I’ve been looking for an excuse to talk to Heather Corinna for a long time. I’ve been fangirling from afar since I was a plucky young campus organizer working in sexual and reproductive health. If you somehow don’t know, Heather is the founder and director of Scarleteen, the pioneering indie, feminist, grassroots sexuality and relationships education organization and website that’s been around since 1998. When I heard about What Fresh Hell is This? Perimenopause, Menopause, Other Indignities, and You, their newest book with illustrations by the incomparable Archie Bongiovanni, I knew I had to review it for y’all.
There’s very little info out there about menopaus and what exists is not at all like this. This book is for me. It’s for us. It’s written by Heather, your comforting-but-not-coddling-hilariously-snarky-real-talk-best-friend and illustrated by your favorite genderqueer cartoonist, Archie. It’s intentionally inclusive and leans into the chaos of aging and reproductive transitions in a way that makes you laugh as you also cry and pop a CBD gummy.
I came out and came of age with Scarleteen and Heather’s writing. As Heather referred to it, I’m part of “the original Scarleteen cohort.” I’m also rapidly approaching my forties and without giving you TMI, there’s a lot of, uh, weird changes going on with my body. I’ve been thinking for a couple of years now that I should read up on perimenopause or, like, I don’t know…probably see a medical professional and get actual answers. Now, having read What Fresh Hell is This?, I feel relieved because I’m a million times more informed than I was before and because my biggest takeaway is that I shouldn’t second-guess myself when it comes to my health. Even if I don’t have anything even related to early perimenopause, this book convinced me to make an appointment and get my shit checked out.
Heather emphasizes over and over that perimenopause and menopause are unique to every individual person and they give all the hilarious, fascinating details on what can (but might not) happen, how to take care of yourself, the truth behind myths that you definitely still believe, and gives context for why we all, collectively, know very little about menopause. (Spoiler: it’s the white supremacist patriarchy.)
You will learn about the misogynists who are responsible for the silence around menopause that still has health impacts today as well as the early women thinkers and inventors who presented a more humane opinion as early as the 1800s. (See Archie’s incredible mini-comic featuring these women in Chapter One – my favorite illustration in the book!) You’ll get lots of medical information, pragmatic self-care tips that don’t bullshit you or shame you, mental health tips including those for people with past trauma or who have cognitive issues that can interact with menopause, nutrition and exercise advice that’s size-inclusive and anti-diet culture, sexual health info and lube worship, and lots and lots of shame-busting and normalizing of every person’s unique body and experience. This book is packed with good info and I know I’m going to return to it again and again, lend it to friends–I’ve already recommended it to one, and keep it on my shelf for a long time (because menopausal symptoms last, like, potentially indefinitely I learned–fun!).
What I appreciate the most about this already-fan-fucking-tastic book is how deeply, intentionally inclusive Heather is of the many people who may experience menopause including queer folks; trans, non-binary, and gender diverse people; BIPOC people; people with disabilities; and poor and working-class folks. The book is primarily for people who have ovaries, but Heather is clear that some of the info is also applicable to trans women and there is even an additional appendix called “Menopause for the Rest of Us” contributed by Joanne Mason about menopause for people born with testicular systems. Inclusivity and constantly striving to be more inclusive are hallmarks of Heather’s writing and advice style, which is, as always, fun and refreshing.
When asked what sets What Fresh Hell Is This? apart from other works on the same subject, Heather shared, “As a queer non-binary person, the inclusive approach to repro health is obviously very intentional, very thoughtful, and at times very personal.” When it comes to getting accurate sexual and reproductive health information, so many of us are conditioned to expect to be left out. That has real impacts on health outcomes because, as Heather says, “…people literally choose to not get info for themselves, not talk to their doctors, because it’s more painful to seek info than not get it.”
Heather hopes that What Fresh Hell is This? is the starting point for this type of inclusive menopause information. They said of their groundbreaking, necessary-as-hell book, “I like to hope that this is a door opener. There hasn’t been another [book about menopause by] a nonbinary person. There has been one other comic treatment…by a queer person. That’s two people. Maybe now we can have some [more diverse voices] writing books about this.” That said, this is a very good feminist book about menopause, written by a queer nonbinary agender person who is living through menopause right now, with brilliant illustrations by a popular genderqueer cartoonist and artist. What Fresh Hell is This? is already breaking down many barriers.
Archie and Heather worked together previously on illustrations for Scarleteen. According to Archie, Heather is an “illustrator’s dream client” and they loved working on What Fresh Hell is This? because “there’s so much shame about bodies changing and aging.” In addition to illustration work, Archie is a trained sexual health educator where they “learned firsthand how intrinsically menopause and sexuality are linked.” The mutual admiration is mirrored in Heather’s praise for Archie. Heather said that when it came to choosing an illustrator, “It had to be Archie!” not only because of their admiration for Archie’s work but because they “…wouldn’t have to explain, ‘What do nonbinary people look like?’ I knew Archie would nail it. They’re just delightful. They’re perfect.”
In other words, come for the Victorian menopause psychoanalysis mad lib; stay for the menopause roller coaster illustration. I recommend What Fresh Hell is This? Perimenopause, Menopause, Other Indignities, and You to everyone and especially any existing fans of Heather and Archie’s work, anyone who is currently or will be in the future menopausal, those whose partner(s) will experience menopause, to health educators and social workers, just truly–you should read this book! You’ll definitely learn something new, laugh out loud at least a dozen times, and cheer for how damn refreshing this info is and how well it’s presented. Do you want a taste of Heather’s writing or are you looking for inclusive menopause resources right now? Check out the What Fresh Hell is This? companion post they’ve made available for free on their webpage. Then, go buy What Fresh Hell Is This?. This is a book about menopause and friend, you’re going to absolutely love it!
Note: Corrected to reflect that Heather Corinna is the first non-binary person to write a book about menopause. Nonbinary writers have written about and are writing about menopause including folks who are included in What Fresh Hell is This? like Tania Glyde and others.