In 1963, British muckraker journalist and political activist Jessica Mitford, who lived much of her life in the U.S., wrote An American Way of Death, exposing the funeral industry's abuses and predatory business practices. A sensationalized and expensive endeavor, funeral-death capitalism was predicated on grifting grieving family members, which normalized the ethics of profiting off of death. Instead of commodifying and medicalizing death what if end-of-life rituals centered community and care? Fast forward sixty years for Zena Sharman's Queering Death Series, published in Xtra Magazine, which revisits the death industry's relation to life and the future of capitalism.
"How do we challenge the norms around death? What are our options? And can we think beyond alternatives—dream ways not only of tolerance or accommodations, but truly dying authentic deaths, as we live authentic lives? How do we, and our loved ones, aspire to experience deaths as queer as the lives we live? These are some of the questions posed in the series. Its six parts cover reimagining how we die and mourn, queering end-of-life planning, reclaiming death care, bringing pleasure and eroticism into the end-of-life experience, and challenging dominant ideas of how we grieve. These pieces are empowering, challenging and joyous, and they allow us to imagine ourselves fully into our dying days and beyond."
The series emerged from this personal essay Sharman published in 2020, "What being queer taught me about death."
As Sharman explains, "To me, queering death is part of a larger liberatory project aimed at transforming the conditions that inequitably cut short queer and trans people's lives, while simultaneously working to create the conditions under which more of us can die as queerly as we live." Check out the full interview with Sharman.
"Xtra is an online magazine and community platform covering LGBTQ2S+ culture, politics, and health. We aim to break boundaries, think outside of binaries, and build bridges within our communities and beyond."
Click here for the second installment of the six-part series, "We have the power to reimagine how we die and how we mourn." The third essay, "How to queer your end-of-life planning," is available here.
Writer, strategies, speaker, and lgbtq+ health advocate, Sharman is most recently the editor of The Care We Dream Of: Liberatory and Transformative Approaches to LGBTQ+ Health from Arsenal Press.
"The Care We Dream Of is not quite an essay collection, and not quite an anthology. Instead, it's a hybrid kind of book that weaves together the author's essays on topics like queering health and healing, transforming the health system, kinship, aging, and death, alongside stories, poetry and non-fiction pieces."
What I appreciate about this hybrid book are the questions that guide the creative and courageously critical writing within: "What if you could trust in getting the health care you need in ways that felt good and helped you thrive? What if the health system honoured and valued queer and trans people's lives, bodies, and expertise? What if LGBTQ+ communities led and organized our own health care as a form of mutual aid? What if every aspect of our health care was rooted in a commitment to our healing, pleasure, and liberation?"