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Personal Perspectives -- Diarrhea Goes Hollywood!

By Sidney Morris

October 1997

When I saw "Philadelphia," a movie in which the leading romantic character, playing a PWA, refers to diarrhea by saying, "I nearly had an accident!" I thought, "Baby, diarrhea goes Hollywood." Well, old movie buff that I am, I can't recall another leading actor saying he had the "runs." Can you picture Greta Garbo moaning, "I vant to be alone! I gotta ka-rap!"

I have neither the erudition nor space to investigate Western society's attitude toward bowel movements. Suffice to say it was, until recently, as taboo a subject as death. Think of the words we use to identify it: poo-poo, ka-ka, and the most offensive expletive in the English language -- shit. I have, though, as have many of my fellow HIV-positive buddies, first hand experience with chronic dysentery. It altered and defined who I am. I am no longer that over-involved AIDS buddy, a bodily presence at productions of my plays or a walker at midnight. I have read that we should accept an unexpected bowel movement as an "accident of nature," like a sneeze. I should love to groove into that. How comforting it would be, the next time I had an "accident," if someone would say, "God bless you!"

As words cast both positive and negative feelings onto life's experiences, I am proposing that we give an alphabet short-hand to chronic diarrhea, as we have given to other debilitating symptoms of a compromised immune system: PCP (Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia), MAC (Mycobacterium avium complex), etc. For us, how about CDs (Chronic Dysenteryers)? Then people might confuse us with music.

Those who have occasional irregularity, as acted out now on TV commercials, have no idea what the "runs" mean: 10 quarts a day or more or death. But I write for the living. I am coming out of the water-closet. Will you come with me? Or shall I spoil your lunch?

You can spot us if you know the signs. We usually wear dark chocolate slacks to hide stains. Often, we appear pear-shaped when the pamper has slipped, causing us to be bubble-butted. We carry oversized shoulder bags containing: extra pampers, change of trousers and socks, handiwipes and loads of deodorant: I prefer Liz Taylor's Passion.

We seldom go out. Once you've soiled the floors of a D'Agostinos, a Chemical Bank, and The Metropolitan Opera House, you get soil-shy. As the late poet Danny Conner wrote: "What is Worse? Crapping on the IRT (Independent Rapid Transit subway system) or the fear of crapping on the IRT?" Friends say: "Just put on a pamper and jump in a cab." Ever get stuck in a cab going crosstown in a 100-degree summer wearing a pamper (Sticky!) with a cab driver from hell yelling, "No shitting in my cab, asshole!"

We try to have all medical, social, and supportive networks within walking distance. Nice work if you can get it; I can't. We miss doctor's appointments galore. Afraid of having an accident in a barber's chair, we look like Bernadette Peters on a bad-hair day. Ditto sitting in a dentist chair screwing up teeth. We sit real close to the restrooms in restaurants, and if there is only one, panic if it's occupied too long. (We know every public bathroom in the city! Particularly at Lincoln Center.) Most of us (not all, for some are braver than others) forgo attending birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, and funerals. Movies and plays? Forget it. Pay TV was made for us, as were mail order catalogues and tasty Chinese delivery boys.

As the Beatles reminded us: Life goes on -- la-dee-dee, without us. Friends grow tired of our lack of involvement and pass us by, too. Oh, the bathroom is a truly lonely place! It's usually occupied by only one (except when my lover, Rene, was alive, but that's another story, another lifetime, a 33-year love story).

Sometimes meds work, sometimes they don't. When they do (next day), our body below the belt feels like cement, and we ask: "Was that trip worth it? Will any trip ever be worth it?"

Because we don't talk about it enough or write about it enough, we don't share advances made to control "accidents of nature." Certainly the AIDS epidemic has made the subject more public, as it did with sex and dying, but I often feel even my own wonderful primary doctor thinks my condition is livable next to CMV (Cytomegalovirus) retinitis, MAC, and toxoplasmosis. For too long I felt the same way: ashamed, and didn't speak of it.

However, if cute Tom Hanks can win an Academy Award playing a CD, I will no longer be ashamed of my "accidents of nature."So, if you are a CD or love a CD, tell them to join me in coming out, demanding a changing attitude toward diarrhea. We have nothing to fear but shame itself. As we reach the millennium and continue advances in treating opportunistic infections, we must band together and speak up. We must demand our own support groups: Toilet Talk. Till then, speak to me when you see my oversized forest green shoulder bag. I shall hug you even if you have forgotten your deodorant. I'll share my Passion with you, baby. Then instead of hermits, we could be a force of nature. Hear us CDs roar!

Back to the October 1997 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.

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