Zeke Smith admits there were some things he wanted to keep to himself when he signed up for not one, but two seasons of Survivor.
That all changed on Wednesday's episode of Survivor: Game Changer when fellow castaway, Jeff Varner, outed him as being transgender during the tribal council portion of the show. Varner was promptly voted off the island, unanimously.
"I'm not wild about you knowing that I'm trans. An odd sentiment, I realize, for someone who signed up for two seasons of the CBS reality giant, Survivor," Smith admits in an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter. "See, when I got on a plane to Fiji last March, I expected to get voted out third. I'd return home, laugh at my misadventure, and go about my life, casually trans in the same way that Zac Efron is casually Jewish."
"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 continues. "The only people who need to know are medical professionals and naked fun time friends."
As for Varner, Smith has a spirit of forgiveness. "I knew that Varner's actions, though targeted at me, had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him," he says. "His terrible utterances were not an effect of my actions, but a reflection of his own personal maladies."
That being said, Smith feels that Varner's statements at the tribal council "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," he writes. "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."
While Smith -- who was raised in Oklahoma, and transitioned while studying religion at Harvard -- has forgiven Varner, he's not forgotten. "I can't foresee us sipping martinis together in Fire Island. While I can reconcile the personal sleight of him outing me, I continue to be troubled by his willingness to deploy such a dangerous stereotype on a global platform," the 28-year-old asset manager confides. "But forgiveness does not require friendship. Forgiveness does not require forgetting or excusing his actions. 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," Smith declares. "I have hope for Jeff Varner. I just choose to hope from afar, thank you very much."
After the episode aired, Varner apologized for his comments in a statement posted on his Twitter and Instagram accounts. "I was wrong and make no excuses for it," he wrote. "I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life."