The menopause and me – when you're gender neutral

Bunny Cook writes exclusively to HELLO!

Going through the menopause, women are hit with a plethora of information, be it on the web, in books, TV, and through friends. But what about when you're going through the menopause and identify as gender neutral? Bunny Cook, 47, talks openly and frankly to HELLO! about the experience, the information available and how to navigate it:

"My name’s Bunny. I'm 47. I’m gay. I identify as gender neutral. I've spent years fighting what my body tells me and what society tells me I should be like. I want to tell you what it's like to find yourself in the menopause, as a queer person. I was lucky recently to take part in the Me.No.Pause ad campaign for Holland & Barrett, which features the stories and images of five diverse people going through the menopause - and one of those five were me. I'm the LGBTQ face and voice in the mix - and I'm surprised to be in that mix at all.

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"I'm a private person. I don't really do opening up and intimate chats about physical personal stuff – it's not a natural step for me to have my image popping up all over the place with Me.No.Pause written across it. But it felt important, because I realised I hadn't thought about the 'me' bit of the menopause at all. Because people like me - gender neutral, gay, single, no children – don't get the menopause. That's the message I had absorbed from what I'd seen, and because I don't connect with the term female - and the menopause is female. It's talked about in women's health pages in magazines and I flick past those, it's too upsetting and alienating for me to sift through them. I don't want to think about having any sort of gendered anatomy, or tick a gender box, so I skip past those types of articles, turn the sound down on TV ads, talk to my dog and keep my nose in a book because I know the coverage and ads aren't for me.

"The image we're given of the menopause doesn't include queer people. We're sold the story that it happens to long-haired women with kids and husbands and maybe a busy career, a glitzy gang of girls to hang out with, at the local wine bar or on their conservatory sofa in cosy pretty pyjamas if it all gets too much. I'm being mean but my point is, I just wasn't in those pictures. I don't want to be, I've spent the last 40 years working out that that isn't who I am, that I can't be the best version of myself if I try and squeeze myself into that picture. I can't be honest, I can't be useful, I can't be healthy trying to be like that. I literally can't live like that. But a bit of information targeted at me, people like me, might have helped. It might have helped show me the way, from puberty to menopause, and educated me a bit more - and made me loathe my truth a bit less.

"So yes, the constant exclusion from media representation is damaging to gender neutral LGBTQ people like myself. It sends out a message that you're not wanted, you're not valued as a customer, a patient, a citizen. There's a danger that by becoming more 'out' as a queer person I've become more turned in on myself, because in the mainstream you're not welcome, it's not reaching out to you, it's not wanting your custom or your voice or your look, it's not giving you the advice you might need.

"I know this may sound like navel gazing, I know we are privileged to live in a society which has light years more democracy, equality and liberty than many other places. But the message I constantly receive is that, other than the big commercial rainbow flag waving around Pride Festivals, same sex marriage and IVF, is that I don't exist, I'm not valued, and I'm not included.

"It's not a fair picture. I'm beyond proud to be 'other', to have not squashed myself in to fit into the picture, to sometimes be called sir, to sometimes be called they, to feel empowered rather than ashamed when I'm stepping out as myself. But I've done that with therapy, searching the shelves of the haven that is Gays the Word bookshop, having coded chats with patient perplexed friends and my brilliant Mum, and a lot of muddy dog walks.

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"I'm glad the picture and message is changing. I'm pumped and grateful to be a part of this campaign and to be writing this piece. A bit shaky and nauseous at times because it's a loud message I was given, to fit in or keep quiet and out of the way, but this is an opportunity to try to change that. HELLO! is trusted household name with a presence everywhere. It's fantastic that they are reaching out and changing the images and messages that are sold to us all.

"I often think what my younger self might have felt if they had read a queer story, seen an ad in the doctor's about LGBTQ issues or found gender neutral underwear for sale. If my 40-year-old self had seen ads on bus stops of a short-haired, strong warm queer person saying that yes, the menopause happens to people like me, and it's OK. It's OK to be you, the world around you has got your back, you're part of it and you're fine as you are. I hope some of that speaks to you, and that you can pass it on, because we're all in this together. We all have a duty of care for each other, whichever camp you put your flag in or whichever box you tick."

Bunny is an ambassador for Holland & Barrett’s Me.No.Pause campaign, which aims to break the taboos around menopause and support women through it naturally.