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Book review: Mara Pieri's "LGBTQ+ People with Chronic Illness: Chroniqueers in Southern Europe"

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

By Sophie Litherland

In her new book, Mara Pieri (researcher, University of Coimbra) analyzes chronic illness as an experience that interrogates notions of time, (in)visibility, and disability. She argues that the experience of chronic illness through LGBTQ+ embodiment offers the potential to imagine bodies differently.

The first thing I am struck by when I begin reading "LGBT+ People with Chronic Illness: Chroniqueers in Southern Europe" is the outline of terms used and the intentions behind them. This parlance from my own experience is common in many LGBTQ+ spaces and its absence noted in many cis-heteronormative conversations, but Mari Pieri successfully delivers an informative and humanising tone throughout the entire work.

By collecting narratives from Portuguese and Italian members of the LGBTQ+ community that are affected by chronic illnesses, the author builds a picture using experiences from these family oriented, traditionally catholic cultures. While both countries had a fascist era in the 20th century, modern governments have differing approaches to LGBTQ+ rights and family laws, resulting in differences in accounts from the two countries.

In this regard, interviewees do not express day to day intentional othering from individuals, but rather speak of the problems that lie with systemic prejudice that can require costly medical time and resources to merely ascertain and give status to what the individual was already keenly aware of. This will resonate with any readers such as myself, who have had to deal with the bureaucracy and unnecessarily inflexible systems that only cater to a cis-heteronormative way of life.

Perhaps the biggest concept introduced to me upon reading was the idea of chrono-normativity. This book outlines and challenges the cadence of life that we unwittingly subscribe to, whether on a day to day basis or on a longer timescale throughout our lives. From my own experience, people who identify as LGBTQ+ can often find themselves outside of the prescribed family model, instead having to have different or rushed adolescent experiences sometimes much later in life. The narratives present the additional complexities of chronic issues that mean day to day life exists on a different schedule to what is described as chrono normativity.

Throughout the book many accessibility issues are addressed such as dating and friendships, but also the accessibility to LGBTQ+ activism including events such as pride. I know many LGBTQ+ people feel a strong sense of needing to engage in activism not only for a much needed sense of community, but as a way of paving the way for a better life for future generations. From my experience, engaging in spaces with large groups of LGBTQ+ people can take a much needed break from hetero performativity as well it being a supportive space.

What this book does so well is raising accessibility issues to the reader in simple fashion, that almost baffled me why I was only hearing about it now. What can seem so obvious upon discovery really makes the point of how invisible an illness can be, especially when attempting to be a truly inclusive community.

When discussing issues faced by people with chronic illness some literature may fall into a patronising demeanour, of which I am pleased to say there is none here. Instead, it is replaced with pride, a touch of frustration, and even guilt. All the while scrutinising the lens at which we view people according to productivity and perceived ableness. Indeed, many things that are part of someone’s life such as chronic illness, sexuality or gender identity are kept away from others to avoid a sense of othering, which is clearly communicated within the authors chosen accounts.

In all, Mari Pieri successfully compiles shared experience across different countries and gives a much needed platform for LGBTQ+ people with chronic illness to be heard. She both manages to give cultural context and present similarities in voices across different backgrounds to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions that remain pervasive across Western society today.

"LGBTQ+ People with Chronic Illness" by Mara Pieri is published by Palgrave Macmillan and is accessible through their website: Access here

About the author

Sophie Litherland is a freelance writer and science communicator, who has written on many subjects including literature, gender, and LGBTQ+ issues. She currently also works in the Biochemistry Teaching Labs at the University of Bristol.

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