life with an ostomy. candid, not sugar-coated. empowered, not embarrassed.

May 12, 2006

I thought my brown ribbon for poo was unique and sassy

Alas, it's been done. In fact the website I just found this image at has way more awareness ribbon variations than I could have dreamt up in a four-hour-long manic episode.

I gave brown ribbons out at my four-years-with-an-ostomy-and-without-an-anus anniversary party, which was a wonderful event. I really feel like I got my point across to everyone, and not in some kind of freaky-deaky me-on-a-soap-box kind of way. There was music; there was food, cake, and drinks. It was totally casual. I also made a display of writings, artwork, photos, a diagram, my osto-supplies and a print-out of some of the responses from other ostomates that I got through this blog and a couple of postings on osto-discussion boards. The point, by the way, was to get people comfortable talking about poo and to address the stigma that surrounds poo and other digestive issues. For the last hour or so, we all sat around in a circle (I think there was 20 people plus me) and shared our perspectives on poo. It was very funny, educational, and at times, sappy. On one hand, it was nice when people told me how brave I was and all that, but on the other hand, it made me kind of embarrassed and I really didn't want the party to be about how strong I am, especially in light of the fact that I had invited an osto-companion of mine who's had his since 1992, and multiple health-complications since birth, and who's facing life-threatening surgery in less than month.

Anyway, the ribbons. I made several of them and placed them in a dainty little white bowl. I put the bowl on a big pink sheet that had these text boxes pasted on it in this order:

"Please... take a brown ribbon to show you support poo and all those who do it."

"Why a brown ribbon for poo? ...because there's a ribbon for every other colour in the g.d. spectrum, that's why. What do you have against brown anyway?"

"No, that's not really why. The reason I'm asking you to wear a brown ribbon is because you've already supported one person with a digestive problem. Wearing one of these ribbons says any of the following:"

"Hey, I know what an ostomy is, and if you ask me what this ribbon means - I'll tell you."

"I promise that I will not shame, frown upon, silence, or otherwise stigmatize someone who discusses poo, pee, or any other traditionally 'gross' bodily function, particularly when I recognize that said person might be needing my support or trying to work through a difficult experience."

"I think that inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, and any other of the innumerable conditions that affect digestion should be discussed more openly so that inflicted people are empowered to find answers, live wholly, and not be ashamed."

Everyone wore a ribbon, and everyone spoke out at least once. It was a situtation that was a bit strange for most people, but strange in a good way. It was exciting. After it was all over, I felt good. I felt like it was cool to have an ostomy. I felt really normal and privileged, even. How weird is that?

Although I wasn't the first person to come up with the brown ribbon, the meaning I gave it is original. I agree with the message of the ribbon in the above image. It's cool to be spread awareness of IBDs. But beyond awareness, let's address the fundamental problem that social norms and language constraints actually get in the way of people with IBDs, ostomies, and so on to openly acknowledge their experience and rise above it.


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