Faeces Shaming

Content Notice for faeces, obviously enough. 

I want to write about a subject that, for some, is taboo. And while I agree that it’s a sensitive subject that requires the consent of the person you are talking about, I do think we need to talk more openly about disabled people and…poo. Because, quite frankly, there are a lot of shit ideas (pun intended?) about what it means to clean up shit. And I’m sick of them. 

Humans, like all animals, shit. It’s a fact of life. We eat, we digest our food, we excrete the undigested food along with dead and living bacteria and various other substances. Yes, it’s smelly. Yes, the bacteria can be harmful and we need to be careful about that. But, it’s not THE WORST THING IN THE WORLD. And yet, the way people act, it might as well be. 

It seems that, once you are not an infant, once you hit whatever age is deemed ‘socially acceptable’ by your culture, having someone else clean your shit is seen as the greatest of indignities. And to clean up someone else’s shit is a horror beyond horrors. And this attitude has led to a lot of bad outcomes for people. 

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read parents of autistic kids use the fact that their kids are incontinent, or even (horror of horror!) smear faeces, to ‘prove’ how ‘low functioning’ their kids are. That I cannot possibly understand what they are going through. Well, continence is not a measure of anything. Bowel issues effect a lot of autistics, and so does faecal incontinence. Even us ‘high functioning’ autistics. And yes, I have personal experience of this. It’s icky and annoying but I get on with it. I don’t go around shouting about it and using it to show what a ‘burden’ incontinent people are. 

And yes, it is used over and over as an example of people being a ‘burden’. I read a newspaper article last year about people caring for their elderly parents. The writer wrote about the heartbreak of finally putting their parent in a nursing home. And the reason they did so, the last straw as it were? The fact that their parent was now incontinent and that they would have to clean their shit. Because, that’s too much to ask of anyone other than a paid professional, right? People will feed and dress and even bathe their loved ones beyond infanthood without too much complaint. But, clean their poo? No way!! 

Like I mentioned before, all animals shit. The same people who won’t clean up their parents shit, or who martyr themselves for cleaning up their children, seem to not have a problem cleaning up after their dogs. And, before you talk to me about the relative size of the faecal matter, have you seen what comes out of a Great Dane’s bum?! And yet, I have yet to read about Great Danes being a burden. Somehow, that’s reserved for non-baby humans. 

I believe that this is also a factor, maybe even an unconscious one, in why there aren’t many accessible toilets for people who need a changing table and hoist. The idea that, unless you are a baby, if you need to wear nappies you belong in a nursing home or other facility. That you should not be out in public. There are so many parents and carers who clean up after incontinent people, and who do so without complaint. Who don’t see these people as a burden. But because society treats them as such, because it doesn’t accept that they have a right to be out in public, life is made extra difficult. 

There is a campaign called #ChangingPlaces, aimed at getting more public facilities such as cinemas, shopping centres etc to install toilets with ‘adult size’ changing tables and hoists. It’s a campaign I support fully, but it seems to be a slow burn. And I do believe the stigma of ‘non-babies in nappies!’ is part of the reason. But at the end of the day, everybody -young, old, able-bodied, disabled- shits. It should be NO BIG DEAL. Some people require a bit more help than others, sure. But that does not make them a ‘burden’. And the more we talk about this, and the less taboo and stigma attached to it, the more we can make their lives a little bit better. 

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