From a Family of Secret-Keepers

What to Expect

One woman's odyssey through the Trump presidency. My focus is centered on the many issues affecting women--but what doesn't? There's a new post every week.

Cindy is a successful realtor, currently living in Utah. She has made her own way in life, first in her career and now in coming out to her family as a lesbian and inviting them to her wedding.

She has also resolved important inner issues around aging and has come to realize the beauty of it. 

My name is Cindy.  I’m 55 and probably somewhere in the beginning of the menopause cycle.

I had a partial hysterectomy in my early-40s, though I still have my ovaries and continue producing hormones.  Having that surgery was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it ended my periods; aside from that my physician advised me at the time that my progression through menopause would otherwise be a natural one.  My partner Julie, who is the same age as me, had a total hysterectomy in her early-40s so her ovaries are gone.  She has hot flashes constantly and is extremely disturbed by them, but mine don’t bother me as much, and my physiology of having ovaries probably accounts for that difference between us.  My chief concern is in my job as a realtor, when I’m interacting with clients or associates and suddenly I start turning beet red.  There’s an anxiety of anticipating that I’m going to start sweating in the middle of a meeting, but it’s nothing overly uncomfortable for me.  I’ve never felt the need to pursue any kinds of medications or professional help for my hot flashes, but I do recognize that I need to steer clear of drinking a lot of red wine or coffee if I want to keep level.  I’m a hot sleeper, and even in my 20s and 30s any partner I had would kind of roll away from me in bed, and obviously that’s become even worse now.  But it’s nice to be living with someone who’s going through the same experience, and I can only imagine if I were dating a man how much harder all of that would be.        

There wasn’t anyone when I was growing up who talked to me about going through menopause, and it’s not something my mother would have discussed either.  My first recollection of seeing women go through menopause was when I was in my mid-30s working in Atlanta in physical therapy, and my therapist and her assistant were both in the throes of it: I remember coming in to work and these women would both be wildly flushed and fanning themselves and laughing and commiserating about what they were going through, and I thought then how completely peculiar and foreign and unrelated all of that was to me.

I first got my period very young at the age of 11 for an intense two weeks at a time.  Everything else in me physically developed early as well, and it was an embarrassing and uncomfortable and traumatic time.  Throughout my life when I was having my period my libido would be noticeably elevated, starting even as early as the age of 12, and my periods were also heavy and a huge aggravation because I was especially athletic.  Menopause so far is nowhere near as daunting for me as that was, even though it often feels similar to puberty in many ways.       

My partner is a nurse and very science based and more Eastern-oriented in terms of her approach to alleviating symptoms, so she makes teas or elixirs with various herbs and they seem to help her hot flashes a great deal.  She also suffers from a short period of intense anxiety right before her hot flashes and those drinks help her with that.  I have a little of the same problem as well, perhaps several seconds of a sense of doom and anxiety preceding a hot flash, but it’s not unendurable for me.

What I’ve noticed that’s changed during my menopause is a calming acceptance of the physical aspects of aging.  I had seriously contemplated undergoing some cosmetic plastic surgery, and I did a little research and took a few consultations and then after thinking about it realized I didn’t really care; I actually feel beautiful with how I’m aging and that’s a positive development.  I have an easier acceptance of myself at this age than I thought I would when I was younger.  In my early-40s I dated a woman who was eleven years older than me and I remember at the time looking at her skin which was paper thin and went all crinkly when you pinched it and thinking how gross it was.  I don’t dwell on that anymore, or at least I don’t think the same way about it now that I have the same kind of skin.  I’m very much at peace with it, and in that sense menopause has been empowering for me.     

One of my college roommates was the quintessential ‘four-year lesbian’, and the minute she graduated she told her girlfriend she needed to go out into the world and find a husband and start a family, and she did.  But my own experiences with men have come largely from a place of physical curiosity, and the way I’ve always thought about them is purely as sexual beings.  I had many boyfriends in my 30s and 40s, I’d go back and forth and check that out from time to time, but in the end I never passionately or emotionally connected to men for anything other than friendship and good company.  As I’ve gotten older I pursue women for the companionship and like-mindedness and gentleness and insightfulness we have as we age.

Menopause is an experience men don’t have, and I think for women it’s profound and rather special.  And in part because I’ve never had the desire or intention to have children I don’t view menopause as the final boundary of some great life period, I don’t conceive of it as a profound ending but rather more as a great passageway into a uniquely cool club.  I’ve been surrounded most of my life by women who are older and more fully formed, and not being tied to my fertility perhaps conditions or qualifies my attitude towards menopause in those ways.  I don’t perceive of it as being a struggle at all, rather as a passage to maturity.        

There are physical consequences, my hair is thinner, I’ve gained weight, my skin is not as taut or elastic, my breasts are hanging down.  My energy level is different too, and at the end of the day I go home and hang out with my partner; I don’t feel compelled to dress up and go out and that’s a nice change.        

My advice to other women going through menopause would be to find a supportive person, be open to what’s going on with yourself, and focus on some of the positive aspects that happen during this time.  We’re living in an era when older women can be quite powerful, and one example is in my business where the most successful agents are second- and third-career women, and I’ve seen them having the confidence and influence that comes from being freed of so many constraints.  And sex doesn’t go away, but it’s not so animalistic as it was when I was younger, and if that’s what I wanted I’d seek out a man and just get it over with.  Sex now is mellower and sweeter, more encompassing and slower and steadier, and it’s out of love.  It’s subtler, and I never underestimate the power of subtlety.  Sex isn’t as frequent or intense, and it’s farther and fewer between, but that’s more a function of the length of my relationship.  And there’s the need for quite a bit more lubrication than before, and one of the reasons for that is in our 50s we don’t have intercourse quite as often and it’s kind of a use-it-or-lose-it situation.          

Both of my parents have passed away, and it’s a momentous shift when that happens and they’re gone forever.  I wasn’t out to my parents but I never consciously concealed my orientation either, it was more of a don’t-ask-don’t-tell scenario growing up.  My mother would say to me you don’t need to have children, you don’t need to get married.  She told me once that the only people she considered truly qualified to have children were gay male couples, which was something she’d figured out by watching this big-hearted same-sex couple from Florida on an Oprah Winfrey show talking about the family they’d made together by adopting priority children and sibling groups with complex needs and disabilities and HIV/AIDS.

I was raised in a family of secret keepers and I kept my own secret of being gay.  I was married not long after my mother died in 2011, and I invited my brother and nieces to my wedding, none of whom I’d ever before discussed being gay with.  I felt liberated by having no secrets from anyone at all and nothing to cover up or put a different face on, just being completely openly who I was.  And being a woman in my 50s helps too, because I don’t care at all what anybody thinks of me or my life and sexuality and beliefs, and that comes from a combination of being older and having the kind of wisdom that’s very likely tied into menopause.  I see men my own age who still carry around the same kinds of secrets they did when they were younger, I don’t think they open up like flowers the way women do, and because of that you see them grow increasingly demoralized and depressed.  I watched my father’s failure to thrive in his old age, and on the other side of the coin I saw my mother come to completely accept her diagnosis and get ready to die and let herself go there gracefully.

I’m a late bloomer in my life in growing up, taking responsibility, making money, feeling genuine love for another person and having sex and love being together.  And the question I ask is does form follow function or does function follow form?  Is this happening to me because my body’s different now, because my body’s calmer, or is my body following my mind?  I was raised in a matriarchal family with an older and wiser mother, and I reflect on her life and think poor thing, she had to keep her secrets.  And I’ve learned both from personal experience and because of where we are in society that the freedom to have no secrets is an extraordinary blessing.  As you get older it’s exhausting and punishing to hide who you really are.

 

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