24 Jun 2021

Why we need to take the next step towards an inclusive menopause

How must menopause support evolve to include LGBTQIA+ people? The Latte Lounge speaks to Queer Menopause Founder Tania Glyde to find out more.

We might well be seeing the tide beginning to turn for menopause awareness and support for menopause in health, work and employment.

But there’s still an awfully long way to go.

And for menopause support to be truly inclusive it also needs to evolve to support everyone experiencing menopausal symptoms.

Psychotherapist and Author Tania Glyde (they/she) knows this only too well having founded queermenopause.com in 2020.

Queer menopause promote inclusive menopause resources for those who need them, and greater education for therapists and healthcare practitioners about the needs of people in menopause who are LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation), intersex, and asexual).

Tania's research, ‘How can therapists and other healthcare practitioners best support and validate their queer menopausal clients?’ has recently been published in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy.

The Latte Lounge caught up with Tania to find out what they think is next for inclusive menopause support. Over to you Tania….

Why do you think we need more inclusive menopause information?

There is a media trope that the person who represents menopause is a cisgender (a person whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth), heterosexual, white woman, aged 50+, a property owner, well-resourced financially, coming to the end of a senior job role and free to retire or make choices in this, married to (or divorced from) a man, and who has had children who have flown the nest.

Yes, it’s a cliché, but it is a powerful one.

And it excludes many, many people.

There is a media trope that the person who represents menopause is a cisgender, heterosexual, white woman, aged 50+.

- Tania Glyde

This is not just about LGBTQIA+ folks. It’s about people of colour, people on low incomes, disabled people, working class people, and people of all ages (menopause is not just about middle age).

I want to be really clear here: there is some really important profile-raising menopause activism being done by people with big platforms, and I am very glad they are doing this work. Now we need to take the next step.

Could you tell us a little bit about your own journey with perimenopause and menopause?

What a wild ride it’s been! And continues to be.

I think it can be hard to share the difficulties because in our productivity-obsessed and highly ableist culture, a person who is struggling might then be seen as incapable and dispensable and lose their livelihood. That is a very brutal bottom line but a real one all the same. There is a lot of silence around it.

Add to this the fact that perimenopause and menopause are only just being taken seriously as health conditions and potential instigators of disability – we have a long way to go.

My own journey was effectively undertaken blindfolded, because I had no idea what was going on.

I began to experience changes aged around age 39 but had no idea what they meant, nor that they were part of a progression. In my early 40s my interactions with doctors were sadly not good, though they have hugely improved in the last five years or so.

My own journey was effectively undertaken blindfolded, because I had no idea what was going on.

- Tania Glyde

Overall, I know I am not alone in needing to mourn the time lost to not-knowing and confusion about what was happening to me, when I could have been helped.

However, whatever personal struggles happened for me in perimenopause and menopause, I also don’t want to individualise this, for myself or anyone else. Institutions and organisations also need to be fully aware, and to take responsibility for supporting the menopausal people who operate within them.

And, it’s really important to say that, while my work focuses on the challenges because there is still such an uneven playing field, I don’t want to frame it all in terms of difficulty! Perimenopause for me was ten years of intensity and adventure. My 40s were about rebuilding my whole life and identity and it was amazing.

One striking aspect has been a sense of returning to a feeling of being about ten years old in terms of sexuality and gender, and a number of other things, I suspect. Certainly, as I have travelled past menopause and through post-menopause, it has felt like casting off an ill-fitting costume. 

Why did you decide to launch QueerMenopause.com?

It was the logical outcome from doing my research. I wanted to make a resource for people who are excluded from cisgender and/or heterosexual menopause communities.

It’s important to realise just how disempowering it can be to constantly be addressed as a ‘lady’ when you are not one, and see resources created only for ‘women’.

Like being misgendered anywhere, it can bring frustration and dysphoria. On a systemic level, this may cause some LGBTQIA+ people to avoid accessing services and benefiting from the support they need.

I also wanted to raise the visibility of this subject so that other researchers might pick up the baton and run with it.

There is so much work still to be done here.

What challenges do the LGBTQIA+ community face when going to their doctors for support with their perimenopause & menopause symptoms?

It’s important to say that menopause intersects with any person’s identity and with their past life experience. Someone who has, for example, existing mental and physical health conditions and/or trauma, and/or experiences prejudice due to their identity, and/or has low financial resources, is going to be heavily impacted by menopause coming on top. The impact is cumulative.

For LGBTQIA+ people specifically, there are a number of issues here. Doctors and healthcare staff may be holding incorrect assumptions about gender and sexuality, as well as active prejudices about them. (The same goes for menopause generally.)

The outcome of this is that practitioners may be expecting their LGBTQIA+ patients to educate them, while they are simultaneously trying to get help.

This is on top of the likelihood of previous poor experiences in the healthcare system. Anticipatory stress plays a part here. Someone might be bracing themselves for yet another stressful appointment.

And, don’t forget, this may be going on while the person is unwell but not knowing why or how, due to poor education around menopause.

Perimenopause in particular is not sufficiently known about in the population across the board, and it can exacerbate existing mental and physical health issues.

It is especially challenging when someone is entering perimenopause and considering gender transition at the same time.

There is also the fact that many menopause resources, whether in the form of organisational websites or social media support groups, are at best very cis het normative - (‘Hello ladies!’) - and at worst transphobic.

What do you think about the mainstream media’s attitude towards the LGBTQIA+ community?

On one hand, things are improving in terms of exposure. More and more high-profile people are coming out and shouting about it.

And Pride rainbows are everywhere and that colourful visibility has meaning.

However, rainbows are also used cynically as a box-checking exercise by large companies and people seeking a share of the ‘rainbow pound’. And this does not disguise the fact that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are still everywhere.

Transphobia in particular has blown up in a way that is horrific and astonishing. It is often likened to the homophobia of the 1980s – the difference being that today there are far more media platforms for it to proliferate on.  Every time you think it must have reached a peak, something worse happens.

This much media hate absolutely impacts the mental health and wellbeing of a large number of people. If antis truly realised the harm they are doing to so many, would they stop? I cannot say. But it is hugely distressing.

However, our many media platforms also mean that people can speak out and find an audience and start to change views.

What more can platforms like The Latte Lounge do to actively engage and avoid alienating anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community?

It would be great to see folks using their position to amplify other voices. This is already happening slowly and I am glad to see it.

  • Please think before using ‘women’ everywhere on your resources. I see this all the time (And definitely ‘Ladies’ - I have written about this here.) Menopause happens to people. This isn’t about erasing women (which would be quite difficult given the numbers!), but including those who are not.
  • Think about the 'humour' you're sharing. While I believe everyone should feel able to express themselves individually about their life as they wish, in menopause circles there can be a tendency to express a very brutal kind of humour about, for example, sagging breasts, weight gain, and dry vaginas, that seems only to mirror misogyny. A lot of this is alienating to cis het women too. The queer stand-up comedian Hannah Gadsby has something to say about this in her show Nanette, which I referenced in my research: ‘...the self-deprecation and sense of brokenness in many mainstream accounts – e.g. “I ... feel so numb I can’t even be bothered to loathe myself” [...] – may be particularly alienating to queers because, in an already prejudiced society, self-deprecation is a form of self-harm. (Gadsby, 2018). It’s worth reflecting before posting this kind of thing.
  • Don’t assume that, for example, husbands, children, and penis-in-vagina sex are relevant to everyone who may be helped by your resources. It’s not about censoring those discussions, but opening them out.
  • Don’t assume that everyone is wealthy enough to spend lots of money on supplements and fancy toiletries, and has time for spa weekends and conscious-raising workshops and holidays.
  • If you run a group, online or in person, please make it clear to your members that transphobia is unacceptable. If you are personally struggling with how to understand this (sadly likely with all the misinformation around) then please take time to educate yourself on it. This isn’t difficult – it just takes some reflection. Many - myself included - will thank you for it.

How can we learn about trans-inclusivity?

There are a lot of resources out there to help learn about trans-inclusivity. Here is just a selection:

Articles/sites

Books

Training

You may wish to gather some colleagues or peers together and organise some awareness training. Two organisations who organise this are Gendered Intelligence and the Gender Identity Research and Education Society.

About the author: Tania Glyde (they/she) is a psychotherapist and author working in the areas of sexology and GSRD (Gender, Sex and Relationship Diversity) at londoncentralcounselling.com. They founded The London Gender, Sex and Relationship Diversity Practice, offering counselling, psychotherapy, mentoring and consultancy with a GSRD focus.

For more information and to contact Tania, please visit: https://queermenopause.com and find them on Instagram at @queermenopause.

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