Survivor hopefully holds a lesson for Texas legislators



Leslie McMurrayMy heart broke recently when Jeff Varner, a gay man, outed Zeke Smith as a transgender man on Survivor. As has been often stated, outing a trans person is an act of violence. Doing so can put our jobs and even our lives in jeopardy. It’s the ultimate betrayal and unless you are the transgender person in question, that information is not yours to share.
Not ever.

Varner of all people should have known better. And apparently he did, since he quickly recognized that he screwed up. He has apologized and has been gracefully forgiven by Zeke.

But this column isn’t about that; there is so much to think about.

When Zeke was outed during the TV show’s Tribal Council, it created one of the more awkward moments on television in recent memory. There was just silence, then the remaining contestants turned on Varner, scolding him for outing Zeke and saying it was Zeke’s story to tell.

Varner was then voted off.

Here’s the bright spot in this latest attack on trans identities: Zeke is well liked by the other competitors on the show. Not “even though he is trans.” He is well liked as Zeke, as a guy!

I’m fond of hugging people I meet for the first time. I also remind people that it’s hard to hate someone you’ve held in your arms. Or as Dr. Oz put it, “It’s hard to hate up close.”

I’ve been out speaking to several groups lately. I usually ask how many in the room have met or personally know someone who is transgender. The numbers vary, and often it’s skewed by age: 20-somethings are much more likely to know a trans person than are Boomers. But still, the percentage is low. We are still a mystery to many.

That’s why this incident on Survivor is so important.

It wasn’t just that the other people in the game grew to like Zeke. It was that millions of viewers of the show did, too. This wasn’t Zeke’s first season on the show. He was invited back because he was a good player, he was likable and he was interesting — as a person, not a controversy.

‘This is also why, regardless of the risk to my safety or health, I live my life as a transgender woman in a very public way. But I still reserve the right to tell my own story when and where I see fit. Sometimes I just want to be another woman in the room.
Having people get to know and hopefully like me is important, because that changes people’s hearts and minds. Everyone who meets me or hears me speak can no longer say they’ve never met someone who’s transgender before.

Now, because of Zeke, millions of Survivor fans will have to toss out ideas they have had.

This makes it harder for politicians in Austin and Washington, D.C. to lie about us and have those lies believed.

I really hope there are some Survivor fans in Austin, because the House has cooked up a North Carolina-style bill that would prevent cities like Dallas from offering equal protection to transgender people as they do now.

On Wednesday, April 19, the House State Affairs Committee held a public hearing on the committee substitute for HB 2889, a bill hailed as a replacement to SB 6. HB 2899 amended by the author to be CSHB 2899, and would ban municipalities and school districts from enforcing ordinances, orders, or other measures that protect transgender Texans from discrimination when using restrooms or changing facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

If the people who author these bills would only take the time to meet and get to know us — or even just look at the example of Survivor. The other tribe members turned on Varner — not Zeke. Comments from the general public have been positive and supportive towards Zeke.

Once people understand the issue, once people get to know us, the light goes on. I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but please — please! — don’t deny me basic human rights or put me in harms way because of who I am, because of something I can’t help and didn’t ask for but is surely as much a part of me as your gender is to you.

“Reality” shows take a rap for often being far from real reality. But this past week, Survivor offered a dose of truth and a positive example of how people will defend a friend, a tribe mate, because of who they are — not what’s between his legs.

How nice it would be to have our state leaders take a page from Survivor. The lesson? Be nice, or we may just vote you off the island.

Leslie McMurray, a transgender woman, is a former radio DJ who lives and works in Dallas. Read more of her blogs at

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 21, 2017.