The Trauma Cleaner is the story of Sandra Pankhurst, the owner of a cleaning business that cleans homes after, as the title says “death, disaster and decay.” This includes hoarding situations. It is also the story of a life full of its own trauma, which eventually lead Ms. Pankhurst to run such a unique business. Born biologically male in Australia, she suffered horrific abuse and neglect at the hands of a family who seemed to resent her very presence. Being a trans sex worker in the 1970s meant violent johns and police who could be equally violent. Sandra’s whole life seems to have been training for this vocation.
Sandra is often a very frustrating person as well. You’ll likely never see her advocating for LGBTQ rights. In fact, her political views seem to run somewhat conservative (for Australia). She seems almost indifferent about a reunion with her estranged sons from a brief, ill-conceived marriage. Her memory is often elusive. She’s not sure whether a particular formative moment happened when she was 7 or 13. Despite all of this, even if I didn’t particularly like Sandra, by the end of the book I understood and admired her. Her continued existence and success is a giant middle finger to every person who inflicted pain on her in her life.