Hoarders Episode Spends More Time Kink-Shaming Man Than Helping Him
I have a bit of an obsession with “Hoarders” and “Hoarding: Buried Alive.”
I’m a sucker for metaphor as well as deeply hidden family drama, so they were sort of built for me. People buried under the weight of their lives dealing with stigmatized and hidden disorders and trauma because our culture is ruthlessly judgemental? Count me in for watching them dig their way out and heal their families.
Even given the inherent exploitative nature of reality tv, the resources, after care, and costly home repairs done for those who agree to appear seem to balance out. I’ve watched just about every episode over the past several years as psychologists, professional organizers and full teams of haul-away workers wade through shit — both literal and figurative — while maintaining pose and compassion. Sure, there’s the occasional tough love, especially where there is a risk to minors, but people’s history and revealing of secrets isn’t treated with shame or stigma.
Unless, apparently, they have a stash of porn and possible “evidence” of — GASP — crossdressing.
This season, A&E features Kevin on episode eight, which originally aired January 24, but continues to air on Sundays in the recap slots before the new “Hoarders.” His home looks much the way others have over the years — piled high with stuff that has taken on a life of its own and edged him out of any living space.
As they help him dig, Kevin’s sisters discover a porn stash — what’s described as “hard core,” but since we never see it I have my doubts it’s anything other than a kink notch up from your standard “dirty” magazines. This discovery would definitely be embarrassing because family + porn, but was described in the episode description as just the collection this particular hoarder has preferred over the years:
“Kevin is hiding a hoard of sexual paraphernalia in his home from his family by living in a hotel. He must reveal his secrets and clean up his home with family if he wants to move back in.”
I was definitely expecting some gasping and nervous muttering from a pair of middle-aged women because I am prone to snap judgements (like anyone else). Dr. Suzanne Chabaud, however, has always been calm, soft-spoken, and kind — so to see her pull the sisters aside after not just separating the family for comfort and speed of cleaning/sorting, but to gage and validate their horror was straight up offensive.
The entire time that’s happening, Kevin is outside sorting, probably terrified of what they’re going to come across because he knows how his sisters will react. Which is also, likely, why he hasn’t told them. Why isn’t the therapist outside COUNSELING HER PATIENT? Instead, she’s upstairs with the sisters for this interaction shaking her head that he hasn’t “come clean” with his sisters:
Dr. Chabaud “…And that when you’re digging through stuff you’re going to come across high heeled shoes…”
Nodding, the sisters in unison join in: “…wigs/dildos, garter belts —”
“…butt plugs you said,” the doc joins back in. “And it’s not just one hidden in a corner.”
“Nooooo no no no no,” the sisters shriek together. “It was quite a collection,” one adds.
Collection? UM YES THAT’S WHAT HOARDERS DO ARE YOU NEW HERE?
How much is a collection, by the way? I mean, obviously any hoarder is going to have more stuff than me — thanks to long-distance moves and a lot of time in poverty my shit basically all fits in one room. But, I have some stuff that would likely horrify these women. Thanks to some badass fundraisers, event sponsorships, and gifts, I definitely have an entire drawer of toys. People like these sex shamers are why they live in a drawer and go in my checked luggage rather than carryons; I’m not always in the mood to have a discussion about my bodily autonomy or how purity culture isn’t allowed to dictate the terms of my romantic/sex life anymore.
His sister tries to sound like she’s an acceptable level of accepting by adding: “naked girls taped to the mirror — I get that; that’s fine.”
Super. So glad the mainstream part of another person’s attractions and fantasy life are OK with you. It’s not like your brother is an adult — one with trouble socializing, as you yourself state later, who may only have his fantasy life to rely on for pleasure and comfort. But PLEASE do tell us more about what EXACTLY it was that offended you — especially since A&E did a lot of blurring out and glossing over, which means all we have is your description of the collection.
“The wigs? I’m totally thrown….” she continues as her sister shakes her head, adding “…the shoes…”
You can vaguely make out someone off camera being upset about “S&M” — not that we have any idea if there’s actual bondage and/or submissive video or gear in the house. Garter belts and wigs are hardly required for S&M play, but they’re lumped together more than once in the episode. The doc and the sisters seem sure that together, these items indicate a deeper level of sickness than they anticipated — something way worse than the clutter and Kevin not having a safe place to live.
Then we get to the real issue. Dr. Chabaud says: “…and you don’t even know if he’s wearing or someone else is wearing them.”
The sister agrees, saying, “Seriously, would you have a lady over in those conditions?” when Dr. Chabaud interjects with “or a man.” The sisters nod, yes, “or a man.” So, everyone’s in agreement that the “G” part of LGBTQ is cool. But, here, we seem to have something more going on — something less acceptable.
“So you think it’s more of his private scenarios than with a partner?” asks Dr. Chabaud.
Seeming to have come to a consensus without Kevin’s input, one sister manages to say “I want him to come clean” with no recognition of the irony in her request. His other sister adds on, interrupting herself: “I want him to tell us — what the hell??” She’s clearly not sure what she’s expecting to hear from Kevin.”
Not that they give him a chance to tell them himself.
The confrontation scene is horrifying. His sisters scream “How DARE you hurt us like this!” and other self-centering bullshit — on a day when they’re supposedly there to help him. One can only wonder if this dynamic played out their whole lives; it’s not hard to understand why Kevin may have buried himself in possessions and shut out the rest of the world.
In the end, it’s Kevin who apologizes. “It was my fault that I didn’t take it out, tell ‘em; I messed up.”
The sisters and doc calm down after he apologizes to them with continued stigmatizing comments about getting him help.
Help for what? A kink? A possible interest in dominance or submission? An appreciation for clothing and dress-up items our puritanical, normative-demanding culture has unnecessarily deemed gendered — the “wrong” gender for Kevin to want to own or wear?
This episode really showed how far we have to go for real acceptance and openness. The idea that Kevin could be gay is totes no problem for everyone. But toys or kinks or possible cross-dressing — these are all still seen as deviant. Also, I’m sure no one has ever asked Kevin about his gender, having been assigned at birth like everyone continues to be. Perhaps Kevin is gender nonconforming or transgender. Perhaps he’s not and just likes the occasional wig. Perhaps having items considered feminine around simply makes him feel less lonely.
None of that should matter because none of it is our business unless someone makes it our business. Pathologizing kink, making assumptions and removing agency by talking about instead of to a person, and demanding that someone already dealing with the shame that accompanies hoarding apologize for something that’s healthy and natural — the professionals involved with this episode have a lot of their own apologizing to do.
The whole episode can be watched online, and will re-air on A&E this Sunday at 5.
Katie Klabusich is a contributing writer for The Establishment and host of The Katie Speak Show on Netroots Radio. Her work can also be found at Rolling Stone, Truthout, RH Reality Check, and Bitch Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @Katie_Speak.