‘Survivor’ outing was an act of violence

Adrienne Oliva, Staff Writer

“Survivor,” one of America’s longest running reality TV shows, recently featured an act of violence that disturbed many viewers. Jeff Varner outed his fellow cast mate Zeke Smith as a transgender man on national television.

It is important to understand that, though this is the first time this has happened in “Survivor” history, the violent act of announcing someone’s gender or sexual identity without consent happens frequently outside the world of reality television.

This often happens because people do not realize that what they are doing by outing someone is, in fact, an act of violence.

Outing someone, bottom line, is taking away their right to define their sexuality or gender when they want, and how they want. It is a right that heterosexual and cisgender people take for granted because society already assumes their sexuality and gender correctly and there is no inherent additional danger involved with the knowledge of their identity.

For non-straight, non-cisgender people, it is a different story.

We, as humans, have the right to define who we are. When outing someone, that right is robbed. The person being outed is no longer in control of defining themselves on their own terms.

If someone is being outed, it is because they were not ready or willing to disclose that part of themselves with who they are with. That should be enough for people to respect a person’s decision concerning being open about their sexuality or gender.

However, sometimes, a person is unwilling or unable to come out because it is not deemed as a safe choice for the individual.  This means outing someone can lead to that individual being susceptible to physical or emotional violence based on the disclosure of their sexuality or gender.

Not to mention, many outings are tinged with additional prejudices against the individual being outed. In the case of “Survivor,” Varner did not casually or accidentally out Smith, but he used outing him as a tool to prove that he was capable of deception. This is a violent ideology in itself, because it is insinuating that transgender people are lying about their gender.

As Smith himself said, “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.” This stereotype is beyond offensive; it is violent.
Although Smith did not get the opportunity to decide whether or not to come out to his “Survivor” cast mates, he was able to make the decision of whether or not he wanted to come out to the public.

Unlike Varner, CBS gave Smith the decision whether or not to air the moment. Though Smith did not originally want his storyline to be defined by being transgender, he decided he wanted the story to air.

Smith said, “By showing what happened, maybe it wouldn’t happen to someone else and something good could come of it.”

While what Varner demonstrated was an act of violence, what Smith demonstrated was an act of bravery.