BY ABBY BAKER '19
When Emet Marwell ’18 attended the speech delivered by activist and retired professional soccer player Abby Wambach at Mount Holyoke College on Sept. 22, he did not expect to inspire the topic of the next episode of her podcast.
But the question Marwell asked her during the Q&A period about if and when Wambach thought the National Collegiate Athletic Association would enact better rules and regulations for transgender athletes stumped Wambach, and prompted her to try to educate herself and others.
The most recent episode of her podcast, Fearless Conversation, was released on Oct. 17 and addresses the status of transgender athletes. Wambach cited Marwell’s query as the catalyst for her exploration of the topic.
“It was actually a really interesting question because I didn’t have an answer, and so I’ve been kind of doing a bit more research since I had this conversation and this question was asked,” Wambach said on the podcast. “Emet, if you’re out there, I love you man, you’re amazing.”
For Marwell, who is a trans man, the question is one of personal significance. Marwell began playing field hockey in the spring of his freshman year of high school, and was recruited to join Mount Holyoke’s team. However, he began to seriously consider transitioning during his junior year of high school, which complicated this process.
After some consideration, he decided to postpone his transition.
“At that point in my life I made a conscious decision not to come out and just sort of turn off that side of me as much as I could, which obviously, you can’t really do,” he said. “I chose to ignore that part of me because I really wanted to be able to play collegiate field hockey.”
However, this suppression led to anxiety and depression, causing Marwell to defer his entrance to Mount Holyoke until the spring of his first year.
When he arrived at Mount Holyoke, he started to meet other students who identified as transgender, and reached a conclusion.
“I was like, ‘Well, I really can’t do this anymore, now that I can see it’s possible,’” Marwell said.
Marwell initially planned to socially transition and wait to begin his medical transition, a choice that would have enabled him to continue playing field hockey. However, Marwell said, “As soon as I really started to step into myself it became so much harder and I was like, you know what, it’s going to happen anyway, and I don’t feel like I can wait to start hormones.”
The choice, Marwell said, was “one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make for myself.” He credits the support of Andy Whitcomb, Mount Holyoke’s field hockey coach, as the biggest factor in his decision to begin the medical transition.
“She made it clear to me that no matter which choice I went with I was still part of the field hockey team, still part of the family and supported and cared about and so that made it a lot easier to give up playing the sport knowing that I was still going to be involved in some way,” said Marwell. He currently serves as the team manager, and is present at all games.
The NCAA policy regarding transgender athletes is made up of two components. The first is that if a person assigned female at birth begins hormone replacement therapy, that person will only be permitted to compete with men. The second is that if a person assigned male at birth transitions to female, undergoing testosterone suppression treatment, that person is permitted to play on a women’s team after one calendar year of treatment has passed.
Wambach asserted on her podcast that, “The rules and regulations, they’re just archaic and they aren’t set up for people in [Emet’s] position to help. And I think that what’s really important, as we evolve as a culture and as a country and as a world, so do our rules and regulations. That’s what I think is really important because we need to protect all these people. We need to protect everybody and everybody should have a place to play.”
Though Marwell notes the necessity of improving NCAA policy, he also acknowledges the complexity of the task.
“Ideally a person should be able to compete with the group that they identify most with, but that being said, I’m almost a year on testosterone and my metabolism has changed, I build muscle way faster, there are a lot of physical differences,” Marwell said. “...That’s not to say that someone who has lower testosterone and female-identifying people can’t out-compete me or outrun me or beat me in any sort of physical activity, because that’s absolutely possible, but I definitely do feel that I have an advantage now.”
Though Marwell expected Wambach to take stronger positions during her speaking appearance at Mount Holyoke, Marwell appreciated her willingness to learn and ask questions. On her most recent podcast episode, Wambach interviewed Harrison Brown, a trans man and hockey player who chose to postpone his medical transition so as to continue his hockey career, and told him that, “I’m not afraid to ask maybe some questions that some people are curious about because I really think it’s important. The thing that I’ve learned with my sexuality and all the things I’ve gone through in my life is the more direct the question, the faster we can get to an answer.”
Wambach concluded after her interview with Brown that, "So often, when somebody's different we want to push them away from us because it’s a little bit scary to go down an uncharted road and into uncharted territory, but those are the very people that we actually need, that we need to almost lead us.”
This leadership role is one Marwell is willing and ready to assume. “I don’t have a problem sharing my story. I feel comfortable doing that and I feel like I have the support I need that should it start to go wrong, I can take care of myself emotion- ally, mentally and physically, and that’s not something that everyone has the privilege of being able to say,” he said.
Marwell adds, however, that the willingness to lead is “absolutely not a given for everyone ... Just because one person is willing to share their story and talk about this stuff and be asked certain questions does not mean that it’s okay to ask every- one else of that identity those same questions and have them play that same role.”
Through Marwell’s uncle, who is head of sales at HarperCollins, the company that published Wambach’s book, Marwell has reached out to Wambach and is waiting for a reply. In the meantime, he says, “It’s incredible to be able to be the one inspiring someone who has inspired me for so long.”