The "outing heard 'round the world" is having ongoing repercussions for the man who initiated it. Last week, the world watched as Jeff Varner, a contestant on the current All-Star season of Survivor: Game Changers, outed a fellow contestant as trans in an attempt to avoid being eliminated from the game.
Varner, an openly gay former news anchor, told the contestants, "There is deception here," at the Tribal Council, before going on to tell everyone that Zeke Smith is a trans man. The move did not pay off in the way Varner had hoped: his fellow contestants were angry with him, and host Jeff Probst did not provide him any support, either. Then, he was eliminated anyway. The fallout continues for Varner, as he's now been fired from his job as a real estate agent in North Carolina as a result of his behavior on the show.
The News and Record of Greensboro, NC reported that Varner was told he was fired because he was “in the middle of a news story that we don’t want anything to do with.” It's of note that Varner was fired in North Carolina, a state that has been a battleground for transgender rights with their controversial "bathroom bills," denying trans folks the right to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. It's also important to understand that cisgender gay people are not immune from participating in acts of transphobic violence.
Varner told Entertainment Tonight that he was "devastated" by the firing, and he felt it happened in "an ugly, knee-jerk reaction kind of way." He also indicated that he has been in therapy since filming ended and that he had not planned on outing Smith that night. "This was traumatic for the both of us and it was ugly. When I came out of that game, I believe I even said, 'Somebody shoot me,'" he said. "I probably sent all the red flags up that I was going to kill myself over this, which of course I would never do that as much as I felt like I probably deserved it."
Varner, who also publicly apologized, saying it was "the worst decision of his life," demonstrates that he is centering himself in a situation where he shouldn't be. To put his own "trauma" on the same level as Smith's, who had to deal with being outed on national TV, is ignorant and damaging. Varner committed an act of violence against Smith and what he is seeing is the real life repercussions of that action, as hard as it is for him to deal with.
Watching reactions to Smith's outing shows how far we as a scoiety have come when it comes to acceptance of trans folks as a society. This is not to say that there's not still a long way to go until trans folks receive all the same rights as cisgender people, and until they don't face the threat of violence simply for being who they are. However, seeing the outrage over the outing of Smith indicates that we are making progress towards respecting the right of trans folks to live as their authentic selves.
According to Variety, Nick Adams, director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, said, “It is heartening... to see the strong support for Zeke from the other people in his tribe. Moments like this prove that when people from all walks of life get to know a transgender person, they accept us for who we are.” To see the anger from fellow contestants, viewers, and even employers means that people understand what a violation it is when you out someone, and how dangerous it can be. It is my hope that the fallout from this proves that we are on a path to accepting trans people and allowing them to be who they are.
For his part, Smith wrote in The Hollywood Reporter that while he forgives Varner, he has no desire to ever be friends with him. "I have hope for Jeff Varner," he wrote. "I just choose to hope from afar, thank you very much."
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