AROUND THE WORLD
Joanna Lohman has loved soccer since the age of six. First, she played on an all boys team coached by her best friend’s mother. “It started as a way for me to release my unrelenting energy and spend time with my friends. It grew into my vocation – my life calling.”
She played in the U.S., Japan, Cyprus and Spain over a thirteen-year long professional career and it is still counting. “I am 35 and still playing, while it is extremely difficult to have a career in women’s soccer that spans such a long period. It means that you have to be able to stay healthy and take care of your body.”
Joanna consistently contributed to each team she played for and helped the game to grow globally, as at the same time she inspired many people around the world. And still, she has some more goals left: “My future goals are to continue to strive for own personal greatness and after being out the entire season with an ACL injury, to stay healthy. I want to contribute in whatever way I can to my team both on and off the field.” – Talking about dedication, right?!
HONESTLY AND GENUINELY
Joanna identifies as a gay woman, a lesbian. “My gender pronouns are she and her but I believe that I lean more towards gender neutral. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a gender, I just see a me”. She came out just after her college eligibility expired when she was transitioning to a new phase of her life. “I didn’t look back and once I hit the professional level, I was so comfortable and proud that it was never a necessary conversation. My personality, my style and my essence expressed it wholeheartedly.”
“As a woman who sports a mohawk and very defined muscles, people often are scared of the way I carry myself because it goes against gender norms.”
At the age of 21, when Joanna truly came to terms with whom she was, she 100% wanted to be that person – honestly and genuinely. So her decision to come out was something incredibly natural. It meant being open with whom she loved and cared about. She says: “Since this moment, I have made an effort to stand up for what I believe and be proud of every dimension of my character. And I would do it all the same way. I believe every decision I have made in my past has contributed to who I am in the present. I am proud of who I am and the incredible journey that led me here.”
When it comes to negative backlash in terms of being gay, Joanna hasn’t had many problems. “My club is extremely supportive of the gay community and I feel 100% supported for being an out professional athlete on the Washington Spirit. Women’s soccer is a very supportive environment and I am lucky to get to go to work every single day and be adored for EXACTLY who I am. I will never take this position for granted.”
“I do think, however, I receive resistance for how I choose to express my gender. As a woman who sports a mohawk and very defined muscles, people often are scared of the way I carry myself because it goes against gender norms.” So Joanna gets stared at frequently and often finds it uncomfortable to walk into a women’s bathroom or locker room. “Although it may be uncomfortable, it does not and will not deter me from expressing myself the way I do. I want to expand the definition of what a woman can look like. I want to defy stereotypes. I want to be a pioneer so the world can see a more diverse view of humanity,” she says.
“I feel 100% supported for being an out professional athlete on the Washington Spirit. I am lucky to get to go to work every single day and be adored for EXACTLY who I am.”
A gay woman who plays soccer is often seen as a cliché, but this does not bother Joanna. “I am who I am. I do not apologize for it or shy away from the stereotype. I think the more comfortable I am, the more comfortable others are with it. They stop looking at me as a “gay woman” and see a human who shares the same need to feel connected, loved, and like she belongs.”
When she realized that she was gay, Joanna said “people just had to take me or leave me”. A confidence that we love! So we were wondering… what’s the key? “I think it comes from falling on my face on so many occasions and picking myself back up. As an athlete, every single training and game presents an opportunity to win or lose. You have to learn how to do both. You learn that losing doesn’t make you a “loser”. It is not a definition of who you are. I have also been cut, injured, rejected and again, these moments build your resiliency and strength because you are forced to problem-solving, adapt, or redefine yourself.”
STRIVE FOR BETTERMENT
For Joanna personally, it is extremely important to stand up for equality. “The platform to impact another human being as a professional athlete is unparalleled. I think it is an athlete’s right to use his or her platform how he or she chooses. We all have to pick our battles wisely. But I want to use this platform to inspire and advocate for equality. I want to make every fan who comes to a game feel like they belong to something special – the women’s soccer community – and that their contribution is valuable.” Sport has the power to change the world and she wants to be a part of this positive change. That’s why she uses the stage to consistently strive for betterment. “I realize that my occupation is a gift. I get to do what 99.9999% of women around the world have zero opportunity to do. I am privileged and I view this privilege as a responsibility to stand for others who are unsafe to do so. I want to be a voice for so many who are forced into silence.” When she was younger, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova were such voices for her.
“For me personally, it is extremely important to stand up. The platform to impact another human being as a professional athlete is unparalleled. I want to use this platform to inspire and advocate for equality.”
About LGBTQI in soccer, she says: “We have made great progress in terms of acceptance and awareness on the women’s side. On the men’s side, there is still a strong social stigma.” Yet, she is happy with the evolution within sports in general: “You see many more female athletes feeling safe to come out and live as their true selves. You also see brands embracing gay athletes and many leagues, sports, and teams doing the same. However, I realize this is mostly in the United States and globally we still have a far way to go. Having organizations such as Out For The Win advocating on our behalf is extremely important.”
If you want to feel even more inspired, Joanna has one final message to you: “You are beautiful and valuable. Love yourself unconditionally and know that no matter how it is or how hard it gets, you are not alone.”