For those that don’t know, a recent episode of “Survivor” featured the outing (the disclosure of one’s being transgender) of a transgender man on national television. A gay man from North Carolina went on television and said “Why haven’t you told anyone you are transgender?” I’ve watched edited clips and read a good bit about the context of the comment, and it was done in a disgustingly malicious way. The perpetrator outed Zeke Smith in order to try to save himself from being voted off the show.
In some ways telling transgender people that we have to be transparent with our gender histories is just another example of the demands of the majority on the marginalized majority to conform to their ideas of how we should act. More specifically, it is another example of the objectification of trans bodies. When you publicly out someone it can send a message that binary trans people are not men and women. Just to be clear, transgender people don’t owe cisgender people anything when it comes to disclosure unless you are our doctor or romantic partner.
I think Jennifer Boylan said it best in her New York Times article when she said that being transgender isn’t a secret, but it can be private. Privacy in our trans identities is about more than individual autonomy. It’s often about safety. Forcibly outing a trans person in public can get him/her/them killed. This is not an exaggeration. My initial thoughts about the show airing the episode as is included questioning the worthiness off putting Zeke’s safety at risk for the rest of his life for good ratings. I later found out that Zeke approved the episode being aired as is. I think agreeing to air the show was incredibly brave of Zeke.
I do think that LGBTQ people should generally push themselves to be open about being LGBTQ. Now I am not saying that 15 year olds still living at home should announce to their homophobic/transphobic parents that they are LGBTQ, but I do hope that financially stable people over the age of majority take reasonable steps to come out. I can get frustrated with people who sit on the sidelines while out and active members of our community risk their lives to further equality. The ability to be recognized as one’s true gender is a privilege that not every trans person has. Often trans women, and for sure nonbinary people, do not have the privilege of being seen in this way. Not coming out adversely affects those people and our movement as a whole. Is being out hard? It sure can be, but now more than ever visibility matters.
All the best,