‘I’m Not Ashamed of Being Trans, but I Didn’t Want that to be My Story,’ Survivor’s Zeek Says After Being ‘Outed’ by Fellow Contestant

‘I’m Not Ashamed of Being Trans, but I Didn’t Want that to be My Story,’ Survivor’s Zeek Says After Being ‘Outed’ by Fellow Contestant

“I’m not ashamed of being trans, but I didn’t want that to be my story,” Zeke Smith, a contestant on the past two season’s of Survivor told PEOPLE after fellow tribe-member Jeff Varner outed him as transgender during tonight’s tribal council.

Varner received heavy criticism almost immediately on social media for trying to paint Zeke’s decision not to openly tell his tribe that he is transgender identity as “deceitful.” “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?” he pointedly asked Zeke. Immediately, though, fellow tribe members came to Zeke’s defense, understanding that the decision to come out is his and his alone. “That’s personal, you didn’t have to do that!” Andrea Boehlke yelled. “Nobody has the right to out anybody,” Tai Trang, a 51-year-old openly gay contestant said.

“You know, I think I’ve been fortunate to play survivor as long as I’ve been playing it and not have that label And one of the reasons why I didn’t want to lead with that is because I didn’t want to be like, the trans Survivor player, I wanted to be Zeke the Surivor player,” Zeke quickly rebuffed.

“I just wanted to go out on an adventure and play a great game. I just wanted to be known for my game,” the 29-year-old Brooklyn asset manager said.

He also had some words about Varner’s tactic to paint Zeke as deceptive for not coming out. “I think he 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,” Smith says. “What’s great is that nobody bought it.”

You can read the full interview with Smith in the latest issue of PEOPLE.

The decision to air the episodes tribal council was weighted heavily and conversations took place between Zeek, CBS, and GLAAD. GLAAD released the following statement minutes after the show aired on the East Coast: “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,” Adams said. “It is heartening, however, 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.”

Zeke has penned a moving opp-ed in the Hollywood Reporter, discussing the outing, transitioning, and life post-Survivor.

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