Zeke Smith, a Survivor contestant who was outed as transgender on Wednesday’s episode of the reality show, speaks out about his identity and the exposure of it on national television in a powerful essay.
Smith was outed by his fellow contestant Jeff Varner during tribal council on Survivor: Game Changers when Varner, who is gay, asked Smith, “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?”
Varner’s argument was that Smith was being deceptive by withholding this information from the other players.
“I wanted to be Zeke the ‘Survivor player’ and not ‘the trans Survivor‘player,” Smith responded. Varner later apologized to Smith and pulled him in for a hug, but Varner was eventually voted off by the rest of the cast.
Varner apologized once again on social media after the episode aired.
“Yep. I did that. And I offer my deepest, most heart-felt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended,” Varner wrote on Instagram. “I recklessly revealed something I mistakenly believed everyone already knew. I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life.
Let me be clear, outing someone is assault. It robs a strong, courageous person of their power and protection and opens them up to discrimination and danger. It can leave scars that haunt for a lifetime. I am profoundly sorry. Zeke is a wonderful man and I will forever be amazed and inspired by his forgiveness and compassion. I thank God for that and the gift of being an example as to why you should never do what I did.”
Smith responded in his own way by penning a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter in which he spoke about his history and identity as a trans person at length.
“I lost many from my life when I transitioned. Most were supportive in theory, but distanced themselves, unsure and a little weirded out by the process,” Smith wrote. “On the whole, the world doesn’t treat trans people with much kindness. Even those who aren’t outwardly hateful crinkle their noses at you. When enough people crinkle their noses at you, you begin to think you stink.”
He recounted the crushing moment from Tribal Council that exposed the very information that he wanted to keep private.
“I remember walking into Tribal Council that night. I remember the smell of the kerosene in our torches. I remember the smug smirk on [Varner’s] face and the gleam in his eye when he turned to me and snarled, ‘Why haven’t you told anyone that you’re transgender?'” said Smith. “The lights magnified in brightness. The cameras, though 30 feet away, suddenly felt inches from my face. All sound faded. Something primal deep inside me screamed: run. I lost control of my body, my legs bounced up and down uncontrollably, willing me to flee, but the rest of me sat dead as stone.”
Smith said he doesn’t believe that Varner “hates” trans people, “just as I don’t believe conservative politicians who attack trans people actually care where we use the bathroom.”
“For both, trans people make easy targets for those looking to invoke prejudice in order to win votes. Thankfully, my tribemates rebuffed his hateful tactics. After 18 days starving and competing with me, they knew exactly the man I am, and after that Tribal Council, we all knew exactly the man Varner is,” he concluded.
Read Varner’s moving essay in its entirety over on The Hollywood Reporter