Butt germs

CW: extensive discussion of shit & adjacent topics

There are good reasons to dislike shit. (Throughout this post, feel free to replace the word “shit” with the word “feces”, “poo”, or whatever else suits your fancy, for the purposes of reading these words aloud on air or in excessively polite company.)

Shit is a potent vector of disease. It attracts flies and other creatures. People who smell like shit are disadvantaged in society. This is subjective, I suppose, and I'm not trying to yuck anyone's yum, but most people think it typically smells somewhere between bad and wretched.

Shit is also a part of life. It's something we will have to deal with ourselves if we ever want to have kids, grow a garden, track an animal, own a cow (or whatever), or live a life that includes a digestive system and no dedicated ass caddy.

Shit is everywhere. And I don't just mean the yeast shit in beer (i.e. the alcohol) or the shit produced by other microorganisms that leads to tooth rot. I mean human shit too, and pet shit, and wild animal shit. Some of us have to deal with it more than others, because of class, caste, the way our bodies work, our socially inscribed relationships to production and reproduction, or whatever else.

I think hygiene is good, notwithstanding early CrimethInc.'s most widely lampooned article. I repeat: shit is a potent vector of disease, and that alone is good enough reason to wash our asses and clean our toilets with some degree of frequency. But we shouldn't be obsessive about it. Shit is not an eradicable part of life.

It can be minimized, sure. But this process of minimization can go too far. For instance, scientific studies have shown that people living in environments that are regularly blasted with toxic cleaning chemicals, and who never encounter any pathogens at all, are typically less hardy than, say, people living in clean and tidy but very much shit-adjacent environments (for instance, Amish people, living on farms, adjacent to livestock, without the benefit of some of the products that are to be found in most North Americans' homes).

I don't think an excessive fear of butt germs does anyone any good. As 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds are taught, everybody poops—and fortunately, in most cases, people are quite capable of dealing with that reality in a responsible manner by themselves. To get worked up about the possibility of invisible, effectively undetectable traces of shit, then, is unhelpful. Of course there are traces all over the place, and probably in greater number than most of us would really like to care about. These traces don't meaningfully affect us.

It's not the sort of attitude that does us much good for those moments when we might actually have to deal with shit, for any number of reasons, and it's not very healthy to be quite so worried about it before those situations actually rear up.

I am sure that some nudists live differently (i.e. filthily), but I presume they don't have many people to hang out with. The most visible part of the naturist subculture, for its part, seems to be quite serious with cleanliness. I am against it, frankly—not because cleanliness is a problem in itself, but because I read some things in the queer nihilist tradition (the conclusion of Towards the Queerest Insurrection, for instance, in which the Mary Nardini Gang channels Divine and claims “filth is our politics! filth is our life!”) and I suppose I took that shit to heart.

But that's me. Most nudists are into naturism, not what I'm into and definitely not into, say, baedan at its most extra. Instead, nudists are, like, pretty clean people. My years of perusal of the nudist-naturist internet indicates that a lot of them jump into the shower every time they take a shit, which is probably pretty easy given that they're already naked. It is also a matter of the most basic etiquette among nudist-naturists to sit on a towel, or some other kind of individuated barrier item, instead of sitting one's bare ass on a seat that someone else may sit on later. I won't pretend to think that most nudists with bachelor apartments sit on towels when they're at home—at least not every single time—but in the company of others and/or in public, it's a pretty widely understood norm. Y'know, just in case!

A lot of people, including a number of anarchists I've met over the years, don't know about the towel thing, or they have a hard time believing it even if they've heard right. I feel like this must be because the naked and dirty semantic circuits are mixed up in their heads, perhaps along with the evil and/or wrong semantic circuits. I don't know how to untangle all of that for them, but I presume that learning a little bit more about what they're talking about—germs, nudism, nudists, the world at large—would help a bit.

I believe that a comfortist practice of nudism would benefit from adopting naturists' towel etiquette. Additionally, I am not particularly interested in some kind of radical rethinking of the human relationship to shit—which means I do not, in concert with baedan,

insist upon flushing away the whole machine that chambers excretion and channels excrement.

This is because my general opposition to civilization does not manifest itself in an acute opposition either to this chambering (e.g. a measure of privacy while on the toilet, in contrast to the open toilet chambers of the ancient Greeks and Romans, e.g. a sort of panoptic regime that mostly exists in carceral and low-rank military contexts in the 21st century) or to the channeling of shit away from people (in contrast to the medieval European practice of dumping shit directly into urban streets).

I repeat, again: shit is a potent vector of disease, which is why it is a broadly good thing to make efforts to channel it away from people; the fact that hundreds of millions of people lack access to functional sanitation systems of the kind that I enjoy, and may be forced to engage in open defecation in slum-adjacent canals or whatever, is a problem that I'm not especially interested in trivializing through some kind of anarcho-Delanyian embrace of the radical and/or transgressive potential of shit. I am amused by this communiqué from “the pentagon bumfuck committee” but I do not think that “elaborating a logic of scat” is nearly as important as attacking “the poo taboo” (as Sara Wickham calls it in this article related to her practice as a midwife), i.e. the undue fear of shit, to the point that even talking about shit is difficult.

It's a problem for a lot of reasons. Here's an example, from institutional contexts that have nothing to do with my life:

It's possible to collect money from billionaires and middle-class people to build schools in “underdeveloped countries”—but building functional sanitation systems, which are far more basically necessary (because, uh, fuck schools, honestly), is typically a non-starter with people no one in the dominant culture wants to be associated with, or caught dead talking about, something as lowly and base as shit.

With regard to the main focus of this blog, the taboo also stymies discussion of a different sort of culture or practice around clothes and nudity. Butt germs loom much larger than they should in the imagination of people when discussing a practice of social nudity.

So, I would argue that nudists probably have a more consistent and frictionless practice of hygiene than is the case with most people, but again, that idea goes directly against the widespread assumption in many societies that nudity is adjacent to filthiness—or at least not far from it!

More open cultures vis-à-vis nudity are pretty likely to be suppressed on the grounds that nudity is unhygienic and, consequently, detrimental to some notion of public health. In 2011 and 2012, for instance, the campaign to ban public nudity in San Francisco—led by some city politicians—focused on the practice of people who would, apparently, regularly sit their bare asses on the chairs outside of cafés and restaurants, especially in the Castro neighbourhood (e.g. the gaybourhood). I think these people were mostly tourists who were ignorant of, or in any case had no respect for, the established naturist towel etiquette. They were simply doing something interesting, perhaps even thrilling, that they likely didn't feel they could get away with in many other places.

In my opinion, despite the fact that that was kinda gross (because, what if!), these tourist butts probably weren't really a huge problem. Most of the time that a bare ass hit a plastic seat, I would expect that excrement was not caking the inside of those cheeks. Even if, though? Well, shit is everywhere; it's unlikely that one unwashed bum was going to cause an outbreak of anything, in and of itself.

I think this sort of bare bum tourist behaviour is shitty (lol), and maybe even worth a bit of shaming—but it's not a real issue and it wasn't really why, on February 1, 2013, nudity was generally banned in San Francisco. The bare bums on seats were just an excuse for achieving something that a coalition of property owners and political conservatives (a number of whom did not even live within the city limits of San Francisco) wanted anyway, which was to stop a handful of mostly older, mostly gay, mostly men (who were generally not tourists, but actually lived in the area) from hanging out naked whenever the weather was suitable, maybe smoking medicinal weed or talking about politics or who's dating who, and (it could be argued!) scaring away revenue to local businesses from people who are grossed out by nudists.

The local nudists (or at least the ones featured in a mainstream news article I read in 2012) used towels when they sat down.

I am sure similar things have happened elsewhere, or could happen again, wherever a relatively easygoing cultural attitude and/or a light hand from local authorities gives rise to people actually hanging out naked a lot—and then, that area gains a reputation as a place where it is possible to have a one-off naked tourist experience. The people who oppose public nudity (and there will be some) are going to say whatever will work to stop it from happening, and a quality of being somehow unhygienic is just one useful thing for them to bring up. For this reason, I don't think it behooves nudists to go too far in trying to prove just how how hygienic we really are. It won't stop anyone from calling us dirty anyway.

I also worry about cleanliness-is-next-to-godliness puritanism and its effects, namely insofar as it divorces people further from their environment (it is telling how much American nudist clubs all exude a sort of 1950s “suburban idyll” aesthetic). Nevertheless, it is important to insist on some facts about nudism and hygiene, at least whenever we end up ensconced in conversation about these topics. One is that, logically, nudism makes hygiene easier. Another thing is that most nudists are probably already cleaner than most members of the basically clothes-wearing majority.

Bringing it back to anarchist spaces, it seems to me that both nudism and a concerted effort to degrade the poo taboo among anarchists are both worthwhile projects in terms of making our scenes better, not worse—whatever that means to you. Furthermore, they could be complementary efforts. Nudism AND composting toilets!

But the main issue with that, as I see it, is that a lot of anarchists live in housing that is absolutely awful, or at least ill-suited to how we are attempting to use those spaces and how we would ideally like to live.

We, North American anarchists writ large, crowd into housing units that don't have enough bathrooms, using rooms that were intended as offices or living rooms as bedrooms, and sometimes we even put more than one person to a bedroom. In this part of the world, most housing units have the singular shower in the same room (often a very small room) as a toilet (which is often the toilet). Given that these are the sorts of spaces that we live in, it would probably be for the best if we could, as a matter of course, foster relationships with other members of our households wherein it is okay (not good or desirable, but okay) to use these facilities at the same time as them, should the need arise.

Again, I'm not particularly fond of the idea of the ancient Greeks' and Romans' communal shitting rooms (although I'm not sure if I'd histrionically object to them either). At the same time, we live in a far-from-ideal architectural context, one that was not of our own devising and does not respond to our needs (and when I say “our”, I simply presume you are not among the super rich). For this reason, I think it would be to the good if we, anarchists but really all people, could relate to both shit and nudity (our own nudity as well as that of others) a little less emotionally. In anarchists' and others' efforts to live both communally and well in apartments designed for different socialities, an overcommitment to “privacy” in the bathroom (to the extent that it overrides other concerns, like the fact that a person might literally pee their pants because there's no bottle in the recycling bin) or to never smelling/touching shit (to the point that a person can't change a diaper, do garden work, work with animals or people who need care) is impractical.

A number of accidents and other misfortunes might be avoided if we were all on the same page with this (or at least trying to be). These include, among other things: peed and shat pants; the continued assignment of care work to femmes and/or the feminized; and deep-rooted anxiety across the human population about all matters concerning human embodiment.

In many households, even in North America, people get on just fine without wearing clothes much of the time, without even necessarily sharing any affinity for a word like “nudism” or “naturism”; my understanding is that this usually happens in the context of nuclear families. Parents are often okay seeing each other naked (if they ever had a sexual relationship, they've probably seen each other naked a lot), they don't really care about their younger kids being naked, and they are also okay with those younger kids seeing their parents or guardians naked (which is possibly good for kids' psychological development, but in any case not worth worrying about).

I can only presume that the larger the difference between the number of toilets and/or showers in the house and the number of residents, the greater the prevalence of this sort of thing. In any case, perhaps this sort of family understanding around nudity, clothes, and/or privacy goes on forever—although the wider society's stance on these things are likely to challenge or destabilize this situation at some point. Kids from nudist or quasi-nudist families will eventually get a sense that their other friends at school might roast them pretty hard if it were to get out that there was a home nudist at school. By the time kids are teenaged, they are pretty likely to have some insecurities about their bodies; in cases when kids grew up with nudism, this can manifest in a rejection of the same. Even for people who grew up this way and never developed any serious shame or other insecurities about nudity (or if they did, who got over it eventually), it may be harder to “come out” as a nudist, so to speak, with peers with whom they do not share long-standing and familiar relationships.

Compare and contrast this hardly atypical nuclear family situation to the culture that prevails in a lot of anarchist households. In a lot of places where the roommates all call themselves anarchists (or some other species of radical), a resident of the house, or worse a house guest, who has to poop very badly may not feel comfortable knocking on the door of their own bathroom (or the only bathroom that is available to them in that moment), depending on what the situation is. I have known some anarchists who, faced with such circumstances, barged right in on their roommate at a certain point (leading to a house meeting the next day, in a few cases), but this is a rare type. How is it that people can feel okay bum rushing a line of riot police but can't deal with a bit of embarrassment around toilet time? Apart from that, however, the consequences of this reticence when faced with normal bodily functions—and/or the embodied reality of anarchists being shitting animals who may not always be wearing clothes—might be worse than whatever embarrassment or temporary awkwardness that people could have around one another during digestive emergencies. I can say this from experience.

Again, shit is a part of life. So is one roommate showering while another has to use the toilet. I don't think it does us any good to be, like, so weird about this. We are bringing the weirdness, the awkwardness, to this matter—and we don't have to!

If anything, I think it would do us all some good to push back a little against whatever discomfort we feel about shit and/or nudity, as well as whatever attitudes about the same that exist in the dominant culture that we think are, intellectually speaking, pretty trash actually.

I will say, too, that I have known a number of people in my life who felt fine just leaving the door open while sitting on the toilet; they sometimes did just that in the middle of a conversation I was having with them. The world didn't end, nor has it ever done so when I have, occasionally, done the same others (though I'm really more a door-closed-while-shitting kind of guy, I think).

Also, when I was growing up, someone-on-toilet-and-someone-in-shower situations happened all the time. These violations of the household norm weren't exactly loved when they were happening, but neither were they a particularly big deal afterwards.

Barging in on my sister while she was in the shower, or having my dad do the same to me, did not translate into any kind of culture of extra-bathroom nudity in my own family, and neither would I expect that leaving the door open while pooping and/or a degree of simultaneous usage of a shared bathroom necessarily lead to any akin thing among anarchist roommates.

Maybe, though, ever discussing nudity when I was growing up—or actively discussing, with a mind to rejecting, the sort of regime that exists in so many other households, namely that of an always-closed, not infrequently physically locked, but in any case socially untouchable bathroom door, No Fucking Exceptions—could have paved the way to something more broadly comfortable for everyone (including me, then an often uncomfortably clothed teenage nudist).

For anarchist households, I think there are some practical benefits to people feeling less weird about adjacency to others when sitting on a toilet or taking a shower. All the better if people have had a good talk about that kind of thing before someone in the household, or everyone, gets a bad case of the shits. Put it on the house meeting agenda before it's an issue.

(For the record, lest anyone think otherwise of me: I still think it will always be a good idea and/or polite to knock on a closed bathroom door, or just about any closed door, before barging in.)

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