Look, I hate to BRAG, but The Change came for me a little ahead of schedule. Certainly, it is not because I am some kind of over achiever, and I even thought it may have been brought on by extreme circumstances. At first, because I was only 41, I was misdiagnosed with adrenal fatigue. It’s understandable. Life around me was full of stress: The east coast saw my father fighting his malignant melanoma, while at home in San Francisco, my same-sex lover was suffering a bizarre and debilitating liver failure*. Her possible list of diseases and outcomes ranged from primary liver cancer and death to all manner of fantastically horrific ailments stoking fears associated with livers which had a place at the table as well. I would go from unloading pallets at Rainbow Grocery before dawn to the hospital and back while I studied nutrition and coaching at night and began seeing my very first clients. Ginger’s face laid yellow on a pillow in a hospital bed, my dad had surgery across the entire nation, and I bridged the waking hours vacillating between a kind of blown open fear and grief and a dumbstruck automaton mode with no ability to modulate the tones in my voice. It’s fair to say I felt stressed out. When I could feel anything at all. And my period, I finally noticed, had become unreliable.
Now, to be clear: I didn’t give a shit if it was menopause. I truly didn’t. Kids had already been ruled out, Ginger prefers me fat, and I’ve always thought my crone years would be my most powerful and sexiest. I’d been busy growing out the grey in my hair anyhow, collecting tunics, scarves, and muumuus, daydreaming about Mrs. Roper, and concocting my own Jewish, dyke, suburban ex-punk, version of her look since I’d turned 40 in August of 2010. The thing is, I did want to make sure I was ok. I had to check that all the odd things coming for me like storm clouds fell into the normal category of aging. Because WOMEN ARE NOT ALLOWED TO AGE UP IN THIS HIZZY, it’s hard to know what the fuck normal is. No one talks about the real (cis)lady details of things because our culture has made our parts unsavory, unmentionable, and as such, ultimately at risk. If we don’t talk about what things are like, we never know if something might be off. We don’t see the doctor, and we water the Garden of Shame with our silent discomfort and confusion.
So. There I am, trying to support stress management by giving yoga the 473rd try in life. I’m down the street at the gross gym in a class of like 230 people crammed into a soulless hall of mirrors when I am almost knocked over by a scent so strong, I forget I’m trying to touch my toes. Holy Mother of God. Is That …
IS THAT MY PUSSY?!?!?
Obviously in my life circumstances, my vag wasn’t getting the attention she usually did from me. Life gets like that sometimes. But I had spent my life with her and I knew the general scent profile. And this, my friends, THIS WAS NOT IT. I was like, Sweet Jesus, Everyone In This Room Can Smell My Dang Twat. I got up and left. I mean I bolted. Faster than a cat with a hot foot. Bitches were moving into that last Savasana pose (which basically means LYING DOWN) and I was hauling ass, and vagina, out of there. I sobbed openly, heaving and blubbering the whole walk home because my reserves of everything were in the hospital, at work, studying, and Goddess Knows, I had nothing left for this.
Turns out, it ain’t no thang. It’s just that no one says it. No one says, Look, Your Pussy Is Gonna Smell Different. You body odor changes when your hormones change. And your sense of smell can even get more sensitive. In fact, let me spit out a whole cornucopia of events that may, or may not, visit you as your hormones make their way to new resting points.
You got your hot flashes. Which as far as I can tell, are not what I would call “flashes”. These events can last longer than a flash. Long enough to drench an outfit and peel layers off on a chilly autumn stroll. I think these things are kind of weird and awesome. The first one was scary but after that, they struck me as kind of personal earthquakes. Like, if there’s no real damage done, the experience is incredibly odd and interesting. There are the night sweats, which are more annoying and less interesting. And then you’ll hear descriptions that make menopause sound like you’ll be having a blistering case of PMS for like 6 to 23 years. Irritability, loss of libido, depression, bloating, weight gain, feeling unfocused, forgetting things and then added in you’ll get a couple doozies: hair loss, migraines, incontinence, brand new allergies and even irregular heartbeats. And of course the dreaded dry vagina. Everyone talks about vaginal dryness like it’s the end of the fucking world. Comedy acts love to drag out the dried up old slit insults as often as the bold dare to insult women. But guess what? It most certainly is not the end of anyfuckingthing. Just get some lube, or some MORE lube, (without glycerin) and do your thing, people. Maybe be a tiny bit more careful with the friction, and maybe the girth of accommodations may constrict, but your vagina is perfectly fine for all of it’s regular activities. And if your vagina gets too sensitive for penetration, there are roughly 4,231,972 other sexual things you can try with yourself or a partner. AND, to get completely radical, it’s absolutely fine for you to boldly downgrade the importance of sex in your life and still have every right to be a fully powerful, functional, and incredible woman.
Now some of the things associated with menopause are just bullshit results of living in a place where women are held to different standards than men. Because are you HONESTLY trying to tell me that (cis) men don’t gain weight easier in their fifties, Mary?!?!? BECAUSE THEY DO. They forget shit and they have trouble focusing and they lose their hair. They lose libido and have a hard time getting, and keeping, the old plump in the snake. Is that menopause? No. No it is not.
IT IS TIME PASSING.
It’s our job to get older. Actually, it’s a privilege to get older. I’ve seen the alternative a lot lately and it’s not my personal preference. You know what else happens? If we are lucky?
If we are lucky enough to be Crone Apprentices and eventually the blessed Crones:
We stop giving a shit what other people think of us. We feel good from the inside to the outside rather than waiting for the outside world to tell us our inside world is approved of. We don’t need approval. We fucking glow.
We develop a sense of gratitude each and every day. The Metrics of Mortality begin to do their work and as we age, we lose our beloveds. We lose our icons and our nemeses. We also lose our inhibitions, our hangups and our delusions. Colors feel brighter, the air smells sweeter and the days pass more swiftly than we remember. We have less time to kill. We really have no time to kill. We have time to spend like gold coins, each moment a singular thing. So don’t bring bullshit to my door. I spent most of that in my twenties.
We don’t have to spend money on tampons. CAN I GET AN AMEN, SYSTERS?!?! That particular breed of brutal resentment I’d get every month is blessedly over. I keep my approximately $82 a year and I will spend it on baguettes in Paris, Thank You Very Much. I will take my big, round, post-menopausal ass on a stroll through the streets in my cowboy boots with leggings and a caftan blowing in the breeze, pounds of my long gray hair twisted into a braid down my back with no care in the world of where in the month I am as I wear white whenever I feel like it.
We will read Susun S. Weed’s The New Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way and contemplate the whoa-ed out witchy shit we were much too cool for just a few short years ago, when we were first falling in love with Helen Mirren and Angela Basset and had no idea how much better that would get.
We will look at old Richard Avedon portraits and let our faces wrinkle and sag because that is what faces do over time. And they look fabulous. We will honor the stories that time etches on us and tell them to our younger friends. We will talk about our bodies. We will let them change. We will try to hold as much excitement about our bodies changing as we did when we were teenagers sneaking cigarettes and waiting to learn how to use sex to our advantage. I mean, that’s what I did. And I want us to stay curious. I want us to do the punkest rock thing there is to do for women today: to age.
And we will, hopefully, honor whatever our fellow women decide to do with their bodies because the fact that we manage to make it through this culture in these things at all is a goddamned miracle. We will support women to make their choices. To nip, tuck, plump, alter, chisel, dye or even to end it on their own terms. We will age with our mystique.
These are my wishes for us as I continue to get to know this aging body. It will not get younger. But I can still keep it strong and valuable, functional, healthy and resilient. My hope for all of us is that we continue to talk to each other about our bodies, eradicating cultural secrecy and shame as we go.
Long live the vagina, in all its scents.
* Ginger is ok now, thanks for asking. The world of autoimmunity is a tricky little landscape.