On last night’s episode of ‘Survivor‘, host Jeff Probst made history by booting longtime player Jeff Varner for outing fellow tribe member, Zeke Smith, as transgender.
At a surface level, this might seem like simply a case of putting a person in a deeply uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing situation. In reality, the impact of doing such a thing goes much, much deeper, as it reinforces the bullshit idea that transgender people are somehow “deceiving” others by being their authentic selves, and is something trans people deal in ways cisgender people can never fully comprehend.
“Many gay people consider coming out a moment of liberation, because sharing their sexual orientation with the world causes them to be seen more authentically,” Zeke writes in a long and powerful op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter. “Often, the opposite is true for trans people. When we share our gender history, many see us less authentically — doubting, probing or denying our identities.
“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.”
The moment Varner spoke those words – “There is deception here. Deceptions on levels Jeff that these guys don’t even understand. Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?” – was gut-punching. GLAAD condemned it as “dangerous and unacceptable”, and it’s been widely, furiously condemned on social media.
Zeke writes that he went into something like a state of shock. However, after composing himself, he decided to take ownership of his story.
“I could let this be one of the worst moments of my life or one of the greatest. If I set the tone, everyone would follow. The power was in my hands.”
— SURVIVOR (@survivorcbs) April 13, 2017
He’s being commended all over the place for his bravery.
— Jeff Probst (@JeffProbst) April 13, 2017
dear @zekerchief Inspiring. I think you probably just made a bunch of kids out there feel empowered and a little less scared. Well handled.
— sia (@Sia) April 13, 2017
— TeeVee (@Cuttoshort32) April 13, 2017
While there is absolutely no excuse for Varner’s actions, it has provided a moment of education on a huge platform.
“We support how Jeff Probst and the producers handled a very sensitive situation and marvel at the grace Zeke exhibited under extraordinary circumstances. We also have respect for how Jeff Varner has expressed remorse for his mistake, both in the episode and in his subsequent dialogue with the media. In the end, we believe this episode, accompanied by Zeke’s own remarkable writing and speaking on the subject, has provided an unexpected but important dialogue about acceptance and treating transgender people with respect.”
Varner also issued a heartfelt apology to Zeke, saying his words were “the worst decision of my life”, which robbed “a strong, courageous person of their power and protection and opens them up to discrimination and danger.”
— Jeff Varner (@JEFFVARNER) April 13, 2017
Zeke’s full piece for THR is absolutely worth your time. Read it HERE.
— Zeke Smith (@zekerchief) April 13, 2017