A Survivor Contestant Was Outed as Trans Against His Will on TV—But He's Fighting Back

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For those of you who don’t watch CBS because CBS is literally for old people who still cite participation trophies as a reason why millennials are awful, the show Survivor is still a thing!

That’s right, 34 seasons in, and Survivor is still going strong. Every episode, a team must vote out a player during tribal council. Usually it gets pretty juicy, but in last night’s episode, something unprecedented happened: a competitor was outed as trans by another player.

As part of a last ditch effort to save himself from being voted out, player Jeff Varner attempted to deflect the heat he was under towards his teammate Zeke Smith, demanding, “Why haven’t you told anyone you are transgender?” He justified outing Smith, saying Smith’s gender identity “reveals the ability to deceive,” drawing on a line of logic that is as dangerous to trans people as it is flawed. Attempting to undermine someone’s trustworthiness based on their decision to live as their authentic self makes no sense, but is obviously still very harmful. Varner was promptly kicked off by host the Almighty Jeff Probst for his transphobic actions, but the damage had already been done. His cruelty immediately rocketed around the internet.


Now, after having someone else break his trust, seizing his story and privacy, Smith is reclaiming his narrative. In a powerful essay for The Hollywood Reporter, he broke the situation down, shedding light on the experience and the experience of trans people in general:

A person’s gender history is private information and it is up to them, and only them, when, how, and to whom they choose to disclose that information. Keeping your gender history private is not the same as a gay person being “in the closet.” The only people who need to know are medical professionals and naked fun time friends.

I knew that Varner’s actions, though targeted at me, had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him. His terrible utterances were not an effect of my actions, but a reflection of his own personal maladies.

But in calling me deceptive, Varner invoked one of the most odious stereotypes of transgender people, a stereotype that is often used as an excuse for violence and even murder. In proclaiming “Zeke is not the guy you think he is” and that “there is deception on levels y’all don’t understand,” Varner is saying that I’m not really a man and that simply living as my authentic self is a nefarious trick. In reality, by being Zeke the dude, I am being my most honest self — as is every other transgender person going about their daily lives.


Read the full essay here.

Isha is a staff reporter who covers pop culture, representation in media, and your new faves.

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