“Zeke Smith, and transgender people like him, are not deceiving anyone by being their authentic selves, and it is dangerous and unacceptable to out a transgender person.”
That’s a comment from Nick Adams, director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, in response to an episode of reality-TV program Survivor, in which one contestant — Jeff Varner — outed another as being a transgender person.
In the episode that aired Wednesday, Varner spoke of a deception going on, while trying to save himself from elimination. He then turned to Smith and said, “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?”
The newspaper says there was “a firestorm of reaction” on social media the following day, condemning Varner for his action.
Varner has paid a heavy price for it, though. Aside from being eliminated from the show, he lost his real-life job as a real-estate agent, reports People Magazine.
It is important to note here that the episode was filmed 10 months before, and the TV network chose to air it, presumably with Smith’s permission. They could have edited out that part of the show.
But it is a reality-TV show, and the outing of trans people and other LGBQ people is a real social problem.
As Smith explains in the People report:
“I think (Jeff Varner) hoped others would believe that trans people are dangerous and fraudulent. That reasoning is infinitely worse than him outing me because it’s the same one used to discriminate against, attack and murder trans people. What’s great is that nobody bought it. It’s important people see he lost that fight. The message should be clear that hate will always lose.”
Well, Smith is being somewhat overly optimistic. Some reader comments I saw support Varner. And the sad reality is that the outing and deliberate misgendering of trans people is widespread. While fewer and fewer people may be outing and gossiping about the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian people, I think the majority of people feel it is OK — for a variety of reasons — to point out to others that so-and-so has gender-transitioned and “used to be a man” or “used to be a woman.”
It’s an invasion of privacy, of course. It is gossip that can do myriad forms of harm, and not all people who are outed survive it — either figuratively or literally.
But colleagues do it as a matter of fact, friends and relatives do it, and contestants on reality-TV shows do it, apparently.
The moral of the story is: it’s nobody’s business and not a subject for discussion unless the person raises the subject. Don’t even refer to them or think of them as trans people, because many do not use the label for themselves. Many who gender transition simply see themselves as members of the binary, i.e. women and men. Period. They don’t have to justify it to anyone.
Having said all of this, I think the vast majority of regular readers here are up to speed on LGBTQ etiquette. But this is one of the stories of the week that caught my eye (besides North Korea’s failed missile launch early Sunday morning). Keep it in mind if you come across colleagues or acquaintances who aren’t so well-informed and sensitive to the harm that can be caused by idle outing gossip.
There are a lot of reports about the Zeke Smith outing online. If interested, google his name.
About Sunday Reads posts: This is a weekly feature giving us all a chance to point to an article or two or three that we found interesting in the preceding week, or the morning of. They can be offbeat, humorous, weighty commentary, whatever. So, if you have any recommendations, please point to them in the readers’ comments section below.
Photo: Transgender flag. Source: Wikimedia Commons