“Do I expect too much because she is also in a cis female body?”

BY TATUM DE ROECK, IMAGE BY ELIJAH O’DONNELL VIA PEXELS

It’s 3am and I’m lying in bed panicked, soaked with sweat, wondering, “If I was straight, would my menopause be easier?” 

My long-time girlfriend is not-so-peacefully sleeping beside me. She, annoyingly, has her period every damn month. Yet, every four weeks, I’m startled by her tampons appearing in our bathroom. Those little, wrapped-up tubes I was once so intimately acquainted with, now obsolete, ancient relics like home phone numbers.   

If she was a cis man, I wouldn’t have to hear her stifle an exhausted, time-of-the-month groan. Oh, how I covet and crave those period cramps! The idea that deep inside her body is a system working hard to release oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone feels so magically luxurious. I can only imagine relishing those abdominal aches. If I had that opportunity back I’d commemorate them. I’d take selfies with microwavable, bean-filled bags, pose with giant spoons and tubs of vegan ice cream and honour my pale, tearstained-but-smiling face.  

Earlier my GF fumed to the point of tears about something mundane, but all I could do was imagine the joy of being out of emotional sync. How incredible to know it would only be short-lived. To feel the world ending tonight, but to know tomorrow morning it would all seem so ludicrous as optimism undoubtedly flooded back.  

She knew better than to ask for sympathy during her period. 

We were dating on and off for a couple of years when I had my ovaries surgically removed at 36. Since I’d had breast cancer I was not allowed HRT. That was 10 years ago, back in the menopause dark ages. No one talked about the impact.   

I was ashamed the joy of being alive did not always win out over feeling like I was 105 years old. Every system of my body aged or went bonkers. I had chronic brain fog, panic attacks, aphasia, flushes, joint pain, nerve pain, vaginal dryness, lost mojo and lack of sleep to the point that life felt like one long, exhausting day that went on for years and years.  

The reason menopause is capable of dauntingly long symptom lists, and causing widespread chaos, is because we have hormone receptors all over our body. When deprived of oestrogen any system, any function, any part of the body can react, sometimes wildly. 

In my girlfriend’s sleepy haze, she snuggles up beside me. I react like scalding water is being thrown at me and quickly escape to the edge of the mattress. I prop my leg up against the wardrobe, so I am as far from her body heat as possible without actually leaving the bed. We are hormonally estranged.

Do I expect too much because she is also in a cis female body? Would a cis man understand that he doesn’t understand? I imagine us breaking up and her calling me to let me know, 10 years later, that she is in menopause and gets it. But will she? Symptoms have such a wide spectrum from absolutely nothing (a very lucky 25%), to crappy, to the other end… devastating.  

Roused from sleep by my deep thinking, she mumbles, “You ok?” Maybe we don’t need to understand each other. Maybe we need a language to both answer that question.

My internal thermostat suddenly flips. Now I’m shiveringly cold. I sheepishly shift over in search of body heat and a cuddle. 

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