Unlearning Societal Scripts Around Aging

Older woman from Singapore

We’re taught messages about what it means to have value in society or how to be considered desirable, beautiful, worthy. Most of us are taught that our value decreases as we age. We’re less desirable and less valuable to society, in general.

But these messages don’t have to define us or our journeys.

“What does that look for you when you are unlearning so many things around what this aging journey looks like?” Omisade Burney-Scott asked in our live chat. “And because we live in a society fixated on whiteness and youthfulness, this can be a really tricky conversation.”

In a live chat on Facebook, Jera spoke to Omisade Burney-Scott, a Black southern feminist, mother, healer, and creator/curator of The Black Girls’ Guide to Surviving Menopause, Heather Corinna, a queer, feminist activist, founder and editor of Scarleteen and author of WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS? Perimenopause, Menopause, Other Indignities, and You, coming this spring, and Karen Yates, somatic sex educator, Biofield Tuner and host of the sex podcast Wild & Sublime.

We spoke about the narratives around aging, how queerness, gender, race, and other identities fit into these narratives and impact the experience of menopause and aging, how to find resources and community, and so much more.

Read some of the highlights about unlearning societal scripts from the chat. Stream the full talk or read the full transcript below, as well.

Unlearning Myths Around Your Societal Value

Around the time that she started her period, Omisade started creating performative masks for herself: ways of looking and acting like a person she thought was valuable:

“This is the mask for school. This is the mask around friends. This is the mask around how I’m going to show up with this person I’m attracted to. It’s very easy to hold these masks in place when your breasts are high, very easy to hold these masks in place when you don’t have grey pubic hair. But when things start to slide and give way, you start to have these really deep conversations with yourself, why am I doing this?”

As she aged, she started really questioning these masks she’d held onto for so many years. She realized that the myths she’d been telling herself about how to have value weren’t true:

“I think that aging is absolutely a Gordian knot in terms of this country, this society, this culture and value placements. The different ways that value placements are laid on you if you fit inside nice little neat boxes, then the lie is that your value will go up. It’s not actually true. You can dance and rollerskate down the street and have sparks flying out and symbols on your knees. And laser beams coming out of your nipples and folks still will think you’re trash and that you’re not valuable and that you’re not human, especially if you’re wrapped in a Black body.”

Here’s Karen Yates’ experience:

“Somewhere around 46, 47, I suddenly felt I had been ejected from a machine that had valued me for certain things, but I didn’t even know I was in the machine.

“The machine was invisible. And what it did was it kept my gaze outward. It was a machine that made me externalize validation. And so I was looking inside this machine looking outward, validate me, validate me, validate me. But then once I got adjusted and I was no longer seen as valuable within a patriarchal culture, a capitalist culture because I couldn’t be sold the same things. I realized, ‘Ah, wow, I was in a machine.’ I was in a machine from the time I was young and now I’m out of it and, wow, it feels better. It feels a lot, a lot better.”

Being Kicked Out Can Be Traumatic And/Or Empowering

Many people have gotten benefits and privileges out of this system that values certain things such as masculine or feminine beauty. And losing those benefits can be traumatic. If this has been your experience, and you’re starting to lose these benefits or privilege, you have a choice to make:

“If you ever felt included in the first place, you kind of have to decide if you’re going to hold on to all of that stuff and keep trying to hang on to it,” Heather said. “And when you can’t, endlessly mourn or look for the benefits of being fully kicked out of the space. Because also there are benefits to being fully kicked out of the space.”

For Karen, the benefits of being kicked out include having more agency:

“I had a lot more rage when I was younger because I saw myself valued for things in my body.  I saw myself valued differently and I was rageful, but once I got booted out, now I get a chance at figuring out what I want to do for me. And I get to decide where my gaze is going. Is my gaze going to go externally? Fuck no. It’s going to go internally. And from the internal place, the power will then come outward. You’re not going to give me power. I am going to take the power.”

For Omisade, power comes from focusing on what brings her pleasure:

“Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategies is a Bible for me. And Pleasure Activism came online specifically at the time I was in some deeper exploration around my experiences with pleasure.

“Pleasure that is both through my own sexual expression, but also non-sexual expression pleasure. And what are the things I actually enjoy that are not necessarily coping mechanisms, but they actually give me real pleasure and how I can also claim those things and feel like I’m okay with that. Like there are things that I enjoy that I want to keep, and that’s been a part of this aging journey too, to be like ‘Oh, I liked that thing. And I’m going to keep doing that thing cause it brings me pleasure.'”

But she also explained that some societal masks are necessary to keep people safe. “Some of the masks that we wear, I will never let go of, because I live in this country as a Black person. So that’s just not an option. No matter how much exploration or learning or commitment to authenticity … I still live in a racist society that does not believe that I have value and is trying to kill me and my children.”

Listen or read more of this chat.

https://www.facebook.com/246278795441218/videos/1238077099907956/

 

Transcript from the Video

Heather: Oh, sure, sure you did it.

Omisade: Funny.

Jera: All Right? At some point, the little announcement will come up that we’re live. Oh, we’re live! I doubt anybody’s watching it, but as we’ve said, this will be recorded. So thank you all for tuning in and watching this. This is going to be a conversation about menopause. You know what, because two of you literally wrote the book about it, tell me how to use perimenopause in a sentence because I get so confused.

Heather: The best description that I’ve liked about it is someone describing it as the brackets around menopause. Right? So it’s what comes before, and then it’s a year after. Menopause is like, if you weren’t looking at it, when it happened, you missed it.

Jera: Oh, funny. Okay.

Omi: Do you really think that?

Heather: That’s how they’re classifying it right now. Which basically changes every … is that menopause is the moment when it’s been a year since you had a period. It’s that moment. So again, there’s a moment … ope! There it was. I mean, I guess you could make a day of it.

Karen: You could go out to lunch.

Heather: I mean, I will.

Omisade: I’m seven years without a cycle. So when I had my year anniversary of no cycle, I was ‘Oh, this is for real.’ And then of course I went to my gynecologist and I was like, so check it, nothing for 365 days. And they were ‘365?’ I said 365 consecutive days, because it’s one of those situations where it’s a do-over. So you could go 363 days, and then …

Karen: That happened to a friend of mine. Seriously.

Heather: You went all the way to the top and went on the wrong then and you go all the way down the slide. All the way back.

Omisade: It feels it! It feels you’re going to remediation for some kind of geometry or something. You’re just ‘How did I end up in remediation? what’s up?’

Jera: Yeah. Well and part of this is about, I think, two things. That there’s not one experience with it and to normalize everybody’s experience. And the other is the lack of research around it for so many reasons, which I think we’ll get into. But since you’ve already started talking about your experiences, why doesn’t everybody … I’ll start! I’m Jera Brown. I’m the host of Just The Tip, which is Rebellious Magazine’s sex and relationship advice column. I have not gone through menopause. I am thirty … how old am I? I’m 38. About to turn 39. So I’m nearing that phase where things happen. So this is interesting to me, but I’m hosting this conversation with three people who have gone through it and have written about it or … you know what, Karen, you can describe your own experience. You’re the one that hasn’t written about it, but has other related experience. So Karen, why don’t you start by introducing yourself and we’ll go counterclockwise.

Karen: Sure. I’m Karen Yates, I’m a somatic sex educator. Somatic means more of the body. And I host a live show and a podcast called Wild and Sublime about sexuality and relationships no matter your orientation, gender, or relationship style or your preferences. I am also, I do alternative healing using a method called biofield tuning, which is using frequency on the energy field of the body to release patterning that no longer serves us.

Omisade: Which, which way are we going?

Jera: You started talking, you wanted to introduce yourself?.

Omisade: Yeah. Cause I was I’m not sure which way we’re going, so sure. Hey. So my name is Omisade Burney Scott. I am zooming in from North Carolina this evening. I’m 53, my pronouns are she her and hers. Hmm. I think of myself as actually as an adventurer or a discover around this menopause journey. And so the way that I’ve been on this adventure or this discovery place is two stories, which is how Heather and I got connected and,fun fact, Heather and I have the same birthdays. So we’re both April 18th — Aries cusp of power. And I started a podcast and a kind of a multimedia storytelling space a couple of years ago now, it’s almost two years called the Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause for a few reasons. Cause one, I wasn’t finding that there was a lot of information out there about how Black women, Black femmes, and gender-nonconforming Black folk who identify as Black are experiencing menopause or aging, what their stories are, what they need, what they want and most of the stories that I am collecting or are cultivating or holding space for is not from a medical standpoint — it’s definitely from a healing standpoint. And also from what I feel is a really deeply intimate, vulnerable place where people get to talk about this journey. Which, I don’t know if anybody’s been watching Lovecraft Country, but it really reminds me very much of this most recent episode I am where Hippolyta has this intergalactic interdimensional experience around her identity and where she wants to be and who she wants to be and claiming that. And I think, as Black women, I’m speaking for myself specifically as a Southern-born Black woman, I’m a seventh-generation North Carolinian. A lot of the ways in which I felt aging was — that narrative was pushed, pressed into my body — I’m unlearning. So we use story to make that happen. And I’m really excited to be a part of this conversation because one of the conversations we explore quite often is intimacy and pleasure and expression. .And so what does that look for you when you are unlearning so many things around what this aging journey looks like? And because we live in a society, the type are fixated on whiteness and youthfulness, this can be a really tricky conversation and I’m glad to do it.

Heather: Hi, I’m Heather Corinna, educator and a writer. I’m the founder of Scarleteen, which is the sex education clearing house for young people. I’m the author of this book [holds up a copy of s.e.x.: the all-you-need-to-know sexuality guide to get you through your teens and twenties] and the coauthor of this book. [holds up a copy of wait, what?: a comic book guide to relationships, bodies, and growing up] And the book I’m in the middle of writing is a book called What the Fresh Hell is This? A Guide to Menopause and Perimenopause, while I’m still in it, which has been feally fun. Especially also in a pandemic. So that’s what’s been happening.

Jera: I’m going to attempt to be hosting this conversation while also watching Facebook for your questions and comments. And I’ve also started putting links to everybody’s work, as well as a recent interview that I did with …all right, I’ll just start a watch party later. There’s there we go. Wait, everybody’s talking. Okay. That’s the problem with watching Facebook while you do this, as it starts .. it’s on mute, I don’t know why she’s talking …

Jera: There was a comic treatment shaping the conversations around menopause that I highly recommend. It’s a number of folks’ comic versions of the story, so you can find that on rebellious magazine as well. And in the comments on this. So forgive me while I switch back and forth between things. We talked about how to shape this conversation and one of the questions that I posed to y’all — and this is for anybody that feels talking about it. What has stigmatized, what is stigmatized about the aging prod process and aging bodies both in general, but also how race, sexual orientation, marital status, gender, and health fit into it. I know it’s really big, but does anybody have some opening thoughts around it?

Omisade: I can dive in if I may. So, this is the society we live in is real tricky. I’ve been doing a lot of kind of self exploration around what kind of messages was I getting as a kid? .So I was born in 1967. I grew up in the seventies and the eighties. And so a lot of the ways that I was framing my identity and framing what I felt was my value quotient — how valuable I was in my family or with my friends or in love relationships — all of these messages I was getting around my Blackness, messages I was getting around my girlness. And the Black community, there’s also colorism. So how brown was I? Was I too brown to be considered attractive or light enough to be considered attractive?

There’s a whole lot of crap that I felt I was getting. And I was also getting messages from my parents. Like, ‘You’re this amazing kid. We love you. You’re good.’ And I was ‘Yeah, you think I’m good? I don’t know that folks outside the house think I’m good though.’ You know? So I had a very loving upbringing with older parents who were also very Southern and very old-school. But they’re people of their generation and I think, not for nothing, I think they did a pretty decent job. And once you leave the house though, you’re getting all these messages around ‘This is the thing that you need to do if you’re going to be considered valuable, if you’re going to be considered desirable, if you’re going to be considered lovable, outside of the people who actually gave birth to you.’

And so I feel at some point with these narratives that I was getting, I started to create a safety net for myself. Well, I know that I’m living in a world that doesn’t Black people, doesn’t brown-skinned girls. And what am I going to do to fix that? How am I going to garner the respect or the attention, or show myself as valuable? .So I just started doing different things that were very performative, and they stuck. They were performative in nature. And then I perfected my craft of performance of being a hyper-performative person, being hyperactive, excelling academically, doing the stuff that popular folk would do to be ‘Okay, that will help me feel, inside that that’s where I can be.’ Well, when you start to age, and this is my personal opinion, when you start to age, whatever mask that you started cultivating.

And I think I started cultivating these masks on the onset of my cycle. When I got my period, I was 12 in 1979. So this is 2020 a little while ago. At 12, I started curating masks to keep me safe. This is the mask for school. This is the mask around friends. When I figured out that I was attracted to someone, this is the mask around how I’m going to show up with this person I’m attracted to. It’s very easy to hold these masks in place when your breasts are high, very easy to hold these masks in place when you don’t have grey pubic hair. But when things start to slide, (this is my version of the breast going this), when things start to slide and give way. And you start to have these really deep conversations with yourself, why am I doing this? Does this make any sense? Where did this even come from? You also start to think again about the landscape. I’ve been doing social justice work for 25 years. So do landscape analysis, to do a critical critique of systems is my jam. But to do a critique on myself as an aging Black woman, I was ‘Oh, not that. I’m not sure that’s terrain I want to … cause there’s so much invested in that. So much safety. But it has been a worthy journey. And I think that aging is absolutely a Gordian knot in terms of this country, this society, this culture and value placements. The different ways that value placements are laid on you if you fit inside, nice little neat boxes. And if you can check these boxes, then the lie is that your value will go up.

It’s not actually true. You can dance all you want. You can dance and rollerskate down the street and have sparks flying out and symbols on your knees. And, laser beams coming out of your nipples and folks still will think you’re trash and that you’re not valuable and that you’re not human, especially if you’re wrapped in a Black body. So figuring out ways to unlearn these things as we get older has been, I think, a generational footprint for me and my friends, which I’m grateful for, because I think that this conversation that I’m having with Black women who are in their fifties and sixties and seventies and eighties, and the oldest person I interviewed was in their nineties, not a conversation that my mother got to access. And I wonder if my mother had been able to access this conversation, what choices she might have made for herself that would have been liberatory and how might that have extended her life?

Because my mother died when she was 68 years old, you know? And so I think about that and think, ‘Am I extending my life with this work that I’m doing?’ I think I am. To unlearn a lot of these things around who I am, what my value is, how I keep myself safe, the choices I make and how I express myself and also what intimacy and authentic relationships look for me. And not what society has told me they should look like. And so I, that’s my kind of long and short answer of, for me in this very diverse way that Black people show up, that there’s, there’s a huge opportunity to access joy and pleasure that we’ve been told is not available to us because we are problematized and we are not seen as human.

Karen: Did you say something to me?

Heather: I said, did you want to take a turn? I didn’t want to …

Karen: Yeah. I just wanted to say, and thank you Omisade for your what you said. It brought me back to, I grew up with a single mom who was a working woman. And I remember really her being terrified of being too old to change her job, being she had to stay at this job. She hated because she really felt that if she went to another job, she couldn’t look for another job and she wouldn’t be hired. And so she felt very imprisoned, I think by her age. And the lack of choices for her, even though I, as a child, didn’t see that for her. She saw it for herself. And you know, I was doing an interview the other day with someone and I mentioned that for me, the process of getting older is … somewhere around 46, 47, I suddenly felt I had been ejected from a machine that had valued me for certain things, but I didn’t even know I was in the machine.

The machine was invisible. And what it did was it kept my gaze outward. It was a machine that made me externalize validation. And so I was looking inside this machine looking outward, validate me, validate me, validate me. But then once I got adjusted and I was no longer seen as valuable within a patriarchal culture, a capitalist culture because I couldn’t be sold the same things. I realized, ‘Ah, wow, I was in a machine.’ I was in a machine from the time I was young and now I’m out of it and, wow, it feels better. It feels a lot, a lot better. I actually, I was more rageful. I mean, it’s funny. It’s I knew I wasn’t a machine, but I knew I was in the machine. I knew I was in the matrix … I didn’t know it was in the matrix. Because I had a lot more rage when I was younger because I saw myself valued for things, things in my body, things on my body, whatever I saw myself valued differently and I was rageful, but once I got booted out, I was Oh, now I get a chance at figuring out what I want to do for me. And I get to decide where my gaze is going. Is my gaze going to go externally? Fuck no. It’s going to go internally. And from the internal place, the power will then come outward. You’re not going to give me power. I am going to take the power, you know? And so that was, that was a big game-changer for me. And it didn’t happen overnight, but it was significant. It was really significant. And my mind feels much more calm now than it ever did when I was younger. And I think part of that is due to age and I actually started liking the idea of children became much more palatable once I could not have children anymore.

Oh, kids are cool … Okay. Like, because I always felt this pressure reproduce, reproduce, reproduce. Just this kind of even though no one was saying that to me overtly, I felt it, it felt it. So, yeah.

Heather: I think it’s interesting. Both of you kind of have to say about cultural spaces. I mean, there are just so many axis of this, Right? With aging, with where … there’s just so many axis of it — just from a gender perspective alone. I mean, literally, cisgender men are the only people who are really allowed to age. cis women, especially femme cis women aren’t supposed to be aging the way that you age, both physically, intellectually, and emotionally, spiritually that you age. Nonbinary people, we’re all supposed to look Tinkerbell and Peter Pan had a baby and be frozen forever.

Omisade: I just had that visual impact.

Heather: It is! I’m there’s what it is. You know, trans women are never allowed to get old. Just, never. That’s just off the table, and trans man barely. But if your body starts to nonconform to what’s supposed to happen in order for you to be masculine, then the same thing goes and that’s just from looking Right? that’s just appearance that doesn’t even get into all of the ways that there was … I mean, it’s what you said. There was never a place carved out for any of us and you hear a lot of people expressing a lot of fear about kind of getting kicked out of the garden, and you’re not in the garden. You were never in the garden. maybe if it gave you some protection. I mean, there’s some benefits that people glean from it, but ultimately it’s one of these things where I think, you kind of have to decide if you ever felt included in that in the first place, if you’re going to hold on to all of that stuff and keep trying to hang on to it. And when you can’t endlessly mourn what you did or look for the benefits of being fully kicked out of the space. Because also there are benefits to being fully kicked out of the space, and visibility is a super power.

Jera: So especially what Omisade was talking about reminded me of a conversation I had with a clinical therapist Sarah Hempel about dating after sexual trauma. And the reason is that one of the things that Sarah was talking about is how there’s layers of trauma that people don’t always work through because of cultural messages and because of just systemic oppression and how it leads to trauma. And then the responses to trauma are more stigmatized. So and this is a piece on my column, but if people turn in or are more likely to be sexually active, then it’s a trauma response that can be stigmatized. If people become more prudish, that’s a sexual response that people are stigmatized for. And the way that we talked about trauma was something that opens your eyes to the fact that the world is not a safe place or fucks with your concept of safety and control. But in a lot of ways, it sounds this idea of what did you call it Karen … it feels not being on a rollercoaster anymore or not being in the matrix, it feels a sort of a similar thing to what happens when you go through a trauma and all of a sudden the scripts are taken away and you’re outside of it.

Karen: That’s an interesting idea to look at it. I mean, and of course I think it’s absolutely apt that the experience of being a woman in Western or a cisgendered woman or a femme identifying person in Western culture is a type of trauma. It is. It’s an interesting yeah, but I don’t know, coming out of it. I felt a lot less — I could see it, but I was glad to be out of it. I mean, it didn’t feel, yeah. Heather, what do you have to say?

Heather: I mean, I do actually think that it is traumatic for some people. I mean, especially if you have, if it is giving you protection and you do get benefits, because I think there’s one of these things that happens. You see it a lot in the culture, right? Which is that as someone starts to get older, who is anything, but a man you get the most points for being able to continue to meet all of the standards. Right? But you get some points if you can’t continue to meet them, but you seem you’re still trying. Right? You know, it’s whether that trying is in your physical appearance and presentation or that trying is an, all of the things you do to enter yourselves to patriarchy and, and the culture, and to still try and, stay in whatever position gave you.

But there’s some people for whom even trying, they’re not going to be recognized as trying. Right? And that’s, that’s a lot, Right? That’s then a loss, especially if you want it, all of the things that it gave you, those things might’ve sucked and they were probably way less valuable than you thought that they were. Right? But if, especially, if you thought those things were the things that protected you and it’s not even that it’s even if you try, you can’t have them anymore, that it’s actually, it sounds pretty fucking scary. Like it’s one of those things where I’ve kind of tried to put myself in a lot of people’s positions because there’s somebody who is not heterosexual. I mean, there’s not so many things, Right? I’ve almost never been included in this stuff. And so I think Karen says to me, it’s kind of a relief, that I’m like ‘Oh, thank God. Now I’m not even expected to try because it won’t count anyway. So cool.’ But I know that, I know that there are people for whom that’s not their experience.

Omisade: No, the interesting, I’m glad we’re talking about safety because the interesting thing, so a lot of my work tends to be also around transformative justice and healing justice. Right? And so one of the conversations we have around transformative justice specifically around safety in BIPoc communities is that you have to figure out safety because your life depends on it. Right? And so some of the coping mechanisms, some of the performative things that we do, some of the masks that we wear, I will never let go of, because I live in this country as a Black person. So that’s just not an option, Right? It’s just no matter how much kind of exploration or learning or commitment to authenticity, commitment to delving into what are these conditions tendencies? And I’m walking, but I still live in a racist society that does not believe that I have value and is trying to kill me and my children.

Cause I do have children. I have two children who identify as boys, Right? One’s 28. One’s going to be 12 and they move in the world as Black men. And so when I think about at what point do you no longer, are you no longer not considered … I don’t know … for Black kids, there’s a certain point where you’re no longer safe. Right? And so there’s, so that gets added to the mix. I think about that. What does that mean for folks who identify as girls? What does that mean for folks who identify as boys. at what point are you now seen as a problem or seen as potentially violent or seen as something to be handled or managed or neutralized? And so all of that also gets added into the mix as you’re thinking and your whatever work you’re doing to kind of tease out and be well, what the hell?

Did I get this from my home place? From my parents, from my peer group? Oh, let me just throw this all in this big, giant cauldron and try to tease out the things I feel I can really tease out. And the things I’m just this is going to have to stay here unless I decide to live in another dimension, which is not available to me at this point. Another thing I wanted to say, which I’m working on it though, I am working on it. The other thing I wanted to say is I’ve been, I read Pleasure Activism quite a bit. I read a lot of Adrienne’s work. So Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategies is a Bible for me. And Pleasure Activism came online specifically at the time I was in some deeper exploration around my experiences with pleasure.

Pleasure that is both through my own sexual expression, but also non-sexual expression pleasure. And what are the things I actually enjoy that are not necessarily coping mechanisms, but they actually give me real pleasure and how I can also claim those things and feel like I’m okay with that. Like there are things that I enjoy that I want to keep, and that’s been a part of this aging journey too, to be like Oh, I liked that thing. And I’m going to keep doing that thing cause it brings me pleasure.

Jera: So we’re starting to get questions. Somebody asked, how did my menopause leave for five years then return, and I want to incorporate this question into a larger question too. Like, you’re welcome to answer that if you have thoughts. Also what are safer places for people to find answers to questions this or find community and resources around the menopause experience. Did you all hear that by the way? I said it pretty fast. Okay.

Heather: I can go ahead and start. I mean, I think that we’re in a really interesting moment right now. Because there’s really, there’s really a lack of a lot of resources and we’re starting, they’re starting to be a little bit of a boom around it. So in some ways I wish we could travel forward in time. And you could ask that a year from now, because I think that a year from now we will be a wash in things. Some of those things aren’t going to be great because we’re also about to be marketed to within it starting already within a half of inch for our lives. So it’s going to be one of those situations where we have to figure out how to separate the wheat, the chaff, and what’s for real and what just wants my money. But I mean, I do think it’s one of these things where an educated health care provider, whatever kind of healthcare provider or modality you want to be in is pretty much always a good start. Everyone can always ask what their background is. I think one of the unfortunate things right now is that so few people have dedicated menopause training. The people most likely to have it are OB/GYNs, but only because it will be OB/GYNS often kind of serve as general women’s health care providers, but even that’s 20%. So it’s one of those things where unfortunately, it’s a lot of trans house, the screening process to find somebody is usually not going to be a light lift. You you’re going to have to ask some of your friends you can ask around. So that’s somewhere to start with. You know, I think that right now, a lot of the books that have been out are kind of just past their date enough. But some of that is that also this is barely 30 years of really solid study. So having written a sex education book before, you know, I’m a health writer, so I know how quickly it changes, but this one that I’m in now, every day I have to move stuff because stuff is moving really fast.

So that’s the other thing too. You just, anyone that can help you out, you want to make sure that there’s somebody who, they’re reading the Google alerts. And I mean, they’re really keeping up to date with what it is, but I think it’s one of these where peer to peer asks are probably one of your best bets, especially if you want something local. I do think that a lot of people assume it has to be an OB /YN, which if somebody is having issues that are vulva vaginal or uterine, then yeah, that’s obviously your right person to go to. But also an endocrinologist and trans healthcare providers hack hormones. I mean, that’s what they do, Right? So if you can find somebody with that stuff and that’s in your reach, plenty of GPs can. And there’s a lot of places that can be good places to start, but you know, right now we’re at you were just getting started with so many things right now,

Jera: Assuming a lot of things can mess with those hormones too, right? Antidepressants or even in depression or food or even lifestyle. Is that true?

Heather: One of the things that I thought made it easier for me to understand why everything is so terrible, because I have not been having a great time, which I’m always happy because then I can tell people that statistically, I’m having way worse time than you. Right? Which makes everyone but me feel better. So that’s good. But one of the ways that I was trying to be like how is something that’s about my uterus bothering my feet? I really need to understand this. And the easiest way for me to understand it was to find out that we have estrogen and progesterone receptors all over, like there’s not a system of our body that we don’t have them in. And we, I mean, if you had menstrual periods, you already know, Right? Shit shifts and everything goes haywire. And so, to me, that was kind of the easiest thing to understand, but everything potentially plays into it.

You were talking about trauma earlier. One of the things that wasn’t showing up in so much stuff is trauma plays a huge part in people’s experiences. But you know, that’s not really on the map, especially when this is defined as something that is purely reproductive, Right? That is only about if you’re going to reproduce anymore, you’re not going to reproduce anymore, and any discomfort you may have in the middle. Right? Like, and that’s it. There’s not … again, we’re starting to have more people that have that, but there’s not been a lot of kind of holistic view points., I mean another one is always here. There’s I can’t tell you how many books I read that made a point of talking about how Black women have higher rates of more frequent and uncomfortable hot flashes. And when you see what you see about trauma and hot flashes, it all makes a whole lot of sense and the connection’s right there, but it’s another one of these things, things where everybody kind of circles around in a weird way. And it’s, it’s hard to chase the information.

Karen: Heather, can you talk a little bit more about the correlation between trauma and hot flashes and just in general, what the statistics are?

Heather: I mean, here’s the bummer that all of us with trauma already knew, which is that you can’t have trauma and not have it fuck with everything, right? Because that’s what it is. And with menopause, it’s almost everything people with trauma. We usually started a little bit earlier. It lasts a little bit longer for us. All of the things that can bother us are more likely to bother us, bother us more frequently, bother us more severely. So pretty much any impact that you can have because of menopause. If you’ve had trauma, it’s there, but then there’s some more specific stuff, for people that have had explicitly genital sexual trauma, if then you’re having a whole bunch of vulvovaginal stuff where you’re in pain all of the time, then you’re so, you’re soaking in that trauma potentially nonstop.

And then you’re stressed. And the more stressed that we are, the worse everything gets. I mean, it’s just this, it’s … again, it’s the usual snowball with trauma, the more traumatic we are, the sicker weekend, it’s kind of all this stuff and it’s always bad news. We’re like, ‘Oh, yay.’ Because it wasn’t enough to be traumatized. Then you get all these marvelous side benefits.

Jera: Somebody asked what does it mean that we have estrogen receptors all over our body? Can you just explain a little further?

Heather: I understand everything from the simple way. So the simple way is just to think of it as there are places that you can pick up where that is and where that hormone is going to touch and go through as it moves through your body, right? So you can have digestive issues because of perimenopause and menopause, because when you have fluctuations of estrogen or you have lower estrogen, or your shit’s just influx all over the place. It’s sending signals to all of those systems of your body. It’s through that, kind of think of it a neural net, but for hormones.

Omisade: It’s like hormonal cartography that making it.

Heather: That’s it.

Jera: Karen, I think you would be a good person to ask about this. Somebody asked, ‘I found that I’m more sexually expressive since hitting perimenopause, but at the same time I’ve lost some sensitivity vaginally. Is there anything you can recommend over the counter or any practices.

Karen: Yeah, I mean, a lot of people have really good responses to CBD infused lubricants. And I would just say, look online too. I mean, if you’re sober, you’re not going to have a response to that. I mean, if you’re worried about any you know mood-altering aspects, that’s not going to occur. And so that actually adds a lot of sensitivity to the vulva and the vagina. And you will, you want to be doing is you want to be, you don’t want to be putting you, don’t be applying it immediately before sex. You want to give it some time to kind of work into your system before you start, maybe initiating sexual contact. So that’s a very good thing. I also recommend, there’s something that has kind of a dumb name, but it’s very cool, it’s called the crystal wand. And it’s actually made of Lucite acrylic. And it looks a little honey dipper and it can be really good for self-exploration internally in terms of working with your vagina at your own speed. We’re talking about cartography, but a sort of a remapping of your internal system, because I think so much of menopause is about remapping our central selves and desire and how the desire changes. And so it’s not necessarily the desire evaporates, it’s just that you’re having a really new sensual relationship with your body. And it’s who are you now when the hormones maybe for you in the past have been yeah, you’ve always been go, go, go already. But maybe now it’s different. It’s just a different way to get to know yourself and to really take time to learn how to do that.

I’ve been more sexually active in my fifties than I have for most of my life. And so it’s been an amazing journey. And I began it when I guess you would say perimenopausal because my periods were just starting to slide, you know? But throughout this whole time it’s been a great, great discovery process for myself, but a lot of self-exploration for sure.

Jera: So a couple things Adriana, you know what, I don’t know how to pronounce your last name. I’m not going to try it, but linked to a menopause practitioner portal where you can find specific menopause practitioners in the threads. So that’s awesome. Thank you so much. I also linked to my most recent article for the column where I interviewed a nurse practitioner and qualitative researcher who’s looking at menopause and there’s some stuff in there about solutions, including the last link, which is to Women’s International Pharmacy, which has affordable solutions for things like estriol cream that can help folks with vulvas find things that we’re talking about. One of the last questions that we’ve got so far what are what messages were you told about menopause when you were a child? Was it part of the talk about periods or was it left out?

Omisade: So the conversations where… you were just an observant. So I grew up in a family with 16 first cousins that were women. Cause my dad had a fairly large family and so there were always, and so my eldest sister is 73. I’m 53, my younger sister 52. And so my, my sister’s number one in the grandkids, my younger sister’s 52, she’s the last one of the crop. Right? I felt I was always, there were always kitchen conversations that were happening around the change. Right? Cause that was a phone call or the change, I remember my aunt Emma had an ubiquitous washcloth thrown over her shoulder for her hot flashes. it was ever present. It’s in her fifties it was always. And I was like, is she really, is it that bad?

Like I just, I judged her being a teenager, me. And why is that washcloth always on her shoulder? And she would freeze you out. you want to go stay at her house, but you’re it’s going to be so cold in Aunt Emma’s house because you better not touch the thermostat. Right? So it was that in retrospect, there are stories that I had access to that don’t make, it didn’t make sense to meet them, but make sense to me now. Like my parents got divorced when my mother was 50 and my mother had my sister and I, my, my sister and I late, my mother had me when she was 37 and my sister was, she was 38. My mother was born in 1930. So for her generation that was considered hella late to have kids. Right? So I feel in the midst of that perimenopausal experience and a menopause experience, there was some really significant relationship shifts for my mom.

And she made some choices around those relationships. But I think I would want to have a conversation with her now. if I could time travel and have a conversation in a cocktail with my fifty-year-old mother, I’d be mommy, how were you feeling at that point? Like, what was up with you? I know there was rage. I know there was depression. I know there were huge shifts. We were living in Maryland at the time we moved from Maryland back to North Carolina. It was some big things happening for you. And I want to, I would want to know how she also saw that living those conversations or those truths living inside of her experience with menopause and aging. I also feel at some point my mother, I decided that she was not going to pursue more intimate relationships with people.

I know that she got to a certain point. Yeah. Yeah. You know, one of the things, one of the narratives I have inherited as a Black Southern woman, is that at a certain age, your love goes to either your children, your grandchild, or Jesus — white Jesus. So that’s the narrative. You’re not going to be dating. You’re not going to be engaging in any kind of intimacy or anything that. that’s what you’re kind of relegated to. That was a generation that precedes. Now that’s not necessarily to say that everybody followed that trope, but a lot of people did. And I bore witness to that. I saw that. Right? And it feels to me that at some point my mom decided, I don’t think I can date anymore because I got to raise the girls. Right? I’m divorced, I’m a nurse.

I don’t have time for dating. I don’t have time for my own pleasure. I don’t have time to date or be intimate with someone who I enjoy. I’ve got to focus on the girls. So I would definitely want to have a conversation with her. I think one of the reasons why I, that I told her that this is one of the reasons why I started the podcast is because I really wish I could have that conversation with my mom. My mother passed away in 1998. So she’s been gone awhile. I was 31 when my mother transitioned. So I want to physically have that conversation with her. Like, yo, I so get it. Yeah.

Heather: Yeah. The family. Well, I didn’t have a period talk. I think mine happened earlier than was maybe expected. So Judy Bloom taught me everything I needed to know about periods. And she didn’t talk about menopause. I would love to hear her talk about menopause. I imagine she has some amazing things to say, but also too though, my grandmother on my father’s side didn’t live long enough. Most of the, I can’t think of any women on that side that lived long enough. My mother’s family, all the women who had all the babies that they could have until their parts blew, and then you were given a hysterectomy. I mean, basically my grandma’s there, by the time that she died had had both a radical hysterectomy. And because this hysterectomy again, working class was done so poorly, it prolapsed. I mean, I don’t even know what was left inside. My grandmother for me, it was that there wasn’t anyone around who could have had that conversation. My mother was the oldest of all her siblings. She was young. My mother was 19 when she had me. So all her friends were young. So, I mean, for me, it was one of these things where until my mother got breast cancer, that, and that’s really my mother and I had been pretty estranged. So there are a lot of conversations that we weren’t having, but we were communicating again by the time that she got breast cancer. And that’s the only reason that conversation really came up because she’d been using estrogen. And, I was trying to do some research in there that was, but you know, all that I knew even about it from that was that it was disruptive enough for my mother to choose estrogen. But I also think, she and I were just talking about this a few weeks ago. That that’s, that was not a choice in her era. That was especially, my mother works in healthcare, that’s someone says it’s time, they write you a prescription, and off you go. I t’s almost just at the front of it. Right? Whereas if you go in, you have a uterus, you say you’re sexually active. There’s the pill prescription in your hand, here we are again. So yeah. I mean, it just wasn’t and even as a reproductive health and sexuality educator, honestly, I mostly work with young people. So while I know the whole lifespan, there’s, again, there’s still not a lot unless it’s around, unless it’s directly around you and your community.

Yeah. My mom was you Omisade, my mom was older when she had me. Back in the day, that was 33 was considered Whoa. And you know, she didn’t speak of it when she was going through the change, but it was only in retrospect, she’s well, I never had hot flashes, but then what I remember was a lot of rage and which was part of the trauma of, of her life. But it was intensified, the mood shifts intensified. And then kind of after a couple of years, it just sort of settled down again. And so yeah, I didn’t get a talk. I didn’t certainly didn’t get a talk when I was in fourth grade watching the Walt Disney cartoon on menstruation. “The story of menstruation,” [Singing].

You know, it’s funny because we just aired on WIld and Sublime, we just aired the interview we did with Heather last year on the live show. And so we were talking in that interview, we were talking about the story of menstruation and I went back, I watched it on YouTube and we have it in our show notes for that episode. But it was man, that was crazy. The images were so wacky.

Heather: They only did those films, those health films, because all of the Hollywood studios were shut down for other productions because it was during World War II for a bunch of years. I mean, you’re like, this is Fantasia about periods.

Karen: The one thing I just remember when I was a kid was the young woman in the shower stall with little ice cubes trickling down her head, like don’t take a cold shower, whatever you do.

Omisade: You know, it’s something you just, I think both of you were saying, but in particular, Heather, around the reproductive health piece, the work that I’ve done with reproductive justice, I’ve been thinking lot more about menopause and aging. And the bodily autonomy piece that extends pass, that, we feel we have this hyper fixation around reproduction, of course. It’s the fecundity you have that’s where we want to zero in on consent, zero in on autonomy, agency, all those things. It’s what happens when you’re 90? And you’re having a conversation with whomever, whether that’s someone who you want to spend time with, someone who you want to be with, or your doctor for that matter. One of the sisters that I interview who I’m very close with to 90 years old, her doctor speaks to her like she’s a child, and she’s had some health issues because she’s 90.

And so when the doctor has given her the information, she gets to decide what she wants to do. And the doctors, I feel I should talk to your kids. And she’s like, I don’t have any cognitive issues.S”o it is absolutely that kind of thing was Oh, so when you’re 12 and your period starts, or when you’re however old you are, when you do, you start to have sex, this is what you should do, that this is what you should do” finger continues, right? It continues. You get to the place where well, this is what you should do now because you know, you’re older. And I don’t think you understand what we mean by this. So the paternalistic patriarchal ways in which people speak to you absolutely is amplified in your eldership.

Jera: I was talking to the same nurse practitioner and researcher that I interviewed for this was also talking about how consent is an issue during pregnancy and during birth-giving, and I don’t know why that surprised me. It shouldn’t surprise me. Consent is always an issue when you’re talking about intimacy on the body. And it’s just not something that is addressed often enough.

So I encourage everybody listening to go through all of these comments because there’s a lot of resources that people have mentioned. Nina Rice says more info info on locating clinicians here. Nurse-midwives can be a good resource. They usually have more time to spend. And for folks watching this, not on Facebook or listening, all of these links will also be available on Rebellious Magazine at Just the Tip. We’ll put everything together. If you have other questions, cause there are some questions that are very clinical. We’re not going to get to check out. These resources mentioned and Omisade’s whole podcast covers a lot of this. A Heather’s book is going to go into this. Karen, do you do anything with your, your practice around these types of issues?

Karen: Well, I am in October, I’m going to be doing a biofield tuning series on Sunday night around menopause. This Sunday night, 7:00 PM is going to be on balance: balancing the system. The one after that’s going to be on reclaiming power and the third week of the 18th is going to be on igniting desire. So it’s, it’s more about kind of re reorienting yourself to yourself. But yeah, you can find more information on that in the notes, which is Karen-yates.com. Alson in, in future Wild and Sublime podcasts, we’re going to be definitely doing a series of interviews around aging and sexuality for sure.

Jera: Awesome. and if there’s enough need for it, then we’ll, we’ll keep covering it with Rebellious Magazine, as well. Cause there’s a lot of questions. This is, I think this is a great question to end on and thank you so much for your time and your projects and doing such a great job of doing this in a justice centered inclusive way, all three of you. As we, as we leave someone asked with friends, to open the conversation, what are the guiding questions that can help us explore the experience? Like, do you mind all just leaving one question that you think has helped ground your own experience that you think would start to help build community and find intimacy among peers?

Omisade: Yeah. I really love time travel. I’m a little bit of a scifi nurse and I’m also an Afrofuturist. So I’m always wanting people to tap portals. I want you to tap a portal open and if you can tap a portal open, where would you want to go and who would you want to have a conversation with? And sometimes I want people to have that time travel conversation with themselves. If you could go back to a particular age, knowing what you know now, knowing what you’re learning and unlearning now, where would you want to go? You know, it could be your past self or your future self. And I have found legit, 80% of the time with the conversations I’ve been having on the podcast, folks want to time travel back to her about 12. Right? And it’s really interesting to me. Me and Mona Eltahawy, Oh, Heather, the conversation that Mona and I had about our 12 year old selves, I was undone by that conversation because it was so powerful for her to be experienced with the same age or in the same year.

She was 12 in Egypt, and I was 12 in Maryland. And the fact that we were having such similar experiences was so profound to me. And it’s the beginnings of your identity that is divorced from your family. in a very deep way where you’re moving in this world and yes, I know what my relationships are inside of my home, but my identity is, as I’m moving out in the world, become even more amplified. And if I could go back and give a gift to my 12-year-old self, as my identities were coming online, what would I say to her? How would I treat her and how am I treating her now? Because she is absolutely a part of my reintegration of all of my appetites in this journey. So now that I’m in this 53rd year of life, my 12 year old self gets to come along, I get to pull her and be yo check it. Like some of the stuff we were thinking, it was not accurate. And it’s okay, I love you. And I know why you did the things that you did and you’re, and you’re safe. You’re not banished. You’re not being judged. You’re not being shamed and you’re not in, you’re not in danger, beloved. And so that is one of the most beautiful things that I feel I’ve experienced with the conversations I’ve had with Black women. The second thing is I’m having these conversations with Black women, internationally Afro-German women, Black women in the UK, Karen Arthur who has a podcast Menopause Whilst Black is doing hella research about how Black women in the UK are experiencing it from this same kind of thing. Right? It’s fascinating to me, diasporically how similar our experiences are. And when does that light to get turned off or dimmed, when are you told to shrink and when do you reclaim that light? And so I just, I think that time travel and interdimensional conversations with yourself is the jam during the menopause.

Karen: I would say nurture your friendships with women that are older than you. learn from them. I have a lot of friends that are anywhere from six to 17 years older than me that I talk to regularly and it’s really beautiful and helpful. And then I would also say just the question of, if I take my age out of the picture, just the weight of this concept of age that doesn’t come from me, it comes exteriorly, what choices would I be making? Am I making, am I making limited choices because of this concept of age, this belief system of age, what are the qualities of aging that nurture me? The wisdom self or, Hey, I can do things a easier now because I’ve been doing them all my life. So I don’t have to think about these things, but what are the things that I can do differently because I’m leaving the rule book behind to just state waking up, staying awake. So I think that’s what I would say.

Heather: I think coming from this from a place of — and I don’t mean to instill fear in the hearts of everyone — of having a really bad time and having it also go on for fucking ever, I wasn’t really prepared for it, but where I got lucky is that I had pre-existing disability. And so I had skills when it came to just asking friends for help and knowing how to do all these things and all this stuff. And so I think one of the things that I’d say, just because of something I noticed a lot is when people do have a really bad time. I think I expected that if I had a bad time, it’d be for a month.

So needless to say, I’ve been a little surprised, but when, but then you’re like, ‘Oh fuck, what do I do?’ And you’re in it. And you’re having a bad time and you’re dealing with the rest of your life, which usually if it happens around this time of your life is already in profound chaos. So I think anything that you can do to nurture your relationships in your community, to make them more of communities of care. Care for yourself, which you’re gonna be needing to do more of, period. But also, mutual care for each other. Especially when I listen to especially a lot of cisgender straight women that are very worried that if they don’t continue to have these kinds of relationships, they’ll be adrift. You’ll grow old and your cats can’t pay the rent and all of these things, but this is not an issue if we all have mutual communities of care, this is not something that any of us, no one needs to worry about.

Omisade: That’s true.

Jera: I’m going to list one of my own that I think applies for all ages. And I think one of the things that struck me about this conversation is, I mean, even before we get to menopause, we’re still dealing with aging. You know it’s not all about “the change,” but just the things that happen as you go through life in a body and what scripts are you still holding on to? Cause I think even if you can answer that for yourself, I think it can be eyeopening, what scripts we haven’t even realized where we’re holding on to, and for what reason? So yeah, thank you once again, and thank you for tuning in and for asking questions. If you continue to have questions you can, you can email me@justthequestions@gmail.com. That’s where I take questions from my column. I can try to get to the right place. And if I can’t answer them, there are resources that you’ve found for at least how to reach out to the right person who might be able to help you. So I think that’s a wrap. Yeah. it’s been a good talk and everybody have a great, great evening. Thank you.

 

Photo by BBH Singapore on Unsplash

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Jera Brown writes about being a queer kinky polyamorous Christian on their blog scarletchurch.com. Their sex and relationship advice column, Just the Tip, is hosted by Rebellious Magazine. Follow them on Twitter or Instagram @thejerabrown.