Japanese soccer player Kumi Yokoyama, who plays for the Washington Spirit in the US, has come out as a transgender man, a revelation that some say will spark a welcome conversation about the subject in Japan where it is not a legally recognised identity.
“I’m coming out now. In the future, I want to quit soccer and live as a man,” said Yokoyama in a video talk on former teammate Yuki Nagasato’s YouTube channel on 19 June.
“I’m very proud of Kumi Yokoyama,” said Ms Nagasato in a tweet.
Yokoyama, 27, who plays in the National Women’s Soccer League for the Washington Spirit, said they felt more comfortable with their own gender identity while living in the US, where teammates and friends are more open to gender and sexual diversity.
The announcement was met with enthusiasm from Yokoyama’s club, friends, US President Joe Biden, and journalists.
“We support and are so proud of you Kumi Thank you for showing the world it’s ok to embrace who you are!” tweeted Washington Spirit on Saturday.
While President Biden, in a tweet on Tuesday, said: “To Carl Nassib and Kumi Yokoyama – two prominent, inspiring athletes who came out this week: I’m so proud of your courage. Because of you, countless kids around the world are seeing themselves in a new light today.”
Nassib is the first active NFL player to come out as gay.
Washington Spirit thanked President Biden for “being a great, supportive neighbour!” and said that the player uses they/them pronouns.
Tokyo-based journalist Dan Orlowitz tweeted: “Kumi Yokoyama has come out as transgender and intends to transition fully after retiring from soccer. Per the club, Kumi now uses they/them pronouns. A huge announcement that will hopefully be received well and spark conversation in Japan.”
Yokoyama, who played for Japan at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, said they weren’t enthusiastic about coming out but it was a choice made while thinking about the future and that it would be harder to live closeted.
“I would not have come out in Japan,” they said while thanking teammates, friends and girlfriend for their support and courage.
Even though support and awareness around gender and sexual diversity has increased in the East Asian country over the years, many LGBTQ people still lack many legal protections and often suffer discrimination.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the procedure in Japan for changing an individual’s legal gender is “regressive and harmful and rests on an outdated and pejorative notion that a transgender identity is a mental health condition, and requires transgender people who want legal recognition to undergo lengthy, expensive, invasive, and irreversible medical procedures.”
Additional reporting by agencies