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‘Survivor’ cast member Zeke Smith outed as transgender

cast member Jeff Varner has since apologized

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(‘Survivor’ contestant Zeke Smith. Screenshot via YouTube.)

“Survivor: Game Changers” contestant Zeke Smith is opening up about the emotional fallout from being outed as transgender by his castmate Jeff Varner on Wednesday’s episode.

Smith was competing on the show for a second time following his first appearance on “Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X.” In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, Smith says he never expected to last for long during his initial season.

“I’d return home, laugh at my misadventure, and go about my life, casually trans in the same way that Zac Efron is casually Jewish,” Smith writes.

The 29-year-old asset manager from Brooklyn found out he had a knack for playing the game and was invited back for the all-stars season of “Game Changers.” Smith became close with gay contestant Jeff Varner and during Wednesday’s Tribal Council meeting Varner outed Smith in a last ditch effort to keep himself from being voted off. Varner tried to pitch the idea that since Smith hadn’t mentioned his transgender identity on the show he was being deceptive in the game.

While the other contestants were outraged Varner chose to disclose the information, Smith says he dissociated from the situation.

“The lights magnified in brightness. The cameras, though 30 feet away, suddenly felt inches from my face. All sound faded. Something primal deep inside me screamed: run. I lost control of my body, my legs bounced up and down uncontrollably, willing me to flee, but the rest of me sat dead as stone,” Smith writes.

Host Jeff Probst pointed out Varner had outed Smith to not only the contestants but the world causing Varner to apologize on the show. His plan didn’t work and Varner was still voted off. He issued another apology on Instagram after the episode aired.

“Yep. I did that. And I offer my deepest, most heart-felt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended,” the 50-year-old player wrote. I recklessly revealed something I mistakenly believed everyone already knew. I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life,” Varner writes.

Smith writes that he “struggles” with forgiving Varner but hopes the best for him.

“But forgiveness does not require friendship. Forgiveness does not require forgetting or excusing his actions. Forgiveness requires hope. Hope that he understands the injury he caused and does not inflict it upon others. Hope that whatever torments his soul will plague him no more. I have hope for Jeff Varner. I just choose to hope from afar, thank you very much,” Smith writes.

GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program and CBS worked together to ensure Smith was able to tell his story in his own words after the episode aired.

Smith also appears on “The Talk” on Thursday at 2 p.m. on CBS.

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PHOTOS: Benefit show for Hagerstown Hopes

Drag event at Shepherd University raises money for LGBTQ organization

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Drag artists perform at Shepherd University on Saturday to raise money for the LGBTQ organization Hagerstown Hopes. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Shepherd University Program Board and GSA presented a drag show benefit for Hagerstown Hopes at the Storer Ballroom in the Student Center in Shepherdstown, W. Va. on Saturday, April 1. Performers included Ashley Bannks, Alexa V. Shontelle, Maranda Rights, Ivanna Rights, Chasity Vain, Bayley, Dezi Minaj, Nicole James and Remington Steele.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Arts & Entertainment

Washington National Opera honors Katherine Goforth

Award recognizes an artist who identifies as transgender or non-binary

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Katherine Goforth, the inaugural recipient of Washington National Opera’s True Voice Award, performing in the Portland Opera Gala, with pianist Nick Fox. (Photo courtesy Goforth)

Katherine Goforth was recently announced as the inaugural recipient of Washington National Opera’s True Voice Award. This award was created to provide training and increase the visibility of opera singers who self-identify as transgender and non-binary. Each recipient will receive a financial award and the chance to participate in career training, artistic coaching, and a performance with the Cafritz Young Artists. Recipients will also be presented by the Kennedy Center in a recital at the Millennium Stage. Goforth’s recital will take place in May 2024. 

The Washington Blade chatted with this talented singer about her artistic journey, experience as a trans opera singer, her future plans for her own career, and how she hopes to shape the field of opera.

Washington Blade: Can you share about your journey as an artist? How did you begin this journey and eventually pursue opera?

Katherine Goforth: I had an interest in music and singing for my entire life, but I looked at it as more of a hobby until my high school choir teacher required me to take voice lessons. After a few months of lessons, I started winning prizes and getting special attention for my singing, which meant a lot to me at the time because I was struggling a lot socially and at home. It was easy to dedicate myself to singing after that and hard to imagine pursuing another career. 

Talking about art is a lot broader than talking about music for me. As a teenager, I attended Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, a public arts magnet middle and high school, and we had arts education integrated into most of our subjects. Some of my most memorable projects were a mural painted on school windows I co-designed and co-created, a mockumentary film about the meaning of art, and the semi-opera I composed as my senior year capstone project. 

Since I was a kid, I felt like I had something to prove and have always tried to do more than what others thought possible in my performing and creative work. It has only been since I transitioned that I really started to feel like I was enough. The part of me that wanted to prove myself could calm down and I learned that it is enough for me when I stand in my own values and desires. 

Blade: What has been your experience as a trans person in the field of opera?

Goforth: As a young person coming into a sense of trans and gender non-conforming identity, opera was a damaging space to be part of. At the time, I believed there was no way to actualize my gender identity and continue working. Sure, there were queer people in opera, but almost all of them were straight-presenting men—and those who weren’t, didn’t seem to get the same opportunities. I have a strong memory of seeing the news about the premiere of As One [a chamber opera with a sole transgender protagonist]in 2014. It was the first time I had heard anyone mention trans people in an opera space. I don’t know how much this has changed for students, but I do think that fewer people are postponing their transitions for the sake of working in this industry, which is good. 

I haven’t worked in opera very much since I came out and it will be interesting to see how that develops over the next few years. I’ve heard a lot of people say that major opera companies aren’t ready for trans singers yet, but I hope they’re wrong. My struggle is that I feel much happier playing female characters, but I’m not capable of singing soprano-alto roles on stage right now. That’s something I hope will change in the future, but I think it’s important for me to accept my voice and try to find affirming projects to work on with the voice that I have. 

I’m going to Europe this summer to sing in the premieres of Philip Venables and Ted Huffman’s The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions, which is an adaptation of a novel by Larry Mitchell. My sense is that, although I love singing standard rep, the work that will feel best to me as a human being is contemporary opera. There are new works coming out all the time where a character’s vocal range isn’t restricted by their gender, or where parts are written to be affirming to trans singers. It’s an amazing experience to work on roles like that, like the non-binary protagonist in Drew Swatosh and Brian Dang’s If Only I Could Give You The Sun, a role I premiered. 

For me, the bottom line is that even in a perfectly affirming opera space, there’s a lot for me to navigate. We haven’t even gotten into the contrast between the project of self-actualization that, for me, defines transition and the way control is exercised over singers in the operatic space. It is hard to spend your whole life working on being your authentic self only to then step into an industry where self-identity is encouraged only if you have the right identity. I’m not going back into any closet.

Blade: Congratulations on being the inaugural True Voice Award recipient. How do you hope to use this award as a platform to further your career, and more broadly, shape the field of opera?

Goforth: I’d like to thank Washington National Opera, Kimberly Reed, Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell, and the rest of the selection committee for choosing me for this award. When I decided to come out, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to work in this industry again. It seems to me that trans people have never had this level of institutional support in our industry. I’m honored to receive it, but I’m also aware of all the other people who competed for this award and ways that my selection leaves them out. 

For me, I think my next step is getting out of a young artist box, getting management, and moving into a career where I’m making a living wage from singing without any second or side jobs, singing lead roles instead of supporting roles, and taking the creative work that I develop to the next level. 

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PHOTOS: Jackie Cox and Jan at Pitchers

RuPaul’s Drag Race alums join local performers at gay sports bar

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Jan performs at Pitchers on Wednesday, March 29. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Jackie Cox and Jan performed at Pitchers DC on Wednesday, March 29. Other performers included Cake Pop!, Venus Valhalla, Brooklyn Heights, Jayzeer Shantey and Logan Stone.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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