“I’m A Proud Queer, Trans, Asian Jew”: A conversation with Emet Marwell

May 29, 2024

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Our Jewish community is enriched by its members’ diversity, heritage, and unique stories! In celebration of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Heritage Month and Jewish Heritage Month, we had the privilege of sitting down and chatting with Emet Marwell. 

Tell me a little about yourself. 

My name is Emet Marwell (he/him). I identify as an athlete, a coach, a trans rights activist, a dog dad, a brother, a son, and a friend. Despite taking a long time to reach this point, I feel confident in saying that I’m a proud queer, trans, Asian Jew!

How has your identity as an Asian and trans Jew influenced your journey within Jewish spaces?

I have a lot of thoughts on this. Growing up, I always felt kind of like an outsider in Jewish spaces. Being this little Asian kid at synagogue, I remember that I often felt lonely at services. 

I also remember noticing that I often received questions and comments that my peers did not. Questions like, “Who brought you here to synagogue today?” or “Who are you with?” or “Who else do you know here?”  and I’d say something like, “Oh, well, my mom just dropped me off.” Yet, this never seemed to satisfy their questions. As a child at the time, I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why. However, as an adult, I realized that they were asking these questions because they were assuming that I wasn’t Jewish, that I didn’t belong in their space, and that some Jewish friend/person must have brought me to this Jewish gathering.

I could imagine navigating those experiences while also navigating your own relationship with your gender identity might feel like a lot.  

On the trans side of things, I thankfully knew that my Jewish community would be there to support me. However, I still struggled a lot with it and worried that taking steps toward medically transitioning would be somehow incongruent with what the Torah asks of us. This started my quest through Jewish texts to look for any validation of being a queer, trans individual in the Torah. 

And what did you find? 

Well, I found three main things that stood out to me: 

First, I found affirmation in Psalms 15:1-2, where King David asks, “Lord, who may sojourn in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy mountain?” The answer that comes to him is, “He who lives without blame, who does what is right and in his heart acknowledges the truth.” These verses ended with the Hebrew word “Emet,” meaning truth. Discovering this affirmed my own truth and even reflected my chosen name, Emet. 

Secondly, the concept of *Pikuach Nefesh (preservation of life) resonated with me deeply. As we are instructed, almost any Jewish law can be broken to save a life. For me, gender-affirming hormones and surgery were essential for my survival. 

Lastly, the belief that all people are made *B’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image) helped me reconcile my trans identity with Judaism.

These insights allowed me to find peace within my identity and seek out Jewish communities that embrace my whole self. 

What advice would you give to an LGBTQ+ Jew of Color who might be struggling to embrace their whole self in Jewish spaces? 

Remember that no one has a right to question your place in Jewish spaces or your right to be authentically you! 

Is there anything you are working on now that you’d like to share with us? 

Yes! I’m starting a Jews of Color havurah called The Found Tribe for self-identified JOCs local to Northampton, MA and we’re open for members! The Found Tribe is a small, tight-knit micro-community for JOCs to have a space where we don’t have to explain our presence in Jewish spaces. We will meet monthly to do fun things like Shabbat dinners, mini golf, picnics, movie nights, and whatever fun things we want to do as a group. Plus, we have funding through the Harold Grinspoon Foundation for all our activities.If you are a JOC local to Northampton, we’d love to have you!

 Please email [email protected] for more information.