Once again I find a book that is hyped up sensationally by a publisher in order to get sales only to find, in this case, it is much, much more. The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein is another example.
Peter is a young boy raised in a very poor, abusive family in Melbourne. He was adopted and when other natural siblings came to the fore his life took a nosedive for the rest of his childhood. It wasn’t that good to begin with but the abuse he suffered from his parents, especially his alcoholic father was shocking.
As Peter grew older he really struggled with his gender identity. This young boy sought support from other family members, his school, his neighbours, and the nuns who lived nearby in a convent. None was forthcoming.
He eventually married Linda and had two sons. The story still has a very long way to go.
The book then discusses the ever growing feelings he struggled with as he eventually dealt with becoming a woman. The story continues through the days related to his gender reassignment surgery, his downfall with drugs and alcohol. Society’s non acceptance of everything about him especially in 1960’s and 70’s Melbourne.
But Peter, now Sandra, is like a phoenix. I think the revealing of how she came to overcome every situation thrown at her, and believe me it is not pretty, is very much a credit to this beautiful, compassionate person.
Sandra has a series of relationships and jobs and we delve into every one of them. Yes, the book does open when she is in the last half of her life and her job is as a trauma cleaner. People who die, hoard, get murdered are all of her clients. This side of the book is also quite a psychological study of their lives too.
The chapters swing back and forth from Peter’s life and then to Sandra’s life and as one life is told from now to then and the other comes up to meet it from childhood the reader really feels like they know this beautiful human.
The compassion Sandra has for the underdogs in her life is remarkable. Especially considering how terribly abused she was by every aspect of society. I was amazed at the story of this one human being and how she kept getting up again and again and continually moved forward.
I didn’t think the story was at all sensational though her life probably would seem so to many readers. I also think many people could struggle with reading this book as it isn’t pretty. There is violence, filth, psychological disorder, rape- yes- everything that is ugly in the world. But there is more resilience, compassion, truth and honesty about Sandra and the life she endured. The reader also becomes aware of the scars Sandra has and how she comes to terms with everything as she approaches an older age and continues to look for more comfort than what she has known.
The bureaucracy she dealt with over the years as a gay- transgender- married person, both as a man then as a woman highlights even more why all Australians need equal rights under the law no matter who they are. As usual there is quite a lot of very inept bureaucracy in this country regarding the rights of children, marriage, lifestyle and relationships.
I would say to the Text Publishing company that I think you did a disservice to this author and Sandra in sensationalising the cover of this book. It is not about the gruesomeness of the job she did. It is not about cleaning blood splattered walls of those who have met their end in violence.
It is much, much more. Her story is so different to what we regularly read and struggle with in our own minds. It teaches us to understand how a life such as this can not only survive, but succeed. Sandra not only contributes to society in such completeness but does so with a compassion many of us could only hope to achieve in our own lifetimes.
I think it is an important book and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Peter and later on, Sandra.
(The author spent three years working with Sandra and learning about various aspects of the law and stories related to transgender people in our society. There is a bibliography of resources at the end as well as acknowledgements of thanks)