Before last night, Zeke Smith was simply known as a strong competitor on the TV show Survivor. After last night’s shocking episode, another side of Smith’s identity was revealed. A fellow competitor divulged that Smith is transgender.
During elimination ceremony, Jeff Varner, a former news anchor and out gay man, attempted to paint Smith as “deceptive” by revealing to the other cast members that Smith is transgender.
The cast was horrified, but not for Varner’s desired reasons. They immediately admonished Varner for attempting to expose Smith and he was subsequently sent home.
Most shockingly, Smith and Varner embraced as the latter exited. Though it seems they’re on speaking terms, Varner has faced some backlash. He responded to the critics with a Twitter reply.
Smith has moved forward, both in the competition and in his life, posting an instructional message on how to be a true ally for trans people.
Survivor doesn’t often encounter teaching moments of this caliber, but the episode faced as a major lesson, not only on how to be a genuine ally, but also on the relations within the LGBT community. As trans people face life-threatening discrimination in the current political climate (the statistics on violence against trans women of color is particularly troubling), this episode served as a microaggressive representation in how exactly not to perpetuate transphobic violence.
Social media’s reaction was supportive, a hopeful sign in the battle for transgender rights in this country.
Luckily, Smith’s castmates were accepting and he was able to learn, but unfortunately, at the expense of trust.
“I have hope for Jeff Varner,” Smith said. “I just choose to hope from afar, thank you very much.”