Headcase explores themes of mental health, mental illness, and the experience of mental health care services by members of the LGBTQ community. The editors state, “We initially conceptualized Headcase in 2014 as a curated collection of personal pieces including essays, poems, illustrations, and photographs by writers and artists both established and new.” (p. xxviii) They further decided to include a broad array of patient, provider, social, racial, and ethnic perspectives to “present a broader, more in depth, and balanced conversation.” (p. xxviii)  
Schroeder and Theophano divide their anthology into five topical sections: (1) conversations about health and illness, (2) stories of survival, (3) encounters of a mad kind, (4) pushing boundaries, and (5) the poetics of mental health and wellness. Among pieces in the first section, Arlene Istar Lev’s “Queer Affirmative Therapy” (p. 12) introduces a concept that appears repeatedly throughout the book. Unlike traditional conversion therapy, which tries to “cure” gay persons, or even the more neutral DSM V approaches, queer affirmative therapy not only accepts LGBTQ identities, but considers them normal healthy variants. Fidelindo Lim’s and Donald Brown’s more personal essay, “Sa Kanyan Saring Mga Salita” (p. 38), explores the gay experience in Filipino culture. Among the sad stories in section two, Chana Williams tells the tale of her mother’s lobotomy as a treatment for depression and lesbian relationships. Lobotomy also appears in “Fix Me Please, I’m Gay” (section three, p. 169), where psychologist Guy Albert discusses the era of conversion therapy.  

In addition to essays, the conversation in Headcase includes poems, artwork (see, for example, Gabrielle Jordan Stein’s “This Work Is About Digested Socks,” p. 156), a suite of black-and-white images), a series of glyphs, and even a graphic story about J.R. Sullivan Voss’ attempts to fit into society as a trans-man, “Sisyphus (Or: Rocks Fall and Everyone Dies.” (p. 88) In the final section, Guy Glass presents an excerpt of his play, “Doctor Anonymous,” about the 1972 American Psychiatric Association meeting in which a closeted gay psychiatrist wearing a mask  asserted the normality of gay identity. (p. 260) To contemporary viewers, the most shocking revelation in the play is the fact that at that time homosexuality was considered a mental disorder and conversion therapy was a standard practice.


From a broad array of perspectives, Headcase tells a story that begins with alienation and suffering but gradually reveals a more enlightened present and quite possibly a brighter future. The anthology’s historical axis moves from pre-1973 abnormality and conversion therapy to today’s queer affirmation therapy, which is a style of treatment for depression and other disorders contextualized for LGBTQ persons. The personal axis includes struggles of writers and artists to achieve or preserve their mental health in a health care system that considered them abnormal and to deal with conditions like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in a queer affirmative environment. The artistic axis ranges from straightforward historical reporting to intensely personal essays, poems, and graphic arts.  

Quite appropriately, the book begins and ends with the sad story of conversion therapy: first, an historical account in “Queer Affirmative Therapy” (p. 12) and finally, Guy Glass’ riveting scene from “Doctor Anonymous.” (p. 260).  

The editors have accomplished their goal of creating a volume that articulates the experience of mental health, mental illness, and health care services by a broad cross-section of the LGBTQ community. While individual pieces vary in literary or artistic quality, the book as a whole is engaging, educational and, in a very real sense, heroic.  


Oxford University Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count