It’s strange how society insists that we stay present and ‘in the moment’, while simultaneously promoting our dissociation of body and mind. This is true for our experience with pleasure, pain, menstruation and menopause.
In the spirit of Menopause Awareness Month, we spoke with Ella Mason (he/she/they), the owner of Pony Club Gym, about their experience with menopause. From themes of transcendence to reverence and liberation, join us as we learn to reconnect with our bodies in order to be free of them.
Passionfruit: Ella, thank you for chatting with us. Before we begin, for those that don’t know, could you tell us more about Pony Club Gym?
Ella Mason: The idea of it was about creating a space that, in a way, felt like home so that it felt comfortable to perhaps do things we might not normally do in gym or fitness spaces – which is actually accessing them.
Yes, it's a gym space and we teach a variety of movement there, but it's also a community space – an intentional space. We do things like community dinners, exhibitions, music events and fundraisers and we've got an allied health hub there. So it's very multifaceted and built around the premise of community, and the community drives what goes on there.
P: Now, how would you describe your relationship with menopause?
EM: My experience, which is probably like most people that are kind of forced into a relationship with menopause, is that you don't really hear about it or get into conversation about it until you're in the midst of it.
Beyond the actual physical symptoms, I also had the additional experience of being forced to really think about my identity. [Menopause] ramped up a lot of dysphoria for me, which I've always been able to manage throughout my life. It’s always there, but it's definitely been pushed to the forefront when menopause started, which has been quite confronting.
While I found some of the physical stuff and dysphoria stuff quite difficult to manage, I'm getting to the point where I'm starting to think, maybe this is going to be quite a liberating experience for me. Then there’s the day to day physicality of my work and energy and stuff. Being an athlete or a person that relies on movement for my mental health and for my work, I've had to change how I train.
I’ve only just reached a point where I’m like, ‘Oh, this could actually be a really nice chapter to focus on my needs’. Because my needs are no longer just about the external, I’m asking ‘What is it I truly want and need on both a physical and mental level?’
As a birth parent of one of my kids, and also trans and gender fluid identifying, I have that additional relationship in what it means to be going through menopause. It’s irritating sometimes, my body doesn’t always cooperate. But, I don’t feel that I’m in a bad place with it. It’s like I’m riding the wave and will shoot out of the other side.
P: While riding your own wave, how have you learned about some of the experiences you share with others?
EM: I put up an Instagram post about being in the midst of perimenopause. I had a lot of people respond, and yes, there's actually quite a lot of good writing and literature out there about it from different perspectives. One thing I did notice is that it's very difficult to find a non-gendered, non-cis version of going through it. I think we’re behind the eight-ball in that respect.
While we have a lot of shared experiences and similarities, [menopause] is quite individual. It's always good to know that there’s shared experiences, but how we approach it is a little bit individual in a way.
For me this is like the purpose of movement, and how we learn to really understand what our body needs. Whoever we are, I think we're so deeply disconnected from our bodies, and that listening to it, really understanding what we need in the moment, is really difficult. I've done a lot of work around very pointedly honing in on what it is I need. And I think that is such an important skill to have.
I train people that are postmenopausal at the gym who are in their 60s and 70s. And think, wow, they’re just badass; living this whole second, third, fourth chapter of their lives. Which is from what I've seen, quite liberating. But it also ties into really deep, long running, misogynist views around what people that bleed are tied to because of it. It dictates so much.
But, like anything, you can either resist or relinquish. In resistance, things are obviously harder. But if we relinquish and ask, 'What do I need at this moment at this time, depending on what it's bringing up for me physically or mentally?’; personally that’s taught me how to have a gentler experience and even an exciting experience.
P: I think you’ve really hit something there. While menopause may seem to dictate a lot, when we learn to work in harmony with what’s going on, we unlock new and exciting ways of viewing ourselves and our outlook.
EM: Yeah, especially if you think about those things in relation to trans or gender diverse people, or trans men that menstruate, go through menopause or experience pregnancy. There are people that feel like it’s kind of an assault on them, because of very defined binary, kind of physical laws and roles that we have assumed. And it's really an interesting space to sort of unpack that. There's many different people that are going to be experiencing this and I find that it could potentially be a very liberating experience.
It makes me think of the word transcendence. When we finally transcend, and just let everything go that is not of the body, there's potential to move beyond being stuck or imprisoned in any way. That’s all you can want really: to not feel pulled down by trauma or past experiences or our bodies or all of that stuff. And I don't even mean that in an ableist way, I feel like that can be contextual to anyone's experience which is an individual one.
P: How have you reframed the menopausal experience with transcendence in mind?
EM: I’ve looked at this time in my life as an opportunity for me to free myself of, not the physical act of menstruation or bleeding but of so much more than that.
I really believe that you can resist things or you can relinquish yourself to it and let things just move through you. We can often feel kind of at the whim of what's happening to us a lot of the time. I think the trick is, how we navigate those spaces because that will always happen. That's the nature of life. Life isn't this fluffy, lovely, joyous experience – it comes in waves.
P: When it comes to this relinquishing, what’s your process?
EM: I go by feel. That’s how I work. It drives people crazy, because they like things planned and ordered and I’m like, ‘I can’t do that’. I think something I’m grateful for, something honed over a lifetime, is my excellent intuition for things. I really trust it, and that’s across the board. I can say that any time I haven’t trusted it, things have gone awry and quite spectacularly sometimes.
Because life is quite structured from a young age, we’re kind of forced into not listening to what we need. I think we have really good intuition when we’re young and we’re taught not to listen to it. So I try to avoid having very rigid practices now, because I might not even feel like doing that, and I use movement as a tool for soothing and just switching things off.
P: Experiencing it for yourself, how have some of your perceptions around menopause changed?
EM: Growing up, I didn't really hear conversations around menopause. But I’m really lucky, I've got friends that span over 30 years and one of them is about eight years older than me, so they were always ahead. I did speak to my mum about it, and this sums up my mum so much. She was like, “Oh yeah, I just decided I wouldn't have any symptoms. So I didn't.” I was like, right, not sure that it's entirely realistic, but also good on you.
Being an older queer now, there's a whole heap of it. Everyone's experience is really different. I think for me, it's probably far more useful to hear the stories that are in my communities anyway, because I feel like I can relate a little bit more to them.
I will say, it has been really nice talking to older people, mostly through the gym space, that have come full circle and to hear their experiences of being on the other side. I think it just shows how important intergenerational relationships are.
In white-centric cultures, which is not my background, we shove older people away. You don't have your parents living with you, you don't have contact with them. We don't go out and hang out with older people. There just aren’t very good intergenerational relationships. But, I think that these relationships are so important for us from a very young age and that goes both ways.
My background is East Asian and so you have a whole cultural spin on conversations around menstruation and menopause and what you should be doing, all of that kind of stuff. Whether it’s spoken about, whether it's not spoken about, and who you speak with about it.
P: There seems to be a learned and colonial pattern of dissociation from the body and mind. Almost as if no one’s allowed to talk about, touch or experience their bodies.
EM: Just as a general statement, we’re taught that bodies are dirty and they can't be sources of pleasure and pain and all of it. It's such a horrible thing to do to people. I talk about it a lot at Pony Club Gym. I think it's why I find the gym so essential as a place where we can maybe get in touch with our bodies again and have autonomy over them because it's removed from us all the time, every day.
We have so much taken away from us in terms of autonomy over our own bodies, that's accentuated culturally, in gender, binary roles and systems, in financial circumstances and in being able-bodied, chronically ill, all that kind of stuff. I think if we can find more ways to get that autonomy back, and feel more ‘in our bodies’, maybe we can feel less at the whim of all of these things.
P: Now, we’re getting personal. How has your relationship with pleasure changed throughout this period?
EM: I feel like it’s fluctuated, over the trajectory of the last three or four years. Initially, I could feel my libido decreasing, I didn’t feel like I could experience pleasure anymore. However, I will say that I’m in quite a unique situation. I have taken HRT (testosterone) which probably helps, in and of itself, so I feel like I have more of a libido anyway. Yeah, in a way, I feel like I've actually gone the other way. But it has to do with a lot of things like stress and who your intimate partner might be at the time. All of those things come into play anyway. So it could be circumstantial.
I do remember having a fear of both menopause and having testosterone. You know, you hear, “you'll get vaginal dryness” and “you'll be like a bloody desert” but I haven't had that experience so far. And maybe it is a new kind of opportunity to learn new ways of experiencing pleasure, because pleasure might not always be centred around vaginas and penises or penetration.
P: Thinking about some of the current conversations around menopause, what would you like to see more of/what’s missing?
Someone from the gym once told me that in Japan, menopause is the time where women come into their power. So when people go through menopause in Japan, they're revered, almost like goddesses; they don't experience menopause symptoms. Instead, they experience this sense of empowerment, coming back strong and free in their bodies.
I would like to see menopause spoken about like it is in Japan. Like a powerful, bloody evolutionary portal that we go through; a celebration of this really exciting new chapter and the work our bodies have done for maybe 30 plus years. It’s hard work menstruating and navigating life, and all of the things that come with it, including things like endometriosis or infertility and the complications that follow.
I'd like to see more conversation around what it is for gender diverse and trans people to go through menopause and what that experience is like in relation to dysphoria. I feel like I've navigated some of that through conversations with other people, but a lot of it has been by myself with a GP. It's a big one to unstick the narrative around menopause being a ‘women’s-only’ experience. Whether it's because you're not a woman and you’ve experienced menopause, or you're someone who doesn't experience menopause or you're standing beside someone who does.
I know trans masculine or trans men who have or are going through menopause or still menstruate, and I consider that experience for them. I consider the complications of having to navigate gendered bathrooms and cramps and all of that kind of stuff, and maybe living a life where you can't speak to your peers or friends about that. Not necessarily in queer communities but in cis heteronormative communities where you have crossover and how complex that is.
I’m so lucky as a person who is queer and lives in queer circles, I think we get to talk about a lot of stuff much more often than maybe people who live in a more hetero existence.
October is Menopause Awareness Month. And despite affecting a decent portion of our community, menopause is still a stigmatised topic. We’re here to help change that, one conversation at a time, so that experiences like perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause aren’t nearly as isolating, confronting or mystifying for the masses.
To get involved with Pony Club Gym, check out their website or head over to their Instagram @ponyclubgym.
For more tailored advice and recommendations around perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause, book a consultation with our in-house sexologist Tori.