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Going Through Menopause Changed The Way I Think About Gender

I drive down a long gravel road toward the lake. On either side ferns unfurl. Everything, even the light, is mossy green. I park and walk around to the far side of the lake, carrying my towel and my wet suit. There is, in my usual spot, a mother with her young daughter. They sit on a blanket near the lake’s edge. The mother, her brown hair in a ponytail, is wearing a faded gingham bikini, and her tiny daughter, a Hello Kitty one-piece. Her bare arms and legs impossibly thin, she piles rocks and grass onto her mother’s stomach. Her bangs are cut straight across her forehead, and her brown eyes show darts of silver. She drizzles the broken strains of grass over her mother’s belly, laughing. As I pull on my wet suit, the little girl looks up and watches me push my hair under a bathing cap, adjust my goggles, wade in.

The water, while heated at the top, is cold deeper down. I dive under and stroke. Swimming in the lake is the only true remedy for my hormonal withdrawal. I don’t flash in the cool water, and after a swim, I get a few flash-free hours. I stroke, my hands and mouth sending up bubbles that swirl to the surface. The water around me is green-gold and translucent. Below gray-green and mysterious. Since I’ve stopped my struggle to be beautiful, I am overtaken by beauty more often. I stroke toward the sun so that rays splinter as they hit the water and seem to encase me, carry me as if I were a spaceship, buoyed in my own radiating light.

My wet suit makes me buoyant, gives me grace and speed. I can pause, float without treading. I am weightless, light. Swimming I feel the least confined by my femininity. I wonder if part of the work of life for everyone may be to synthesize the sexes. “When you make the two one,” Jesus says in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, “when you make the inside like the outside, and the outside like the inside, and the upper like the lower and when you make male and female into a single one, then you will enter the kingdom.”

The most surprising outcome of my ungendering has been that the male God I grew up with has lost its power. When I was a child, God was always and everywhere male. But the divine mystery cannot be domesticated into a fixed petrified image. That’s idolatry. My feeling less feminine means I no longer need a masculine God. I feel, instead, a new force, latent in the black expanse beneath me. There is nothing predictable or tame about this spirit. Elemental. Androgynous. Chaotic. Not found hovering ghostlike in nature, but the actual engine that drives nature. An atavistic force, the King Kong of Despentes, King Kong theory, a pregendered wildness that we lose claim to when we enter the strict binary. Tehom, the Bible calls it: the deep.

The lake bottom comes slowly into focus. Ancient, moonlike, rounded rocks covered in soft sludge, then a zigzag of knobby tree roots. I put my feet down beside the muddy bank, and as I stretch up, water rushes out of my wet suit. The material that kept me light in the water is now soaked and heavy. I use both hands on the grassy edge to steady myself. The little girl runs up to watch. Her brown eyes are liquid, serious. She runs back to her mother, cups her small hand around her mother’s ear and whispers loud enough for me to hear. Let’s ask her what she found. ●

Excerpted from Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life by Darcey Steinke.

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