Sunday, May 17, 2009

An agony aunt replies

I don’t feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body, I don’t suspect my girlfriend of having an affair with the meter reader from British Gas and I haven’t developed strong feelings for next door’s Cocker Spaniel, but a couple of days ago I did feel compelled to do something I’ve never done before. I wrote to an agony aunt. Virginia Ironside is the agony aunt for the Independent, and whilst trawling the internet for ‘celebrities with colostomy bags’ I came across this article she wrote about own experiences of UC, surgery and having to wear a bag. Yes, that’s right, someone in the public eye actually speaking openly about wearing a bag. Refreshingly Virginia tells it exactly like it is and deals with the subject with humour. So I thought I’d write to her to see if she would be willing to answer a few questions for Number Twos. She got back to me straight away and was up for some Q&A. I’d like to thank Virginia for her time and honesty. Clearly I’m no Parky, but Virginia was brilliant…

Agony aunt Virginia Ironside

As a public figure, did you ever consider keeping your colostomy a secret?


The media, internet and reality TV means celebrities are pretty much under the spotlight 24/7. It seems we know who they’re sleeping with, what drugs they take and how they like their coffee – but if any of them have colostomy bags they’re keeping them well under wraps. Why do you think this is?
Sadly it's because people think that anything to do with lavatories is quite disgusting. It's odd, because they can talk about sex and weird practices, even anal sex and everyone thinks it's fine, but there's something about colostomy bags that makes people feel squeamish. Having had ulcerative colitis before having a bag, I find nothing remotely revolting about poo... it's just part of life. And anyway, I've changed enough nappies in my time to be immune.

You once wrote that before you had surgery you thought you’d rather commit suicide than wear a colostomy bag. If more people had spoken openly in the media about wearing a bag, do you think you would have thought differently?

Yes, I do. I wish Cliff Richard came out about his (if he has one, of course - none of us know!) and I wish the Queen Mother had come out about hers (again, who knows, maybe she never had one.) There must be dozens of public figures with them, and I think they should all come out and show everyone they can still wear very flattering clothes and look sexy - no one has to wear baggy trousers.

Do you get many letters from people who have had colostomies? What are the most common concerns?
No, I rarely get any letters except from people like you who say nice things about my "coming out”.

And finally, any embarrassing moments you’re willing to share?
The most embarrassing moments came BEFORE I had a bag because I had ulcerative colitis and often had "accidents". I've only had two accidents with the bag and that was in the early days - both on people's carpets. But with an enormous amount of scrubbing and apologising and being left alone with a cloth, a bucket, and a scrubbing brush, their carpets have looked cleaner after I've been at them, than before.