The Trauma Cleaner, Sarah Krasnostein

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

Sandra Pankhurst has led one hell of a life. From being adopted as a young child, awful childhood abuse by those adoptive parents, through to marriage, fatherhood and finally acknowledgement of alternative sexuality - firstly as a gay man / ultimately the realisation that she was transgender. Marriage breakdown led to life as a drug addict, drag queen, sex worker, gender transition, wife, severe health issues, and finally a highly successful business as a trauma cleaner. Pankhurst has not had, nor made, an easy path in life. Every time I've heard her interviewed, everything I've ever read about Sandra Pankhurst indicates she is a seriously impressive person - flawed with no qualms about showing that, compassionate and patient with those less fortunate, demanding and exacting as a boss, Pankhurst comes across as somebody who has battered a lot of demons to death.

It's a bit of a pity then that THE TRAUMA CLEANER is a split personality sort of a book. I think it's easy to read between the lines that Pankhurst is not as forthcoming as perhaps the author would have liked - either due to memory loss or a desire to let some things remain in the past - who knows / not our business after all. Unfortunately what we have ended up with therefore is less memoir of a prominent member of the transgender community, less exploration of the life and reality of being a trauma cleaner, but a sort of mash up of some personal remembrance, some background story, some tales of individual cleanups, and a lack of clear intent which got a bit frustrating at points. Those glimpses into the personal and professional life that Pankhurst has allowed reinforce her standing, but the somewhat breathless worship of her by the author is ... perhaps understandable but a bit overblown at points.

Absolutely no doubt about it - Pankhurst and what she does for a living are fascinating stories. Maybe as two distinct books it would have worked better for this reader - Pankhurst is much more than her trauma cleaning business, and trauma cleaning and hoarder cleanups are obviously a minefield of difficult people / difficult circumstances / awful situations that trying to tackle both in the one book muddied the message too much.

Year of Publication

Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society's most in-need people. 

Sandra Pankhurst founded her trauma cleaning business to help people whose emotional scars are written on their houses. From the forgotten flat of a drug addict to the infested home of a hoarder, Sandra enters properties and lives at the same time. But few of the people she looks after know anything of the complexity of Sandra's own life. Raised in an uncaring home, Sandra's miraculous gift for warmth and humour in the face of unspeakable personal tragedy mark her out as a one-off.

Review The Trauma Cleaner, Sarah Krasnostein
Karen Chisholm
Friday, January 11, 2019

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