You Need Help: How to Feel Good About Getting Older

Q:

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!

A:

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.


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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1445 articles for us.

34 Comments

  1. I love this!!!! It inspires me so much and makes me feel so excited about getting older.

    Also as an elementary school teacher who teaches some “new math” I feel compelled to say that what it really is is trying to explicitly teach all kids the kind of playing w numbers that people who are “good” at math intuitively do. We’re just trying to help all kids use numbers as a way to find solutions rather than having them follow rote routines they don’t understand that can lead to mistakes!! Sorry to get on my soapbox lol

  2. Great advice. As an elder gay who is 7+ years into hot flashes, I can recommend getting a really sexy fan. They fold up nicely for your purse or pocket and when out and about and a hot flash visits – you can whip it out and dramatically fan yourself. Dramatically fanning yourself is very very queer.

    Also – Heather is correct and there should be a girl scout badge for menopause. I’ve actually had lovely conversations with other ladies in the club who noticed my distress and just got honest with me. I appreciate the sisterhood. Final tidbit – there are good youtube videos for keeping that pelvic floor strong.

    Welcome to the queer menopause club!

  3. every stage of my life so far has been better than before, and this is such a heartening read that I can just keep getting more and more solidly myself!

    Also Heather Corinna’s “What Fresh Hell Is This” is on my reading list as an info source on [peri]menopause without the the heteronormative and intensely gendered baggage

  4. Some insights from the hormonal front-
    There is a treatment for hot flashes that actually works: sage tea (I know you don’t believe me, but hear me out).
    The core problems with menopause and similar hormonal upheaval (after ovorectomy etc) are dehydration and sleep deprivation. Treat those first.
    Drink a large glass of water or two every morning immediately after you wake up (before breakfast, before shower). That helps with the brain fog. Maybe add a bit of salt to compensate the sweating during the night.
    Hot flashes during day and night stops almost completely if you drink a lot of sage tea. I make a large pitcher or two of pure sage tea in the morning and let it cool so that I can drink it during the day. I add juice if it tastes bad. You need to do that every day from morning, or the flashes will be back immediately.
    Additionally I mix in very strong camomile tea in the evening which helps with sleeping, together with the sage tea.
    Try sleeping nude and with a set of different blankets (only cover, only thin inlet, only woolen blanket, full blanket..) that you can quickly recombine during the night.

    Straight women in the UK have menopause networks and apps now, but a similar thing would be strongly needed for queer people. I think that would probably take off big time.

    I agree that it’s possible to start a lot of things that you never did before even when you are older. At first you think it’s not possible because people told you it doesn’t work after a certain age (loosing weight, learning a new sport etc), but I found that’s not true. It actually works, and some things are even easier for some reason.

    I would appreciate some dating advice for older people though.

  5. Thank you for your question, fellow Autostraddler, and Heather, for your wonderful answer. I‘m struggling with being over 40. Not every day, not even most days and I don’t want to be in my 20s again, but sometimes it hits hard. I try to be okay with the melancholy because my body does change and it does take time to adapt – so let’s just feel the feelings. Also: migraine hat! Also: I do find women in their 40s very, very attractive, that did change, too, and I love it.

  6. One of the things I loved about hitting my 40s was that I became invisible to men. So liberating! And hot flashes vary hugely among women; it is a scandal that scientists still have poor understanding of what is going on. Some people get hot flashes from alcohol; I don’t. I get a lot more of them in warm and humid weather, and I have a very regular pattern: one at 9 PM, one about 20 minutes after I go to bed, one after I shower… go figure. The literature said that hot flashes could last several years. I haven’t my period in about 7 years and they are still going strong.

  7. As a 40-something woman dating another 40-something woman, both coming out of long-term marriages with men, I am here to report that we are living the hottest, horniest years of our lives. I am having the time of my life, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for my 20-year-old body.

    So yes, hydrate, sleep, do what you can to keep cool, and let your body and being take up as much space as you desire. You’ve got this – you’re just getting started!

  8. Such a great question and great response, I love it!

    I’m 52 and still perimenopausing.. and nobody told me about the bleeding! Like some months it can be wild. And of course Drs. just be like we don’t know. So i learned to drink lots of lady’s mantle-raspberry leaf-nettle tea for the week before i start bleeding (or when it comes early or late just start then) and that helps. Make sure you are getting plenty of iron, magnesium (helps with sleep), and calcium. And I have found period underwear (from Period.) is extra helpful for the heavier bleeds because they have so much more coverage and absorbency.

    Also the brain fog, yikes. Give yourself a lot of love as you adapt to how your brain works. It has gotten better though with the pandemic trauma response it is hard to be sure.

    But that is like the best thing about getting to be this age as a queer period-haver is i mostly just don’t give a fuck about what the hetero world thinks and will take care of myself and build the world i want with the people i love. Go for it!!!

  9. Love this piece! Add me to the chorus asking for more content on peri & full-on menopause, more on dating over the age of 40, more on queer community relationships that cross generational lines.

    But I also want to say that my partner and I met in our early 40s, and this is definitely the best relationship, and the best sex, of my life. Dating in my 40s turned out to be exactly what older friends said—much better than dating at any other time, because both I and the potential partners knew who we were and could communicate it.

    That leaves a lot more space for the great sex!

  10. I’m 52 and I started peri-menopause at like age 40. I’m finally thinking I can maybe call myself post-menopausal. I’m still having hot flashes but my last period was fall of 2017 and my other symptoms seem to have stopped or decreased dramatically. My mother had hot flashes for more than 20 years and still gets them now, in her mid 70s, so I’m thinking those are just going to be a part of my life now. At least I no longer wake up naked and covered in sweat, wondering when the heck I took off my nightshirt and if I will ever get back to sleep.

    The main piece of advice I can share is that everyone is different and there’s no one magic solution to any of it, but it is (usually) possible to manage / improve your symptoms. I had mixed results following advice from friends or misc experts – none of the supplements or diet changes I tried seemed to work on my hot flashes. But getting portable fans was a life-saver. I do want to say that you don’t have to just suffer alone or white-knuckle it through it.

    One good thing – there’s SO MUCH more useful information out there than there was even 12 years ago when I started peri-menopause. One of the things that I found incredibly comforting is the research into other mammals who have menopause. It’s quite uncommon – in most species, female mammals can bear children their entire adult lives – but humans and orcas and a few other sea mammals have menopause which allows older, more experienced women to help their adult children raise their families and help their communities thrive. So sometimes during a hot flash or whatever, I remind myself that menopause is an evolutionary advantage.

    One of the lovely things about being queer is that there is a wider range of what’s considered sexy and attractive – yes, there is ageism in our communities, but there’s also young queer women actively thirsting over Mean Mommis and Queer Elders. I actually feel MORE visible to queer women now than I did when I was younger – some of it is just my personal journey. But I also notice that the number of young women complimenting my pride pins has gone way up, just as the street harassment and random men trying to talk to me has disappeared.

    Becoming less visible to random straight men is much more delightful than I thought it would be. It really is lovely. I don’t miss the unwanted attention at all.

  11. I loved reading this, and needed to hear it! I intellectually embrace aging but that social programming runs DEEP and also I tend to get anxious about the future, generally, so sometimes I feel worried or pessimistic about what’s ahead. This got me excited about what’s ahead! Thank you, Heather.

  12. Heather Hogan is a complete gem.

    A funny sage, an adult who knows how to play, a friend to cats, a lover of love, and a model queer. She isn’t afraid to speak truth in a world dedicated to denial.

    It is my privilege to continuing paying for writing like this.

    Looking forward to that future book!

  13. 52 here – can vouch for HRT really helping, an estrogen patch and a progesterone pill, this will address the hot flashes and dryness. I was scared of the cancer risk for a long time, until I realized that folks who take birth control for fibroids and so on, have been dealing with this just fine for years – but talk to your doctor, because your risk factors might be unique. The teas and hydration are an equally valid way to handle it – whatever you do, do SOMETHING, because just suffering for months or years, like I did, is pointless.

  14. PS, Heather, thank you so much for this article and for everything you write, and for all your podcast appearances, etc. I’m so scared of COVID and I admire your strength. I never thought of myself as old because it sometimes feels like one second ago, my wife and I were in our 20’s and now all of a sudden we’re in our 50’s and there was definitely a time a few years ago when Autostraddle wasn’t speaking to Gen X at all, so thank you for changing that.

  15. Thank you so much for this piece! Here in UK we are just starting to talk about queer/trans approaches to menopause. I did some research in 2019 and the work has snowballed from there. There is now a Queer Menopause Collective! You can find out more at queermenopause.com. Instagram: @queermenopause

  16. Thank you so much for this article, this is exactly the content I hoped to see on autostraddle and asked for on the readers survey. Fighting that hetero programming is hard but having this community to do it with and learn from is amazing.

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