…I don’t know where to begin.
Last week I only wrote about one subject because I didn’t think anything else had the material to write about it. This week, other stuff did happen, but I think it all got overshadowed by Tribal. It was a big deal not just in Survivor, but in general- the New York Times wrote about it, GLAAD wrote about it, even freaking Buzzfeed wrote about it. For better or worse, this is a moment that will be remembered all throughout Survivor.
I don’t know if other trans people have written extensively about this- maybe their voices have been buried, which sadly wouldn’t surprise me. I know that about this there are a few consensuse… consensua… consensi (…is that a word? I don’t care, I’m going with it) about what happened- a lot of people angry that this happened, and a lot of people calling for sympathy for Varner for what to them is essentially an oopsy doopsy. To be fair, there are a lot of points to talk about, but I don’t think enough people are talking about Zeke, and that’s the infuriating part.
I mean, I won’t until the end of the article. There is a lot of frustration that I have to work through. Right now, there’s pressure to be on my best behavior, as though all of us are forced to mind our Ps and Qs when we are hurting and we are sick of this shit. The fact that even as close to home as this was that this is a drip in the bucket says a lot, and is ultimately why we can’t let this go.
It’s too familiar.
Burn Book Page One
I could say a lot about Varner. I think the conversation has largely revolved around him. Was he a bad guy? Was he just misunderstood? It’s gotten to a point where Zeke has been treated like a side character in his own outing. The part that doesn’t get talked about as much was that this wasn’t just an outing. That’s the part that gets me. That’s the part that rings the bell that Varner can’t unring. This wasn’t just “Are you trans? Oh shit”. When Sarah said this was malicious, it wasn’t without reason.
Varner claimed he knew he was going home. He made a case for them to get rid of Ozzy. It was a good case. I am not sure if it would have worked but it was strong. However, before the Tribal, he said that there was deception that the other tribe didn’t know about. Deception he planned to expose. That’s what sticks with me- this wasn’t just a blurt. Varner seemed to plan this far in advance, and in many ways weaponized this.
He tried to use that to survive. He was hoping that by outing Zeke, others would get angry that he was “untrustworthy” and vote against him. That in itself… does Varner know why that was nasty? He claims to be an ally, but that taps into something way more hateful than it may seem to most. That’s something that, for all intents and purposes, he should have known.
I’m going to talk about “trans panic” a bit.
This has been my sticking point. Trans panic are the words used to describe a scenario where someone not out has been outed by a third party, and people get irrationally angry, hateful, and even violent because they are trans. People have used this to get away with murder quite literally, so the fact that people have said “he panicked” to explain Varner is very suspicious. Varner tried to use that to get people angry at Zeke for not telling them. He should have known better if he was the ally he claimed to be that inciting that is an act of transphobia.
Banking on others to look down on someone for not being the trans the way you think is right is transphobia, or at the very least, trying to benefit off of it. Transphobia, and bigotry in general, are not just people screaming in FB comments sections about bathrooms and guys in dresses. It’s not all Pat McCrory and Mitch McConnell making bigoted laws. Sometimes it is sneakier than you think. Sometimes it is in the form of someone who claims to understand, a friend, an ally even, someone who secretly drinks a can of Diet Bigotry but since they’re not calling people the other F-Bomb they’re okay.
Ultimately, I can’t justify it by saying he thought everyone knew but also wanted to scare people with it. That he thought Zeke was out and proud but never saw Millennials vs Gen X (it hadn’t aired yet) and didn’t equate that telling friends and family and not being shy about it to those he met doesn’t translate to telling an audience of eight million people. (Ultimately, the blame may be towards production for letting Zeke’s outing air when few had any indication he was trans, but by saying that Varner knew there was a chance that the TV audience could just find out). This isn’t because I don’t believe him, but because they don’t make it go away.
There’s also the idea that, with his pre-Tribal confessional about exposing deception on levels you wouldn’t believe, and him claiming that he knew he was going home, that this was done out of spite. That he didn’t intend to get anyone to be alarmed by Zeke’s “deception”, but wanted to get in one last fuck-you to hurt someone on his way out. If that’s true, that is very bad, but at this point I can’t decide what’s worse- an ally inciting trans panic, or an ally spitefully outing someone.
That ally part, that might be what I am angriest about. I know it all too well. It’s telling someone that they can justify secretly bigoted things- they marched once. They voted for their favorite candidate and assigned help to you for it. They think you should be treated as a basic human being. That makes them better, and that puts a band-aid on things. It’s a tactic people use to silence us or make us look the fool for not being okay with this. Right now, it certainly is- people have used “Varner is sorry, and he’s an ally” as means to shove this under the rug.
However, if Varner is an ally, he should have known better. I cannot believe that anyone who studied this, or who is around trans people, or “is as big a champion is you’ll ever find for you”, would think this is okay. Whether for a strategy or for revenge, this should not have crossed an ally’s mind as available to do, and honestly that’s what hurts worse.
I would expect this from someone like Dan, or Kyle, someone who is ignorant of trans issues and incorrectly sees us as subhuman or “SJWs”. It’s Varner insisting he’s an ally that really smarts, and breaks a lot of trust that we should have in the people who claim to really support us. Anyone who saw this would know that an ally can hurt us like this.
I don’t know what’s in Varner’s heart. I can’t read his mind. But I know this- this act was guilty of bigotry. Even if he wished he could take it back, even if he feels genuinely remorseful for this, it was as Probst said- you can’t unring that bell. An apology won’t make this go away. Even if Varner understands the extent of what he did, it’s still out there, it’s still going to hurt people, and it still could very well hurt Zeke. What Varner is going through- the depression, the suicidal thoughts, the guilt, the embarrassment- that is stuff I wouldn’t wish on people. However, this all stems from something hateful Varner himself did to hurt another person. We all have regrets that follow us around, and for the rest of my life I have things that I will regret that I did. This is his.
Forgiving does not mean forgetting. And for us, even if we can buy that he is remorseful, this doesn’t go away in a day. This may hurt for awhile, and he will have to deal with the fact that not only did he hurt and endanger Zeke, he may have made things worse for all trans people.
P.S. Before the season started, Varner released his 500th episode celebration video, where castaways were tasked with naming their favorite moments. Varner said that his had yet to air, and indicated that it would be traumatic and hard to deal with- clearly referring to this Tribal (or the way people have reacted, Sugargate). I’m going to hope that he would refer to the lessons he learned through that moment, but either way it’s in bad taste to reference this as your favorite moment, especially in the same season you had a hand in Sugargate. I mean, that shit was awesome.
Judge for yourself here: https://streamable.com/5tmos
Burn Book Page 2
Now to turn my attention to production.
The did-they or didn’t-they exploit this by airing it from different people is like a game of monkey in the middle on the playground, especially one where both sides end up shoving you around. I have zero clue what is true and what is not- if CBS hoped him being trans would come out, if they never expected it to like this, if Zeke gave them the okay to air that part, or if by being on Survivor he basically signed away his ability to hide it. I can’t speak very well to it because I have zero clue what the truth is, but what I can say is this:
Probst seemed genuinely angry by what happened. When he did the public “yes or no” vote, I think it was because he was genuinely over what happened. But by doing that, he locked it in so that this had to be aired, that this had to have been shown. What’s he supposed to do, have the TripleNewKus publicly voting out a crying Varner? How dickish would they look? You can’t do that. This outing was right on the edge of needing to be aired already, but that vote-out made it impossible for the editors to work their magic.
That’s not what I want to focus on, though.
Someone somewhere pointed out something that I found to be very prescient. A lot of modern seasons have had focus on making big moves, no matter the cost. Vote out your mom, lie about dead relatives, be sociopathic and revel in hurting others. These are things that many a player, yes even Zeke himself, has been guilty in. Ever since, I wanna say Samoa, there has been a focus on doing everything and anything it takes to win.
Varner tried to do that at Tribal that night, and it was a bridge too far.
That, right there, is where “you have to make big moves no matter the cost” met its fitting, disgusting end. That sort of TPTB pressuring people to make big moves, especially on Game Changers, is what led to this. Everyone feeling the pressure to have to do better made this, for some reason, seem like it was an okay length to go to. And it wasn’t.
As mad as Probst is that this happened, this is the mess he made for himself. He didn’t hold the gun; hell I don’t even think he expected this to happen. But since he cheerfully announced that Ciera was returning with “she voted out her mom!”, all I can think is this- he’s part of the reason it did.
Burn Book Page 3
This is all a big deal, and is largely treated as such. I think that people recognize that it was not cool to do that to Zeke, and that Zeke handled it with class. However, the excuses I have seen for what Varner did really astounds me. It could fill its own article, but I’ve heard people say “he was exhausted”, “he was in game mode”, “why are people acting like it’s an act of violence”, “you guys are overreacting”, or perhaps the most wtf-worthy “this affects Varner way more than it does Zeke”. Furthermore, people who post that it was a big deal, or aren’t okay with it, they’re being treated as insane or as troublemakers already because I guess you should get over it in a span of four to twelve hours.
I don’t know why people are acting this way. Maybe it’s because Varner is a three-time player and a fun character and they don’t think the same of Zeke (I certainly didn’t). Maybe it’s because they’re overcompensating far too much for the backlash they think he will get. Perhaps it’s because they don’t think trans issues are a big deal, or even worse, don’t care. All I know is, to gaslight, all it takes is a dimming of the lights.
A lot of people had to watch as someone who said they were an ally use the fact that someone wasn’t out as much as they wanted against them. A handful of those people were trans. While I can’t speak for us all (some are already over it while I came home and immediately started crying), if you were to tell me that a lot were traumatized by it, I would believe it.
For us, we cannot get over it and behave as fast as you want us to. While Zeke wrote a nice article beforehand where he got to discuss being trans, on-show our first ever representation was someone being outed and labeled by someone as deceitful. And if cis viewers, who support and understand us and not to do this, were also really affected by this, I understand too.
Furthermore, I don’t know if people really grasp the severity of this, for many because they are not trans. Outing someone is very dangerous, and it was Varner’s own ignorance that made this happen. Being out to only a few people can be dangerous. Being out in general can be very dangerous. Having five o’clock shadow in even a remotely femmy profile picture can be extremely dangerous, not that I know about that. Imagine being outed to eight million people, and even more due to the numerous articles and hot button discussions about this.
We’ve faced legitimate oppression, it is not made up. We have faced threats, acts of violence, and many of us are killed, simply for being trans. I’ve gotten to a point where a trans person is murdered every two days or so and I just kind of groan and close my eyes because even with all our outrage, outspokenness, and activity on the manner, I have come to expect it. I know trans people who have experienced that violence. We are faced with a shitty choice- stay in the closet and never be seen as who you really are, or come out of it and have a lot of people hate you for who you really are.
I have said it before, and I will say it again- Varner cannot take it back. Even if he is legitimately remorseful, he cannot take it back. And for what it’s worth, as someone pointed out, Varner himself has issued an apology on Twitter where he shuts down the excuses others make for him before they were even made. No matter what you think of it, take note of that- Varner did not make the excuses that you all are making, so neither should you.
I’ve seen anger for small potatoes in comparison. Debbie claiming that Andrea was only here for her Playboy-esque looks was not okay, but many have accused Andrea of only being here because of her job with People. Michaela drinking tea while the votes were read? That isn’t even a big deal and there were huge discussions on why she should be hated and how her supporters were racist. Meanwhile, an act like this, and there is defense for Varner that Michaela and Debbie could only dream of.
The majority will not say that this flat out wasn’t okay, and it was not how any ally should present themselves, and that it has a far-reaching impact on the trans society itself. Anyone who does is treated like a vengeful sinner, and that is what I am sick of. Some trans people do not like this. We’re here, we’re queer, and people still have not gotten used to it.
Ripping Out Pages 4-9 To Write Thank You Notes On
However, as negative as this is making me feel right now, there is a large positive to this that I think many people have already pointed out- this act of malice has been met by his tribe with support for Zeke and derision that Varner would do such a thing. I remember Worlds Apart where no one except Mike lifted a finger to help Shirin while Will was flipping the fuck out on her. The Axis either stayed quiet for their game, or even claimed she deserved it for being annoying. Meanwhile, on TripleNewKu, the tribe did not go gently into the good night.
Let’s be clear here- while Zeke gave some good speeches at the end, his immediate reaction was silence and shock, which I am not surprised by at all. All he was able to say was a dazed “I haven’t told anyone that in two seasons of being here”. I can relate all too well- even if you fantasize about how you would handle this like a tough person who takes no shit, something devastating happens to you and you can just freeze up. I do not blame him at all.
The reaction of others was more uplifting than I ever expected. To remind everyone, this tribe has Debbie, Sarah, and Ozzy on it. These are not the people you would expect to be the most sensitive about it as their airtime has largely been about themselves, how tough they are, how awful others are, and whatever Sarah and Ozzy give confessionals about I guess.
Tai and Andrea I expected- Tai’s heart is huge already, and Andrea is a close friend of Zeke’s who even played a homemade Survivor with him before MvGX started, Survivor Brooklyn. Andrea reacted immediately and quite viscerally, tearfully and angrily rebuffing the attack in a way that showed that not only do you not do this, you especially do not do it to Andrea’s friends.
Tai himself got angrier than I knew he was capable of, shutting Varner down and even shouting over him at times. When Varner said that he didn’t out Zeke, Tai shouted back “Yes you are! You just fucking outed him! Nobody has the right to out anybody! How would you like it if someone did that to you?” At some point he showed personal forgiveness and hopes that Varner understands what he did wrong, but all I can think of is “if Tai Trang is swearing at someone, it must be serious”.
Sarah got the big final speech of the episode. Some say it was a little self-serving, but you know what, sometimes people need to relate this to themselves vocally to really understand. Her speech was that in her hometown in Iowa, it was very conservative and she didn’t experience the diversity that she needed to understand this, but that Zeke got his way in that she at least never saw him as more than Zeke- not the gay guy, not even as she knows now the trans guy. Just Zeke, her friend and sometimes ally.
(There was also before this a moment where she had none of Varner interrupting her when she claimed that this was a malicious attack. That’s the cop in her, and it’s nice to see the small town rescue-kittens-from-trees type of cop using her abilities that way.)
Ozzy has been characterized as somewhat of a loner. The time he spent on Redemption Island, away from people, is the happiest he was in four seasons. Even throughout his snark, bad acting, romantic relationships, and tribal interactions, the first thing I could name about Ozzy was that he was a loner. (Okay, second, first I’d say he’s a challenge beast because gaht damn). However, even though he spent most of TC silent, he dropped this righteous little gem:
“Jeff, you should be ashamed of yourself, for what you’re willing to do, to get yourself further in a game for a million dollars? You’re playing with people’s lives at this point.”
I can’t say anything more about it that I already haven’t this article. I just think it’s great. It’s the first moment that indicated that this was more serious than it seems.
Debbie, of all people, was the most pleasant surprise. She’s had a reputation lately for being a hateful lunatic. She’s always had a reputation for being egocentric, if even in a way that is positive on others. Hell, with some she has a reputation for being scripted and fake and comparable to Phillip. Even at Tribal Council she was very verbose and well-spoken to frustrating extents, as if she picked only some of her characteristics to return.
Yet, as soon as Varner said what he did, Debbie went into mother mode, claiming very bluntly in very ordinary words that it was not okay, and comforting Zeke in small, not overwhelming ways. Not only was she not okay with Zeke being hurt, she was compassionate to Zeke in small, unspoken ways. She very clearly wanted him to be okay, more than she was mad at Varner. It’s like we got the old Debbie back.
When Zeke got his bearings on the situation, he was able to make a couple of good speeches- about transitioning, about being trans in general, and how he didn’t want to go on Survivor out because he wanted to be Zeke, and not just “the trans person”. I can relate to that- ever since I came out that label has always felt like an asterisk attached to me even when I wish it wasn’t. Sometimes I am glad it is, but at others I wish it was not, and at times I fear it’s the only value I have with people.
However, he went on to say that this game was a metamorphosis for him, using that word from the challenge puzzle that was almost cringey but kinda charming. In Survivor he experienced some growth, made fire twice without flint, was a big player, made some genuine bonds, and stood out as himself.
I get exactly what Zeke was talking about, and I fear he will be remembered more for being trans than the fact that he was a big character on Millennials vs Gen X and… kinda sucked there, not gonna lie. As much as I respect Zeke and admire his class, that season was not one where I liked him that much. However, I hope that’s what people take away, not “where’s his vagina” or “was he a woman” or any of that ignorant-ass basic shit. I hope they take away that Zeke was a player, a big player, who kinda sucked as a character on his first go. Because that’s what matters.
Before the episode, Zeke had a pleasant article on Hollywood Live where he came out, denying this to be the first opportunity to out him (though plenty already outed him after they were obsessed with his chest scars). It was pleasant, if a little bit verbose in that Zeke-y way that straddles the line between charming and awkwardly unpleasant, like a Wes Anderson movie. However, after the episode, he also did an interview with People where he said while he wasn’t angry with Varner, he found it hard to forgive him and is still not sure he has.
Plenty have used that as a weapon to say that Zeke should forgive him, or that he’s bitter, or equating him to Varner because of course they do. However, that is also just how I would imagine it, and I cannot think of a way Zeke could be classier about it. This is the same reaction people had when Shirin didn’t insta-forgive Will after his forced reunion apology where he backhandedly forced her to forgive him.
An apology doesn’t fix everything. Some wounds take more time to heal.
Give us that time.