I wish I had listened to the age-old adage: don’t read the comments. But that’s exactly what I did after I finished reading The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein; I opened the book in Goodreads to see what others had to say. Of course, a lot of people don’t like to read books that have unlikeable, or less than perfect, main characters. (I feel a bit weird using the word ‘character’ about a biography, but let’s go with it anyway.) I knew this already, but I was surprised to see how many Goodreads users rated this book relatively low because they didn’t like some of the choices its subject has made.
The Trauma Cleaner is a biography of an Australian trans woman named Sandra Pankhurst, who now runs a successful business cleaning up crime scenes, hoarder houses, and other places you and I wouldn’t want to set foot inside. The book alternates between chapters that focus on Sandra’s history, and on the clients she helps. Born a man, Sandra’s abusive parents beat and neglect her for being ‘different’. Like so many biographies and memoirs of people who overcome childhood abuse, Sandra manages to get out and make a life for herself, and we read about her experiences in the drag scene, as a sex worker, during drug and alcohol abuse, and finally being on the ‘straight’ path. But the journey from childhood to successful business owner is not a straightforward one, and along the way Sandra makes some choices that allow her to become her own person, but which (necessarily) have to come at the expense of someone else.
This is one of the most interesting and honest biographies I’ve read – it grapples with a subject who is less than perfect, and whose memory is also less than perfect. (The author, Sarah Krasnostein, mentions having had to fill in a lot of blanks along the way.) If you’re after an inspiring story of a woman who overcame her abusive formative years and gender dysphoria to become a perfect person, this is not it. It is so much better than that.