Between The Covers

By Terri Schlichenmeyer, June 2019 Issue.

Headcase: LGBTQ Writers and Artists on Mental Health and Wellness, edited by Stephanie Schroeder and Teresa Theophano

c.2019, Oxford University Press $29.95 / $36.95 Canada 287 pages

You had a flu shot this year.
You watch your cholesterol, eat better, stay active, and brush twice a day. So why do you feel so rotten? In Headcase, edited by Stephanie Schroeder and Teresa Theophano, you’ll see that taking care of your mind is as essential as taking care of your body.
If someone on the street saw you today, he might think you were at the peak of health.
He can’t see what’s inside, though.
“Real or perceived minority status and disenfranchisement make us vulnerable to being labeled as sick,” say Schroeder and Theophano. In other words, living as a member of the LGBTQ community may affect your mental health. Furthermore, Christian Huygen, one of the contributors to this book, says, “Research shows that, while LGBTQ people seek mental healthcare more often than our non-LGBTQ counterparts, we are more likely to leave care prematurely.”

Editors Stephanie Schroeder, JD and Teresa Theophano, LMSW

Today, therapy is easier to get, if you feel hopeless or empty, but not all practitioners understand LGBTQ health issues. Mainstream healthcare has only relatively recently decided that homosexuality was not a disease in need of a cure. Too many healthcare practitioners don’t understand that insurance is sometimes iffy. Never mind those who believe conversion therapy is the right fix.
Have we evolved, when it comes to mental wellness for the LGBTQ community?  You might think so, after reading the chapters here: of a lesbian who received comfort from a therapist when her long-time friend wouldn’t stop bringing religion up. Of veterans who no longer have to conceal their sexuality. On fitting in with the local mom’s group when you’re the only queer mother and, by the way, you’ve already conquered postpartum depression. On being a lesbian daughter of a lesbian mother who was hospitalized against her will decades ago, only because she dared love another woman.
“Mental illness can be scary for anyone,” says writer Lance Hicks. “You choose between asking for help, knowing you’re being judged, or suffering alone.”
That latter option doesn’t sound like so much of an option, does it? No, and Headcase, a title that comes from reclamation of a negative word, takes a real-life look at the first parts of Hicks’s sentiments: mental health, mental help, and the history of it all within the LGBTQ community.
What you’ll learn won’t come easy, though.
There are several distinct kinds of chapters inside Headcase, some easier to read than others. Readers will find arty things, poetry and drawings here. There are mini-memoirs of relevance. You’ll find short stories, too, many of which have a disjointed feel, as though you just wandered into a half-conversation. There are chapters that are plainly meant for physicians, which might not appeal to laypersons. And you’ll find history in this book, some of which – fair warning – will chill you.
Overall, Headcase could offer comfort but it’s not a substitute for a doctor. It’s got subtle advice, but it’s not a therapist. It’s not even a good stand-in for a sympathetic friend but if you need direction, it’s worth a shot.

Inside an Honor Killing by Lene Wold

c.2019, Greystone Books $26.95 / higher in Canada 224 pages

Your father’s hands were always rough.
In your memories, they were nimble, too; enough to fix a doll or thread a hook as easily as holding a fork, and it was never a problem for your little fingers to fit around his. Your father’s hands were calloused and strong but, unlike the new book Inside an Honor Killing by Lene Wold, they were not meant for murder.
She had to lie to set up the interview.  
Lene Wold knew that, as a lesbian, she was in danger just traveling through Jordan, so she made up a fictitious husband for her own safety. She lied to be prepared, should the subject come up during conversations she had with Rahman who, after over a year of effort, finally sat across from her in a small café.
He was a killer, but she knew that he deserved to tell his side of the story.
When he was a child, Rahman told her, he witnessed the death of a young classmate buried up to her shoulders in desert sand. The seven-year-old had been raped, he said, but that act brought shame on her family because villagers believed that she had caused it. Stoning her brought honor back.
Rahman wasn’t supposed to have witnessed the killing, and when his mother learned that he did, she packed her things and left, a departure that impacted him for the rest of his life. He vowed that what happened in his father’s house wouldn’t happen in his when he married a very conservative woman and raised two daughters and a son.

Inside an Honor Killing author

Years later, as the younger daughter, 17-year-old Amina, prepared for marriage, she noticed that her 19-year-old sister, Aisha, seemed preoccupied. Only when Amina overheard intimacies and learned that Aisha had fallen in love with another woman, did she understand her sister’s fears: there is no law against homosexuality in Jordan, but it’s a cultural sin that brings shame on a family, and Aisha’s secret couldn’t be held.
And so, pressured by his wife, Rahman acted to restore honor.
There is no way to soften this: Inside an Honor Killing is absolutely chilling.
An ice-down-the-spine account of a rape that inexplicably didn’t happen opens this book, illustrating the dangers author Lene Wold endured to get the interviews she needed to tell this story. That, and the how and why of it, are the books’ introduction and while you’re there, Wold also shares statistics that will put you in a heightened state of anticipation, though you ultimately know what happens.
Take a quick breath, then, before you plunge into Chapter One, because that’s the last chance you’ll get for air as this story alternates between Arabian Nights and Nightmare on Elm Street, between idyll and magic, and horrors we can only imagine.
This book isn’t one bit easy to read but if you’re concerned about women’s rights or current events, it’s essential that you do. But beware: Inside an Honor Killing will stun you almost the minute you get it in your hands.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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