Kahnay Johnson is breaking barriers in the Manitoba swim world by being the first transgender male to compete in the province.
On May 7, the 15-year-old Métis swimmer and member of the St. James Seals Swim Club officially competed in the male category in the Bison Sprint Invitational Meet hosted by the University of Manitoba Bisons swim team in Winnipeg.
“It was really cool, it was a little scary, but I think everything’s a little scary [the] first time around,” he said.
Kahnay ended up with some career-best swim times in the 50-metre freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke categories. He said he’s glad to be an example for others in the sport.
“I think being able to swim as my authentic self is really good, and I really appreciate the fact that I’m able to,” he said.
Kahnay said Swim Manitoba contacted him to see if he was interested in switching to the male swim category. He then re-registered as male, after five years of competing as female. Though he wasn’t able to keep his previous swim times, he said he’s still grateful for the opportunity, and the chance to inspire others.
“I hope that it becomes a more easily accessible thing for people to do when they switch over, when they come out, so everyone can feel that sense of support,” he said.
One of Kahnay’s biggest supporters is his mom, Colleen Johnson.
She said since Kahnay came out as transgender last year, it’s been a different journey, especially with sports being divided into two genders.
“That made it a real challenge while Kahnay was trying to figure himself out,” said Colleen.
“It made it uncomfortable, especially when it came to change rooms, and where do you fit in.”
Providing a ‘middle lane’
She said that since a lot of facilities in the city don’t have gender-neutral change rooms, that may deter LGBTQ youth from participating in sports.
“Hopefully what Kahnay has done is going to bring some more awareness, and perhaps they can look at enhancing that experience, especially for kids that are struggling,” she said.
Colleen said she hopes sports can accommodate more mixed-gender co-ed teams. She said kids just want to fit in.
“It would be nice to give them that middle lane where they can figure it out, feel comfortable while they’re figuring it out, until they decide where their authentic self is.”
Colleen said she’s “super proud” of Kahnay.
“He has been courageous through all of this,” she said.
“Kahnay has taught me so much that I never really knew and understood, so he’s been a great teacher. [It’s] amazing for me to continue to grow through his eyes, so that’s been awesome.”
Josh Koldon, head coach of the St. James Seals, has been Kahnay’s swim coach for a year, but knew him from the pool before his transition.
He said he hopes Kahnay continues to swim.
“Sports tend to get named as a boys club or a girls club … it’s really important to show that inclusiveness and make people comfortable in their own skin and allow them to compete however they wish,” said Koldon.
“Watching him come back after the pandemic and post-transition, he’s definitely been a lot happier. He enjoys the water a lot more.”