Review by Jennifer Ernie-Steighner
Celebrating its one-year anniversary this November, The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016), is a breathtaking and heart-felt call to action for equitable LGBTQ+ health care. Functioning as a multi-genre anthology of poetry, interviews, creative nonfiction, and graphic literature, The Remedy offers a diverse and intimate collection of life-stories from over thirty LGBTQ+ identified patients, activists, clinicians and allies. Cumulatively, their voices attest to the discrimination, dangers, and challenges faced by trans and queer communities in modern medicine as well as the resiliency of LGBTQ+ communities and possible avenues for compassionate activism, self-care, allyship, and institutional transformation.
The anthology’s editor, Zena Sharman, welcomes readers with her in-depth knowledge, personal conviction, and utmost respect for the lessons of those most impacted by unequitable care—LGBTQ+ individuals and their loved ones. With an extensive background in research and advocacy for queer and trans health and having previously co-edited the acclaimed anthology, Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011), Sharman sets the stage via an introduction and appendix that is as much poetic prose as a moving and personal call-to-arms. “The Remedy isn’t the whole story of queer or trans health; it’s part of an ongoing conversation,” Sharman elucidates, “I hope you add your voice and your story to it, too. May we all listen and bear witness to one another, and may we all join together in the fight for queer and trans health” (16).
Proceeding this personal call-to-action, the reader is presented with a myriad of life-stories including, but not limited to: a lesbian couple navigating breast cancer treatment; a black intersex man reflecting on the struggle for a life free from racial and sex-based violence; a trans-identified psychotherapist critically self-reflecting on the experience of ‘dual-otherness’ in being both a gatekeeper to trans health care and a part of the community; and a two-spirit First Nations individual struggling with the losses of colonization. As one engages with these assorted life-stories, themes of communal resilience, pain, anger, and authentic self-reflection engulf the reader into a narrative that is at once gut-wrenching and inspiring. While the literary genres, like the personal stories themselves, vary, the anthology’s overall argument remains cohesive and compelling: To enact much needed change within North American health care, the leadership of LGBTQ+ peoples is crucial. Our/their voices matter. The knowledge that we/they have gained from generations of inequitable care and successful activism provides a roadmap towards compassionate, knowledgeable, and equitable medical systems.
Given the personal nature of this anthology and its artful editing—which achieves a consistent tone throughout—one finds a critique of The Remedy to be, at best, superficial and, at worst, dismissive of the life-stories entrusted to its readers. While many anthologies benefit from a concluding chapter or epilogue which brings various sections in explicit conversation with one another, The Remedy benefits from the opposite. Sharman tactfully provides a framing for the work via her introduction and appendix (situated early in the book), while allowing the diversity of the contributors and their stories to remain powerful in their complexity. There is no easy summary to provide. No simple conclusion. Instead, we are left with the words, emotions, desires, and fears of the authors. We are left with a world and health care systems that are complex, problematic, and yet hopeful for change. We are left with inspiration and discomfort. Indeed, as Sharman herself concludes, this anthology is “not about comfort” (15). It is about personal stories as a remedy “to heal, to cure, to set right, [and] to make reparations” in an unjust health care milieu.
Overall, The Remedy is an engaging anthology for various audiences. As an activist-orientated publication, health care activists, practitioners, students, and administrators will benefit from the first-person accounts and concrete examples of efforts (great and small) that can be implemented to benefit LGBTQ+ patients. Similarly, health humanities scholars will appreciate this prime example of honoring and learning from the voices, opinions, and experiences of trans and queer communities. Furthermore, while quantitative studies remain central within academic and institutional medical studies of equity, The Remedy is a testament to the power of stories and, thus, to the centrality of interdisciplinarity if we hope to learn from ourselves, our patients, and each other.
Jennifer Ernie-Steighner is a feminist scholar fascinated by gendered and raced pathologies, women’s scientific and medical history, patient-led activism and self-determination, and outdoor adventurism during the nineteenth through twentieth centuries. She holds an M.A. in American and Comparative Women’s and Gender History from Miami University and is currently pursuing doctoral studies at Rutgers University.