This isn’t really a love or relationship question, but I’m still hoping you can help me out. I’m 26 years old and a lesbian, and recently one of my uncles passed away unexpectedly. The two of us always had a strong bond, and he felt more like a best friend than family. I’m absolutely devastated. About a week ago my mother asked if I would go to his apartment with her and help organize his belongings. While doing so, I stumbled on a shoe box under his bed that was filled to the brim with explicit gay male pornography. Problem is, my uncle lived his life as a straight man. Him and my aunt were married for years and even had a daughter together, although they separated last spring. I don’t really know what to do here. Do I try and initiate a conversation with the members of my family about what I found, or do I destroy all of the porn and let sleeping dogs lie?
My deepest condolences to you in the wake of your loss. While I don’t know the circumstances of your uncle’s passing – namely, whether his death was accidental or intentional – your uncle sounds like he was a reliable source of love, support, and camaraderie for you. As LGBTQ folks, maintaining healthy, fulfilling relationships with our blood family can often feel more like a pipe dream than something that’s realistically attainable. It warms my heart to know that you had at least one strong ally in your corner as you transitioned into adulthood.
Now, onto your quandary. What a doozy! I couldn’t help but feel grateful that it was you who stumbled upon that shoebox, as opposed to your uncle’s ex-wife or child. Before I go any further, though, I want to use this opportunity to encourage every single person out there to make a plan for what happens to your weird sex shit when you die.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to burden my grandma with the task of boxing up my dildo collection or trying to figure out if she should consign or toss my leather strap-on harnesses. For those with significant and/or “secret” sex paraphernalia, practicing preventative care and arranging for an independent third party to come in and clean your space after your passing is the way to go. Whether this person is a friend, a romantic partner, or a professional is up to you!
Back to your particular situation, Katlyn. I know a little bit about family death secrets. I didn’t find out that my grandfather had suffered his heart attack sitting on a strip club toilet until I was in my late 20s. True story! And you know what? That’s okay. We live in a society that stresses the harm in “keeping secrets,” but I am of the opinion that total transparency isn’t always the compassionate choice. Every human being is entitled to a private life as well as a public one, as long as they’re doing no harm unto others. I think your obligation to your uncle – your friend, your confidant, your ally – is to destroy the pornography and withhold that information from your family, at least until his passing isn’t such a fresh wound. We can make a lot of uninformed guesses about your uncle’s sexual orientation, but I don’t think that launching an investigation into his past should be a priority. Instead, do your uncle this one last favor and reflect not on who he may have desired, but on the ways, he positively impacted the lives of those around him.
- Andre Shakti is a queer journalist, educator, performer, activist, and professional slut living in the DMV. She is devoted to normalizing alternative desires, de-stigmatizing sex workers and their clients, andnot taking herself too seriously. Andre wrestles mediocre white men into submission and writes about the resistance for Rewire, Thrillist, MEL, Vice, Cosmopolitan, Autostraddle, and more. She frequently lectures,coaches and advises on the intersecting issues of sexual health, politics and pleasure, race, trauma, gender diversity, sex worker rights, non-monogamy, and queerness. When not working, Andre can typically be found marathoning "Law & Order: SVU" under a chaotic pile of partners and pitbulls, and yes, she knows how problematic that show is. In addition to her work with Baltimore OUTloud, Andre is the reigning polyamory pundit at her biweekly non-monogamy advice column "I Am Poly(amorous) & So Can You!", which you can visit - and submit questions to! - via IAmPoly.net. She encourages you to connect with her on Facebook via "Andre Shakti" and follow her NSFW exploits on Twitter via @andreshakti!