I’ll be honest: I’ve never been particularly interested in health or health care, beyond wondering why my anxiety is so strongly triggered by anything related to visiting the doctor. So I was surprised by how much The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care held my attention. There are some really great, emotionally resonant personal essays in this anthology as well as pieces that are really informative about health-related needs of our communities, especially the more marginalized ones.
The Remedy was curated by Zena Sharman, who has a pretty impressive health and queer related resume. Her bio says she is “a femme force of nature and a passionate advocate for queer and trans health. She has over a decade’s experience in health research, including seven years as the Assistant Director of Canada’s national gender and health research funding institute. Zena co-chairs the board of the Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre, a holistic health care centre for transgender and gender-diverse communities.” You might also remember her as the co-editor of 2011’s anthology (also published by Arsenal Pulp Press) Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme with Ivan Coyote.
The Remedy is quite a diverse book, in more ways than one. While the majority of the pieces are essays, some leaning to the personal side and others more academic, there is also poetry, a graphic story, lists, and profiles of queer and trans health initiatives. While trans-related stuff gets probably the most attention (although not even the majority), quite a variety of the LGBTQ2IA+ spectrum is represented, with a few knock-out essays about asexuality, intersexuality, and bisexuality, along with pieces about / by gay men and lesbians navigating heteronormativity. I was also happy to see that nearly half of the contributors are people of colour, including more than one Indigenous person! In short, there’s something in here for everyone, even if everything won’t be exactly your cup of tea.
Let me tell you about some of my favourites from the anthology. Sean Safia Wall’s essay “Navigating This Life as a Black Intersex Man” was hard-hitting and politically contextualized in both the Black Lives Matter movement and the history of how intersex people have been treated in the medical industry. Going over his experiences, he sums up by writing: “At no point did anyone ask me what I wanted to do with my body.”
Sand C. Chang’s essay on being on both sides of the gate as a genderqueer person who’s also a psychologist, part of the profession that acts as gatekeepers to allow trans people to access physical health services, was fantastic. Chang writes about this position of “dual otherness” as well as about a growing list of problematic dynamics witnessed while doing trans and gender-non-conforming (TGNC) health care services, like demeaning situations like “This phone call: Do you have ten minutes to teach me how to work with TGNC people?” from colleagues.
Kelli Dunham’s personal story “Our Caregiving, Ourselves” made me cry. It’s about care-giving for her dying partner Cheryl with a big group of chosen queer family and Orthodox Jewish family camped out in the hospital and working as an unlikely team to bend the rules so that as many people as possible could be with Cheryl.
“A Journey Towards Safety” by Ahmed Danny Ramadan was a stand-out personal essay about coming to Canada as a refugee from Syria and the long journey towards mental health. He writes about trying to avoid the “White Man Saviour Complex—thinking they know better than me how to handle my own life” as he tries to figure out why the traditional white health care providers cannot help him bring down the walls he had built to survive the Arab world as a gay man.
Amber Dawn’s “Sex Work Solidarity as Healing” was brilliant as is everything I’ve read by her. She blends personal accounts of shitty experiences with doctors as a sex worker, anti-sex work jokes and sentiments in the queer community, tools for healing, and creates a “sex workplace scenario” a la WorksafeBC.com for readers to spot the risks and harm-reduction activities in the picture she paints. She ends by urging readers: “Never forget that you too can do this healing work.”
In “Trans Grit,” readers follow Cooper Lee Bombardier along a journey of being a “trans curmudgeon” who keeps thinking that today’s trans youth don’t know how good they have it to realizing that trans folks “as a demographic have evolved enough to believe we deserve better.” He writes, powerfully:
People are so much more willing to understand us than we ever give them credit for. And, that we spend so much time and energy convincing non-trans people of the truth that we are a vulnerable and victimized population to such an extent that sometimes we forget also how fucking strong and resilient we are. These things can exist in tandem: recognition of the injustices against us and also celebration of the fortitude it takes for each of us to live in this world.
Margaret Robinson’s piece “Five Things Providers Need to Know about Bisexual People” is obviously aimed at people who work in the health care industry, but I think pretty much everyone who isn’t bisexual could stand to hear her points: “Bisexuality is authentic and distinct,” ‘Bisexual people have significant health disparities,” and “Bisexual people lack social support.” She weaves in personal experiences with the statistics she cites, like being told by a therapist ‘Oh, well, you just have to choose,’ and having clinic staff assume being bisexual means having sex with multiple partners and being at high risk for STIs.
Eli Erlick’s “Depathologizing Trans” investigates how the psychiatric model of being transgender reinforces Western cissexist ideas about gender. She writes about her experiences and realizing how exploitative of trans people the medical system can be:
Medical professionals insinuated that my desirability and existence would not be validated until I ‘fully’ transitioned. According to them, I would no longer ‘feel trapped in the wrong body’ (which I never did in the first place)… Perhaps in a society more accepting of women with nonnormative bodies, I would not have needed surgery.
These are just some of the pieces in The Remedy that I enjoyed, and I’m sure whatever your tastes and experiences are will guide you to some of the other essays that I haven’t mentioned. Which means you’ll have to check out the book yourself! Let’s end with this beautiful affirming statement from local Vancouver poet Esther McPhee, which is also how the anthology ends:
hasn’t lost anything, is still a blazing
alchemy of heat and breath, still eager
to see every new sunset through your bedroom window
that patch of sky polished to a gleam.
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