I must say that I’ve got a very creative mind,’ she told me once. ‘I can see through things, or past things, or imagine things. I always had this thing that I want more out of life. I still have the belief that you’re as powerful as your mind. An idea could come and if you think you could go with it, you take the gamble and go with it.‘
The Trauma Cleaner’s story
I don’t think any review could do justice to The Trauma Cleaner as story. I felt joy, sorrow, compassion and love and my heart felt heavy with all of it. But I will try; because I want this book by Sarah Krasnostein to be read by many more people.
Very simply described The Trauma Cleaner introduces us to Sandra Pankhurst in her current job as Trauma Cleaner while Sarah Krasnostein goes along to the houses she works at. During that we also get to know the story of Sandra’s life. We start from the moment she is born, as a boy called Peter who’s adopted by people who don’t know how to love him right. We then go on to explore the rest of her life; as a husband, father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, wife and business owner. And I’d like to add a trigger warning, Sandra’s life hasn’t been only beautiful, far from it.
An extraordinairy life
What absolutely struck me about this book is how honest it was. What you usually find in biographies is that some scenes are exaggerated or “made pretty” to sell the story better. Krasnostein is honest in her descriptions, in the retelling of Sandra’s history she highlights the darker parts just as much as the good. Nobody is perfect, but everybody has a story to tell.
The sad part of Sandra’s history that due to drug use her memory isn’t the most reliable, some parts are clear in her mind but she can’t remember if she had a wedding ceremony or if she was present at the birth of her children. Krasnostein is very upfront about it, sometimes she had to fill in some parts but she did with excellent use of source material. And in that, this book gives such a striking image of the life of a transgender female and a female sex worker in Australia in the earlier days.
“But the opposite of trauma is not the absence of trauma. The opposite of trauma is order, proportion; it is everything in its place.”
Respect for the story
There’s so much love in this book. Sarah Krasnostein repeatedly mentions her adoration for Sandra but she didn’t even have to mention that, it’s so obviously plastered all over this book. The utmost respect is used telling Sandra’s story. There’s no judgement for any of her choices, just the desire to tell her story. And you can tell from the descriptions of Sandra in her current life how much Krasnostein adores her friend. She put such a beautiful of writing forward that towards the end it was like I knew Sandra myself and I think a piece of her will stay with me.
If somebody ever writes a biography of you, it should be done as loving as this one was. You’d be in good hands.