Transgender reality show contestant responds to being outed on national television

Zeke Smith opens up about his experience of being outed on "Survivor."

ByABC News
April 13, 2017, 1:25 PM

— -- A transgender contestant outed on Wednesday night's episode of "Survivor" has opened up about the experience of being exposed on national television.

Zeke Smith, who has competed on back-to-back seasons of the reality series, was outed by fellow contestant Jeff Varner during an emotional tribal council on "Survivor: Game Changers."

Varner, who is gay, asked Smith, "Why haven't you told anyone you're transgender?"

When other contestants reacted with outrage, Varner defended his actions by saying Smith was being deceptive during the game.

Smith responded by saying, "I wanted to be Zeke the 'Survivor' player" and not "the trans 'Survivor' player."

In the end, Varner apologized, hugging Smith, but was voted off anyway.

In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, Smith wrote that he's not "wild" about people knowing that he is trans but is proud of the way he handled it.

"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," Smith wrote. "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."

A longtime fan of "Survivor," Smith credits the show with helping him through both depression and the process of transitioning. After he transitioned, he moved to New York, where people knew him only as "Zeke," which he said he found "tremendously liberating."

"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," he wrote. "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."

Varner apologized once again on Twitter after the episode, which was taped months earlier, aired.

"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 in a statement.

"Let me be clear, outing someone is assault," he continued. "It robs a strong, courageous person of their power and protection and opens them up to discrimination and danger."

Varner said he was "amazed and inspired" by Smith's forgiveness.

But Smith wrote that he is still struggling with that forgiveness in the months since then.

"While I can reconcile the personal slight of him outing me, I continue to be troubled by his willingness to deploy such a dangerous stereotype on a global platform," he wrote in THR.

"But forgiveness does not require friendship. Forgiveness does not require forgetting or excusing his actions," Smith added. "Forgiveness requires hope. Hope that he understands the injury he caused and does not inflict it upon others. Hope that whatever torments his soul will plague him no more. I have hope for Jeff Varner. I just choose to hope from afar, thank you very much."

Fans of the show reacted on Twitter and Smith even got kudos from Caitlyn Jenner.

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