Guest Post: Why I Won’t Forgive – And Why You Shouldn’t Either

EmandScoutinBK shares her perspective on what happened in the most recent episode of Survivor and the subsequent fallout.

Disclaimer #1:  I am a member of the Queer community, but I am not trans, and I cannot speak for the entire LGBTQ community.  As Jeff Varner demonstrated, we are not interchangeable.  I can only speak from the perspective of a gay cisgender woman who, while enjoying the societal privilege that comes with being cisgender, was affected greatly by the events of Wednesday night’s episode because of my personal history of being outed. I want to thank Purple Rock for giving me the opportunity to share this and for creating this amazing space we have.  I know I’m not the only commenter who’s grateful in times like this to have a Survivor home. I want to also give a big welcome and thank you to commenter RustyShackleford, who helped me with this post.

Disclaimer #2:  Please do not harass Jeff Varner in any way.  Do not cyberbully him and do not send him threats.  What this does not mean is that you should not express your opinion, as I am about to do.

Let’s get something out of the way now: this article is going to be angry. It is not going to be forgiving. It is not going to see both sides of the argument. For me, there is no other side of the argument. I’m also not going to get to everything because I have way too much to say.

If you want to respond to this post with how I should have empathy for Jeff Varner because he got fired, it will be wasted type. I don’t have it. And I’ll tell you why.

This is probably the worst moment in Survivor history. Part of the reason this is so horrible is because this was bigoted hate speech. People- including Jeff Varner himself- have tried to convince themselves that it’s not, but when you equate being trans with being deceptive, it is nothing short of hate speech.

It should go without saying that not giving out your private medical history isn’t deceptive. Trans people are living their authentic selves like anyone else – Zeke is and always was a man. He’s not hiding anything from anyone. This didn’t just hurt one person – this hurt an entire marginalized population. But aside from that, this affects Zeke for the rest of his life.  Zeke will never have the choice about being out ever again. This could be the difference between getting a job. This could be the difference between being able to obtain housing. And it opens Zeke up to danger for the rest of his life.

Initially, I was going to focus on Jeff Varner – on why his apologies aren’t enough. They aren’t. He hasn’t owned what he’s done. Varner is blaming the edit and still failing to own what he did. He won’t claim it as a malicious act (it was). He claims he wasn’t calling trans people deceptive. But even in Varner’s explanation for the outing, he was still using the fact that Zeke was trans to prove deception. He claims he didn’t know he was outing Zeke to the world, which is ridiculous – but even if he ONLY thought he was outing him to six people, that’s still wrong and horrible and inexcusable.

Varner even literally called himself a victim in his Gordon Holmes exit interview. I don’t believe that he’s genuinely remorseful for what he did – I believe he’s genuinely remorseful for the public outcry. But over the last few days, what has stuck with me is the false narrative being put forth by so many people in the Survivor community right now:  that there are two victims here.

There are not two victims in this situation. There is one victim, and there is a person dealing with the consequences of his actions.

One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that when you’re the victim of some kind of bigotry, what can hurt even more is the aftermath and the reactions of the people around you.  I know this because I’ve lived it. Most queer people have. I’ve been outed before. I’m not going to say it’s the same thing that happened to Zeke – because it isn’t. I’m going to quote from Zeke here, because he said it best in the Hollywood Reporter column he wrote about his outing:

“Many gay people consider coming out a moment of liberation, because sharing their sexual orientation with the world causes them to be seen more authentically. Often, the opposite is true for trans people. When we share our gender history, many see us less authentically — doubting, probing or denying our identities.” – Zeke Smith

However, there are some parallels. Your agency is taken away. You lose your ability to choose. And then there’s the paranoia about who knows and what they think and how they see you now.

I’ve been outed more than once. One of those times was in high school. You can imagine how that went. Spoiler alert: way back when, being the only out gay kid in high school didn’t go well.

I’ve actually been outed twice professionally. I want to talk about the first time. It was my first college internship in the first week, and I was surrounded by conservatives all summer. One of them, in front of all of the other interns, asked me if I was gay. In that moment, I had about thirty seconds to decide if I was going to lie.

That look on Zeke’s face when Varner asked him why he hadn’t told the others? I know it. It’s probably the look I had in that moment. I had thirty seconds to decide if I was safe with these people – not just if I wanted them to know, but if I was safe with them. I had to decide if it was okay for my employer to know. And I also knew that several of them would never look at me the same again.

I didn’t lie.

And yes – from that point on, I was “the other.” And that, my friends, is why it doesn’t matter if it’s national television or just a few people. I didn’t want them to know – that’s reason enough. Zeke didn’t want them to know – that’s reason enough. When Jeff Varner did what he did, every moment I’ve had like that came flooding back to me. That’s the lens through which I see this malicious act.

So why are people bending over backwards to forgive Varner for what he did? Because people like Jeff Varner. They REALLY like Jeff Varner. Jeff Varner’s funny. Jeff Varner’s delightful! Jeff Varner looks like that cat in a purple shirt! He made a joke about a crab biting his ass! It’s very difficult for them to reconcile the person they thought Jeff Varner is with the person he is revealing himself to be. It’s hard when the people you know don’t measure up. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t hold them accountable.

And who are these people? Let’s take them one by one.

Survivors respond on social media

In case it was up in the air whether Scot Pollard is human garbage or not, it’s now been settled. He has taken it upon himself to victim-blame in this situation. He has decided that since Zeke was out 8 years ago, that means that Varner did no harm in this situation and that Varner is the true victim here.

In fact, he has gone as far as to tweet pre-transition photographs of Zeke without Zeke’s consent (cropped out of the above tweet). He is actually harassing Zeke. And when that tweet was apparently taken down, he reposted it. That is who Scot Pollard is. He deleted the tweet two days later, but only after he was publicly called out by Adam Klein. Several people had told him it was wrong and horrible two days ago, but it didn’t matter until a Survivor winner said it.

Don’t give him any credit for taking it down – after saying that he agreed that it wasn’t fair game, he immediately took it back. Adam Klein replied by thanking him for listening and learning, and guess what Scot Pollard wrote back: “Only thing I learned is that someone who signed up to go on reality tv would expect to keep secrets.” And lest I be accused of not including the end of the tweet, he said “welcome to the family kids – all love.” He has learned nothing. He is still victim-blaming. Make no mistake – this is an act of bigotry.

Every single Survivor who liked or retweeted that initial post is guilty of endorsing that bigotry. So let’s talk about them, because it’s pretty upsetting.

Kyle Jason retweeted it, and Diana Ogden (I know, right?) replied to it and told Scot that he’s just awesome and not to let CBS bully him. Let’s just digest the irony of that statement. Corinne Kaplan, someone who claims to “love the gays” (see, we’re not interchangeable!), also liked it.

The next part is hard for me to write. The person who hurts the most is someone that actually has a huge gay fan base: Peih-Gee Law. Peih-Gee is one of my favorite players. I rooted for her all through China. I picked her to win in Cambodia. I hate that I am writing anything negative about Peih-Gee because I felt connected to her, and she has genuinely broken my heart.

But she liked Scot Pollard’s post. She “liked” this bigotry. And while she made some statements that she probably thinks are supportive, she’s made some seriously problematic statements otherwise. Jeff Varner is her friend, and she loves him. And she can’t seem to separate that from what he did. But that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be held accountable.

She’s since made a statement, in all caps, that “everything that people feared would happen to Zeke is now happening to Jeff.” This is a false equivalence, and it only further shows her ignorance on this matter. Many trans people are literally murdered for being trans. The comparison she made trivializes what Varner did to Zeke, and that’s dangerous.

You know why the apologists for Varner are wrong? Because when you apologize for Varner too quickly, when you make Varner the victim, Scot Pollard is what you get. Scot Pollard feels so empowered by this situation, so quick to defend Varner, that he doesn’t care how he does it. To that point, anyone contributing to the environment that allows this to take place should be banned from Survivor and all related events going forward.  If I see Scot Pollard on a future villains tribe, so help me gd…

But don’t get it twisted – the Scot Pollard tweet is not an isolated incident. LJ McKanas sent out some choice transphobic tweets in which he TAGGED ZEKE: “@Zekerchief I hate to skew this episode, but ALL I can think is… Where is the vagina?”

He deleted that tweet, but followed up with (and did not delete): “Maybe my context was misunderstood by immensely shallow sheep. I’m amazingly mind blown that @Zekerchief used to be a female. Snap out folks.” Where do I even begin, other than cursing him out?  Don’t ask trans people about their genitals. It’s offensive and none of your business. Nobody’s a shallow sheep – he’s a transphobic asshole. Zeke didn’t used to be a female – he was always a man. And at the end of the day, LJ needs to educate himself and shut his mouth.

But ignorant, obvious bigots are easy to spot. The apologists who are pushing the narrative of Varner the Victim are guilty, too. I know these folks don’t think they mean harm, but intent is not impact. The rush to forgive is a rush to forget. It’s a rush to trivialize. It’s a devaluing of trans lives and minimizing of Varner’s actions. It creates the environment that allows blatant discrimination to take place. And I’m going to go one by one, because this is important:


How about you have some love and compassion for Zeke, Abi? Jeff Varner is rightfully being judged for what he did. And no, I don’t understand why he did it – because there’s nothing to understand.  It was a malicious, hateful act. There’s nothing to understand about it.

As I mentioned above, Kyle Jason-Jason Kyle also retweeted Scot Pollard’s transphobic BS. But this is a problem, too. He’s drawing a line in the sand and making sure that you know where he stands.

Mario Lanza isn’t a Survivor, but he’s a figure in the community. He tweeted nothing about Zeke. Here, it’s an acknowledgment that Varner is hurting. The perpetrator is hurting. There’s no acknowledgment of the victim.

No, we can throw stones (not literally). Again, don’t harass Jeff Varner, but we are all allowed to criticize him for the very real horrible thing that he did. And he sent no tweets of support for Zeke.

No, he didn’t.

No, Varner hasn’t. I’ve seen the idea that “Zeke has forgiven Varner, so we should, too” thrown around a lot. It’s wrong on several levels. First of all, the entire trans community was harmed by Varner’s actions. When he said that trans people are deceptive, he harmed an entire community.  Nobody is obligated to forgive. Secondly, to say that Zeke has forgiven is not to fully read his words. I’m going to link to his article at the bottom of this article so that you can read his words for yourself, but Zeke has made it clear that he struggles with what forgiveness means and that it is not traditional forgiveness.

Only a few of these people even bothered to tweet about Zeke otherwise – just Gordon Holmes, really. The other people I just quoted only sent their support to Varner. Because that’s whom they stand by. That’s the person that has their support. Think about how messed up that is.

What absolutely kills me is the amount of people saying that Varner has been punished enough because of how much he’s beating himself up. I don’t believe he’s genuinely sorry about what he did – but by how it’s affecting his life. As for his losing his job, I don’t think people should have been calling up his employer to call for his firing, but actions have consequences. He was a new employee, and they didn’t want any part of this. It was a legal firing. And it doesn’t make him any more of a victim.

When someone gets attacked, when there’s an act of bigotry, the bystanders have a choice.  Because this was nationally televised, we were all bystanders in this situation. We can do what’s comfortable and urge moving on. We can shift the burden to the victims for forgiveness. Or we can acknowledge the wrong that was done and sit with it. We can acknowledge the gravity of what Jeff Varner did. We can choose not to give him a pass because he gave some funny confessionals. We can challenge ourselves not to forgive.

Because a choice not to forgive is not a choice to inflict pain on the attacker. It is a choice to hold the attacker accountable. It is a message to trans lives that they matter, that we support them, and that they haven’t been silenced by a rush to forgive.

I’d like to post a few links here: how to be a trans ally, Zeke’s article, and an article by Cameron Johnson.

How to be a Trans Ally

Zeke’s column on being outed and his Survivor experience

Survivor: Mamanuca Islands #6: Queer Eye