The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care is an anthology of narratives on queer and trans experiences with healthcare. It consists of essays, personal stories, interviews, poetry, and even short graphic novels, which make the reading experience always different and engaging. While the book is not just about trans healthcare, it brings together diverse experiences with gender, sexual, and cultural identities, trauma experiences, and both accessing and providing healthcare.
The book includes some of the typical “horror story” experiences we often hear about as trans people navigating healthcare systems: providers who fail to use the right name and pronouns (sometimes despite having “inclusive” paperwork), creating an immediate distrust and sense of unsafety, who lack knowledge about trans healthcare, like interactions between HRT and birth control, who use trauma and mental illness to pathologize a person’s identity, withhold care, or dismiss symptoms, and who treat trans and intersex people as science experiments rather than human beings. These are the types of interactions with healthcare systems that drive trans and nonbinary people away from seeking care when they need it in the future.
Reading some of these stories, I had to put the book down and take some time to process the difficult feelings that were coming up from my own experiences with trying to access gender-affirming care at fifteen, having to become my own advocate while also learning each step of the way the institutional barriers I was up against.
These stories are important. They are stories of traumas that shape our early relationships to healthcare, often creating distrust and fear. They are stories of experiences that made us feel isolated and ashamed of our own bodies or identities. In telling them, and having someone say “me too,” and recognizing ourselves in other people’s stories, we realize we are not as isolated as we thought, and that we are part of a community that has to form its own support and information networks, which “transcend geographies” and expand beyond nuclear understandings of family (Zena Sharman, Introduction).
For example, the essay “Our Caregivers, Ourselves” by Kelli Dunham describes how a big group of friends coming together to support queer family, and a large Orthodox Jewish family, had to collaborate to find strategies around the hospital’s policies that limited visitors in the hospital room. Collective care creates a bond between these two families, who are committed to showing up for their loved ones despite institutional policies that make care so individualized.
In “Sex Work Solidarity as Healing: in four parts,” Amber Dawn describes how sex workers rely on one another to model safety in their work practices in spite of criminalization, which “impedes our ability to learn from each other” and practicing harm reduction.
One of the threads that carries through all of these narratives is that healing happens in community. Trauma experiences, along with illness, can be extremely isolating. Healing in supportive community is an antecedent to this isolation:
“Our individual healing becomes the healing of a community, balanced between the love bound through our intersections.” (Ariel Estrella, “Healing Exchanges: the necessity of beloved community for queer survivors of colour”)
At the same time, hearing stories about negative interactions with providers again and again can reinforce the disheartening and oppressive feeling that all healthcare systems are going to fail us, and that we can’t rely on healthcare providers for the care we need. This is why The Remedy is so impactful. It’s not just about horror stories; it’s also about trusting relationships with providers who understand trans identities, who are queer and trans themselves, who are trauma survivors themselves, and who are shaping systems that serve trans and nonbinary people’s needs.
This collection repeatedly discusses the intersections between trans identity and trauma, and why for a provider to be trans-informed, they also need to be trauma-informed.
Having a trans provider, or a provider who shares our experiences with illness or trauma, can change everything about the experience of accessing healthcare:
“I am elated and relieved to discover that my clinician is a trans woman. It’s my first time in a medical office where I feel like I can speak all of my truth. I don’t need to shuffle my history and pick out the cards I feel I need to show in order to get the treatment I need. I can fan out the whole deck. I don’t have to be on guard, or carry it at all.” (Cooper Lee Bombardier, “Trans Grit”)
Likewise, providers who are able to bring their whole selves into their practices, including queer and trans identities, disability and illness, and trauma experiences, find healing through caring for others:
“It was liberating to work someplace queer and trans positive, where I could confidently refer members of communities I was a part of. I was also engaging in subconscious integration of my own trauma as a direct result of working in a clinic designed to be as safe as possible for trauma survivors… [After experiencing a traumatic event] I cried, then slept, before or after my shift, often alongside my regular patients, every day.” (Lisa Baird, “Not a Liability: On Trauma-Informed Care and Community Acupuncture”)
In healthcare settings, we are often vulnerable and need to trust in our provider’s knowledge about our bodies and experiences. When we experience repeated violations of trust, it makes complete sense to put up walls to vulnerability, or avoid care altogether. These walls can be difficult to disassemble. But with providers who create repeated experiences of trust, understanding, autonomy, and care, we can begin to envision feeling safe and supported when we seek healthcare services.
A quote from Cooper Lee Bombardier sums up the need for books like The Remedy, which balance stories of trauma with stories of empowerment:
“…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.”