Yokoyama’s ad on her YouTube channel is a great way to get it done. take it. “
Matsunaka pointed out that while Yokoyama’s coming out would attract attention, a bigger outcome would be a positive reaction from the Japanese football world and the country as a whole.
“There’s usually a lot of attention on when you come out, there’s always a story that got that person out.… It’s a line, not a single point,” he said. .
“It is important not to leave all the responsibility on the person who reveals himself and to talk about it, but rather to think about how to make changes in the community and the society.
We support and are so proud of you Kumi💙🏳️⚧️ Thank you for showing the world that it is okay to embrace who you are! https://t.co/Gi7btIAT7l
– Spirit of Washington (@WashSpirit) June 19, 2021
Spirit manager Richie Burke has expressed his heartfelt support for Yokoyama, who was an unused substitute in the team’s away game against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday night.
“We don’t have time for hate, we only have time for love in our football club,” the Scotland coach said after the 1-1 draw, adding that the club were at aware of Yokoyama’s transition when he was signed at the end of 2019 and offered his full support. “I love Kumi, I will always love her, and I will always have a special place for someone with this mentality.
“They are very courageous, they are very committed to this process, and if that is what they want to do, I will do whatever I can to support them. As long as they are happy, I am happy.
Yokoyama’s announcement also garnered praise from other Japanese LGBTQ athletes such as rugby player and former Japanese international Airi Murakami, who came out as a lesbian in April, and Shiho Shimoyamada, who became the first professional athlete. gay from Japan in February 2019 and playing for the Nadeshiko League. Sfida Setagaya.
“Smiling that much when you go out isn’t very common and it was incredibly moving,” Shimoyamada tweeted. “I hope Kumi’s thoughts reach as many people as possible.”
Yokoyama acknowledged the position their ad would place them in, suggesting that while they may not want to play “a leading role,” they would be involved in LGBTQ activism in the future.
“Lately the word ‘LGBTQ’ has become more widely known in Japan and has been covered by the media, but people in my position are unable to raise their voices and talk about it,” Yokoyama said. “Japan may be a small country, but if we all talk together we can help raise awareness. “
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