Those of you who watched my hour on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square www.oneandother.co.uk/participants/willo will have noticed that I finally, after 22 years, ‘came out’ as being an ostomate. Previously only my closet friends knew, or those who knew me when having my surgery (A/P resection) in November 1987.
I was so impressed with my friend, Adrienne Seed, coming out on the Jeremy Vine Show regarding her HIV status, I set myself the challenge of letting the world know about my colostomy and the stigma attached (not dissimilar to the stigma of HIV/AIDS).
If I hadn’t run out of time I may also have talked about the stigma of colonic irrigation, which to some people is a huge joke, as is a colostomy. If they weren’t so ignorant they may well have discovered that for some people (like me) colonic irrigation is a means of staying alive.
I remember being very disappointed in Ruby Wax and Billy Connolly a few years ago, when they climbed onto the colostomy joke bandwagon. What they seem to forget is that anyone around them (not to mention the viewers of TV) may have had a colostomy. As I said on the plinth, old hags like me can take it (take it like a man – or as Alan Bennett would say, ‘that means like a woman’) so, after the initial devastation I pulled myself together and took it like a woman! But what about the little child who just happens to be within earshot? He/she may have had a colostomy from early infancy, not known life without one, yet here is someone taking the piss out of them, for something that has saved their tiny life. What about the parent with them, time and time again listening to the same old jokes and feeling the pain for their little innocent child? What about the gorgeous young man/woman you are trying to chat-up at the bar. You don’t know their history, but out of your uncaring mouth comes the colostomy joke. What will be your chances then of dating them?
My parents used to buy The Sun newspaper and I really enjoyed Jane Moore’s column, until one day I read of her evening at a restaurant and her visit to the loo, where she had to help extricate a woman from the cubicle. Now we all know that loos sometimes seem to be an afterthought at various venues, something they just manage to squeeze in at the last minute in the space available. No thought to the customer, preferring to worry about how much seating they can cram into the restaurant.
So fair play to Ms Moore for complaining in her column about this, but, not leaving it there, she went on to say that the toilets must have been designed by someone with a colostomy (I paraphrase) or with a frontal lobotomy! Now where exactly was that jibe at ostomates coming from and likewise for someone with brain surgery? Surely an intelligent woman like her would realise that actually colostomates (or any ostomate) would need more space with which to manoeuvre their appliances, for they are in fact, disabled. So she thinks it’s fine to poke fun at disabled people – I just wonder how she would feel if one of her children had an ostomy? I suppose she could have legitimately poked fun at the rather corpulent lady who was stuck in the loo, but no, that wouldn’t have been politically correct!
On behalf of all those with a colostomy (and indeed with a frontal lobotomy) I wrote to the Press Complaints Commission, but to no avail. Apparently, although her remarks may have been distasteful we are fair game!
I wonder if any of you have heard a mastectomy joke? In my 64 years, I haven’t and I’m sure it’s because people, quite rightly, have sympathy with someone who has undergone such radical surgery, but don’t we fit into the same category?
I hasten to add that I am not without a sense of humour (as anyone in my position would testify). You can’t spend months – even years of your life with the medical profession only recognising your rear end – and not come out of it without humour. You’ve got to be able to laugh or you just wouldn’t cope. My sons have called me a bag-lady for years – or asked if I am getting shoes to match my bag and so on. Likewise my friends, but what I am asking is for people to engage brain before speaking. When I went back to college as a mature student I would hear the colostomy joke day after day. Nobody has a ‘bad day’ any more – everything is a ‘colostomy day’ – when Steve is asked what he is making (a conical shape out of paper) the answer comes back, ‘it’s a colostomy bag!’ Huge peels of laughter all round. Now those young people would have been mortified if they had known I had a colostomy, but my point is – you wouldn’t know unless you had been told -and would you knowingly try to make people feel like a social outcast?