Ex-Nadeshiko player Yokoyama enjoying life as transgender man

Courtesy of Gotham FC / Mauricio Gonzalez
Kumi Yokoyama

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES — Former Nadeshiko Japan player Kumi Yokoyama came out as a transgender man last year. “I want to quit soccer sometime in the future and live as a man,” the 28-year-old forward said last June in a YouTube video posted by Yuki Nagasato, a former national women’s soccer teammate.

In the footage, Yokoyama — who joined NJ/NY Gotham FC of the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) this season — spoke of his circumstances and pain.

During his time in Japan, Yokoyama never spoke publicly about himself for fear of prejudice and discrimination. After playing in Germany, he transferred to the NWSL in 2019, which proved to be an important turning point. He says he was especially moved by the way Western athletes respect all kinds of differences.

Yokoyama said he was encouraged to come out last season by his Washington Spirit teammates, who said he did not have to hide his gender identity.

Yokoyama met his partner Nami through a mutual friend. Nami, 29, told him: “You either keep it a secret, or come out. Either way you’ll still face some difficulties. Just be yourself.” His partner’s words inspired him to come out, Yokoyama said.

Yokoyama has enjoyed spending time with boys since childhood. At the Seven-Five-Three Festival, Yokoyama said he cried continually because he didn’t like to wear girls’ kimono. Yokoyama has cut his hair short since taking up soccer as an elementary school first-grader, saying he always felt strange living as a female.

Upon becoming a junior high school student, Yokoyama says he started wanting to live as a man. A friend, who felt the same way, chose to quit soccer and become a man.

Yokoyama attended Tokyo’s Jumonji Senior High School, which is known for its competitive soccer team. In 2010, he scored six goals in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, helping Japan to second place. He was then chosen to represent the national team and scored his debut goal in the 2015 Algarve Cup, an invitational women’s soccer tournament in Portugal. In each phase of his career, Yokoyama has often struggled with the burden of expectation placed upon him as an ace striker.

At age 20, Yokoyama had a mastectomy.

“I hated changing clothes in front of people and noticing the [breast] line on my uniform,” he recalled.

Joining the national team — nicknamed “Nadeshiko,” the name of a flower, which is used as part of a term praising the idealized Japanese woman — he felt obliged to “be feminine.” Yokoyama said he has struggled constantly with the conflict between his career and his gender.

Few active Japanese athletes discuss or disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity. Yokoyama confessed, “If I was in Japan, I could never come out, due to thinking about how people around me would feel.”

He said it would have been difficult for him to take the first step without his experiences in Western societies that are tolerant of diversity.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was constitutional. Yokoyama married Nami last November. His family and friends embraced the couple, and his teammates gave him their heartfelt blessing.

“An invisible wall inside of me was taken away,” he said. “I feel free from something I can’t describe.”

Yokoyama says he feels great gratitude for all the people who have supported him. “I strive to do my best, so I won’t have any regrets,” he said.