As a queer in my early 40s I would LOVE to read some not hetero-normative content on navigating peri-menopause and menopause — dealing with body changes, feeling old in a culture that is very youth-focused, feeling valuable as a not-young person, reassurance that someone will find me attractive again. I am currently in the midst of a breakup after an opposite sex marriage and am terrified I’ve wasted my horny years and nervous that last time I was naked with another woman I had a taut 20-something body. Now I’ve written this down I clearly have more issues than just the menopause, but that would be a good start.
(I am an A+ member but can’t find the advice box so I’m submitting here). Thank you!
This morning I woke up mid-hot flash, leaned over the edge of my bed, pulled out the ice pack I keep in a little cooler by my nightstand, tucked it under the cooling blanket I was already sleeping underneath, and picked up my phone to Google the thing I’d fallen asleep thinking about. “Is math different now?” I typed, and was immediately greeted with the news that: yes, math is different now. MATH. I have reached the age where MATH has changed. I didn’t even realize math could change. All of which is to say that I feel perfectly equipped to answer your question, due to being older than addition and subtraction.
Let’s tackle your practical question: How do queers deal with menopause?
First of all, let me simply commiserate with you. Perimenopause and menopause are the worst. The first time I had a hot flash, I honestly thought the inside of my upper body was going up in flames or something. Nothing prepared me for it! Not my older relatives’ stories I overheard as a kid, not the little pamphlet my OBGYN gave me, not even the name “hot flashes.” My whole head and neck and chest turned sour-cherry red; my skin was so hot to the touch, a flick of water would have probably sizzled on my face; I could not stop sweating — and when it passed, I felt like I’d been outside in a blizzard! My teeth started chattering! Worst of all, I felt this piercing sense of loneliness. None of the friends I’m super real with about my weird body have experience with menopause. I think, even if I’d just had someone to text and laugh about it with, I would have felt so much better. Like part of a badge-earning club. But instead of giggling with friends about the smoke coming out of my ears like a cartoon character, I laid in bed and brooded about how terribly my mom reacted when I started my period a thousand years ago (back when math was the same).
Some practical advice from my own experience: Treat yourself to anything that will make you feel better when you have hot flashes, and have it at the ready. Cooling blankets to sleep under, gel pillows, ice packs (the refreezable kind and the kind you can break on the go, like the ones that come with first aid kits), a portable fan, sweat-wicking pajamas. I have this thing called The Migraine Hat that’s like three hundred individual ice cubes sewn inside a bandana; I use it as a cooling scarf! I take it with me every time I leave the house in the summer! I’ll probably get some flack for saying this, but meditation helps me. It doesn’t make my hot flashes go away, but it does help me accept they’re happening and it keeps me calm during the flame-up. (Emotional distress makes hot flashes much worse!)
Keep your pelvic floor strong. Keep your sleep hygiene on lock. Keep your eye on the prize (no more periods!). Easy on the alcohol, which makes you even hotter and more dehydrated — but a lot of people do find that marijuana helps. In NYC, you can get a medical marijuana card super easy, over the phone, in five minutes. Go ahead and find an LGBTQ-friendly, menopause-literate doctor who can work with you to find the right combinations of medication if you need it. Lyrica, Clonidine, SSRI, HRT patches: there’s lots of different things to try. Read other people’s stories, and supplement recommendations. I find r/askoldpeople and r/menopause very helpful over on Reddit.
The existential part of your question is, surprisingly, a lot easier — and more fun. I am a firm believer that 90% of the internal issues LGBTQ+ people have is because of all the rigid programming we got before we came out and started living our best queer lives. Go to college, get married, have kids, buy a house, buy two cars, go to church, be thin, be cis, be able-bodied, be sorry, be quiet, dread aging, spend a million dollars trying to stop it, be ashamed you can’t stop it, be so ashamed in fact that you hush and go away, defend capitalism with your dying breath. And raise your kids to feel and do the same thing. That is so BORING! What a terrible prescription for your one wild and precious life!
But here’s the great part: You already leapt outside the confines of that heteronormative paradigm! You don’t exist inside it anymore! I know you don’t because you’re an Autostraddle A+ member; you’re already building and sustaining the queer economy and community you want to see in the world. You’re looking for answers to questions about aging inside of that community! You are already refusing, completely, to hush and go away. Which means you’re already primed to ignore all the other bullshit you learned inside that cramped idea you were sold about A Good Life when you were younger.
LGBTQ people are desperate for connection with their elders, of all ages. So many of us are estranged from our natal families and we need guidance, support, encouragement, advice, companionship, acceptance, and nurturing in myriad intergenerational ways. You can both find that and be that inside this community. Your value amongst your people is already so far beyond anything you could have imagined when the world was hammering you over the head with its straight nonsense. That value is not contingent on how much money you make, where you went to college, what your career is, how grey your hair is, whether or not your waist is the size it was in college, how many kids and cars you’ve got, how small and quiet you can make yourself, how traditionally feminine you are, where you live, and on and on. Your value is inherent in your humanity, and your place is here, with your queers. That also means plenty of horny days of happy gay sex are ahead of you! Middle age people are where it’s at in the queer community right now! We love a foxy silver era!
Since I turned 40, I have: Deepened my relationship with my wife, finally started dressing exactly how I want, got the haircut of my dreams that would’ve made my mother cry, started making huge progress on my goal of getting a book published, learned to say no and not feel guilty about it, learned to stick up for myself, bought really nice underwear and socks, started figuring out how to deepen the friendships that mean the most to me, started seeing people for who they actually are and not who I want them to be, stopped caring about people’s opinions that I don’t actually value, read 77 books, saved to buy some of the things I was desperate for as a child but my family couldn’t afford (like all the Lego spacemen, a pair of Jordans, the full set of clothbound Penguin Classics, and super nice fountain pens), found a therapist I actually adore who is a perfect fit for me and is changing my life, and a dozen other things I probably shouldn’t talk about out loud on the internet.
If my 25-year-old self could see me now, she wouldn’t even believe it. I am living my absolute wildest dreams.
Your life isn’t over, my friend. Your life is whatever you want it to be. You can do anything you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want. You can try a zillion different things until you decide what you like best. You can do stuff you never had the courage to do before. You can pursue dreams you’ve never had the freedom to explore. You can nurture your inner child. You can build deep and rewarding relationships (romantic or otherwise). You are already outside all the lies of the patriarchy! You escaped! Now — now! — you get to live.
If math — of all things — has changed, so can you! You can rewire your brain to believe this truth: Getting older is aches and pains, sure, but the freedom to fully be yourself that comes with getting older is absolutely worth it.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.