Black and menopausal: 3 people share their experiences of this time of transition

A more open public conversation around menopause – and the often strange, hard time leading up to it, perimenopause – has been ignited in recent years. Celebrities from Davina McCall to Gwyneth Paltrow have discussed the realities of hormone replacement therapy, irregular cycles and trippy mood swings; a nascent industry selling supplements, creams and hot flush-proof pyjamas has risen.

This opening of dialogue, though, has typically been reflective of a certain demographic’s experience. Indeed the space, as Dr Yansie Rolston and Yvonne Christie, editors of the newly released Black and Menopausal (£14.99, Jessica Kingsley Publishers) write in its introduction, isdominated mainly by white professional women.’

‘As people from the African and Caribbean diaspora,’ they note,’we did not see ourselves in their narratives, and that was and still is very disconcerting because in the UK, where we both live, race is an important factor in the way that we experience life’.

Their book, a much-needed antidote to this homogeny, is a collection of essays from a mix of contributors. Illuminated within its pages are the stories of people from various heritages, sexual orientations and gender identities as they move through this time of transition.

To mark its release, below are short extracts taken from three of the anthology’s contributions.

Black and Menopausal: Intimate Stories of Navigating the Change

Black and Menopausal: Intimate Stories of Navigating the Change

Black and Menopausal: Intimate Stories of Navigating the Change

Extracted from: ‘I will take up time’

By Yansie Rolston

In this essay, one of the anthology’s editors shares the difficulty she faced trying to access the healthcare she needed to navigate menopause, her realisation that the Black experience of menopause was not reflected in the resources she found – and the holistic practices that have helped her through this time.

black and menopausal book

The author

Yansie Rolston

When the euphoria of knowing that I wasn’t descending into a spiral of early dementia subsided, anxiety quickly rushed in.

Confirmation from the GP that I was experiencing menopause symptoms gave an explanation for the persistent fluctuations in my body temperature, but my mind took a leap into the future and landed in a place of fear and uncertainty, a place where I suddenly felt great discomfort in my body, conjuring up images of decrepitude because then my only understand­ing of menopause was that it was a gendered, age­ related illness spoken about in hushed tones, and overhearing gossip about a person who disgraced herself by having a ‘menopause baby’, someone whose husband left her because she could no longer have sex, or about the co­worker who wore wigs to cover up menopause hair loss.

I wanted to detach from the truth of what I thought was happening to me based on my limited knowledge, but curiously I also wanted to know what lay ahead.

I consulted ‘Dr Google’ and lost myself in it for hours. I scrolled and scrolled, delving into the research, the newspaper stories and blogs – basically, I was absorbing any information I could find, but then it dawned on me that the information was invariably accompanied by images of white bodies that didn’t represent me.

That really caused me to question where the Black lived experiences are, the data on Black bodies – not even the tasteless sexist menopause jokes or cartoons featured Black skin!

Extracted from: ‘Black, Trans and Menopausal’

By Austen Smith

black and menopausal book

Austen Smith

Here, one writer shares the reality of going through the menopause as a young Black, queer, trans­masculine and non­binary person.

In 2021, I attended the multipart conversation ‘Bloody Tran­sitions: Queers Decolonizing Menopause’ with moderators M’Kali Hashiki and Syd Yang. In this conversational series, we explored the nuances of sex, gender, race and menopause.In that space, I felt brave enough to experience and reflect on my body as it is, and not how it should be.

Menopause stories are often white-washed, drained of colour and texture. The social narrative of menopause is homogenised and misses the opportunity to acknowledge menopause as a human experience. These narratives fail to provide accurate reflections of the experiences of trans and gender non­conforming bodies with uteruses. Gender­expansive Black, Brown and Indigenous people’s lives and needs are erased from the linear future by way of exclusion.

When we think of menopause, the profile is that of a cis­gender woman above 50. It is implied that ‘she’ is white, cisgender and heterosexual. But I am a 30-year-old Black, queer, trans­masculine and non­binary person, and I am in menopause. The only narrative I’ve ever read that reflects Black, queer and trans menopause is the one I am writing.

I began my medical transition in 2016 and had my first surgery in 2018, a total hysterectomy. My body entered surgically induced early menopause. I don’t fit the profile of someone who should be preparing for menopause, so I wasn’t adequately informed or supported.

Extracted from ‘The Mask of Professionalism’

By: Sandra Wilson

black and menopausal book

The author

Sandra Wilson

The way that menopause impacts a person’s professional life is no small deal. In this piece, the writer’s encounter with going through her symptoms while at work – including how it caused her to become more open and authentic – are detailed.

Menopause has helped me to be more myself. I no longer choose to wear the professional mask at all, I wear clothes that are comfortable and reflect my cultural heritage, and I openly talk about menopause in the workplace because I no longer see it as taboo, or exclusively a women’s issue – it impacts everyone. I am open about my upbringing as it gives context to why I am the way that I am.

It is fair to say that the time is right for being outspoken. We have all been through a pandemic, and there is more focus today on the injustices and divisions in society, like the Back Lives Matter and the #MeToo movements, which have provided platforms for open discussions. I am now better able to use my voice to discuss the previously whispered conversations, the unmentionables, and if my parents were alive today, I think they would agree that this is the time to talk.

The dates when my peri ­, or, indeed, menopause, started are still very unclear in my head because I believe there was a denial that something was wrong, which stemmed from my belief that I would no longer be able to work – I feared dependence on someone else, being ill and vulnerable.

For too long, it was easier to wear the crumbling professional mask rather than seek help, but it was the final acknowledgement in hospital that I was too sick to work that led me to make the valuable changes to my life.

I returned to work with a renewed focus and more of my authentic self – I started putting me first. I am still on that journey and there are still numerous challenges, but I now have the tools and the community to support me when I need it.

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