Charting a Menopause Survival Route with Omisade Burney-Scott

The menopause space is dominated by cisgender narratives that often don’t represent or include the experiences of all people who are affected by this transitional life stage.

Omisade Burney-Scott is doing her part to change this by exploring of the full spectrum of reproductive justice that includes menopause for Black women, Black femmes, and nonbinary people. She is a social justice dragon slayer on a journey to normalize menopause and aging – for all people – regardless of how they identify.

As a person who loves audio storytelling, she chose to amplify her voice and the voice of others through her podcast, Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause. In addition to the podcast, she has also started an e-zine and hosts intimate intergenerational events that focus on topics related to the menopausal journey.

Omisade’s menopause journey

“I haven’t had a menstrual cycle since 2013. So technically, medically, I’m postmenopausal. And a big part of my journey as I was about to turn 50, was me missing my mom and starting to think a lot about her and what we’d be talking about if she were here. My mother’s been an ancestor since ‘98.”

For Omi (as her friends call her, and which she graciously gave me permission to do as well), she wanted to be able to speak with her mother about the changes she was experiencing and the new life journey that menopause was taking her on.

Being inspired by her reflections on, “What would mommy say if she were here?”, she decided that she could offer a similar experience to others (channeling the spirits of her ancestors) and start a real and holistic conversation around menopause.

“I had taken a sabbatical from social justice work at the end of 2018 and the entire year of 2019, which has been my primary work since 1995. Black Girls Guide to Surviving Menopause was birthed in 2019, because I wanted to have conversations with people who are in my peer group.

I’m really interested in talking to Black women, Black femmes, people who don’t identify as a woman, but are experiencing menopause and might be non-binary – in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond.”

Doing things differently in the menopause space

“Where are our stories? If half of the population is about to be menopausal, where are our stories?”

As a creative and a lover of stories, Omi wanted to tell the stories behind the journey.

“I knew that I was not coming from the medical or public health perspective. I was coming from the whole person — personhood. Your lived experience perspective.”

So, Omi set out to curate a space for Black people to share their stories. Her goal is to show that there is more to menopause than just a list of symptoms.

“To normalize aging, we also have to focus on the stories behind the people transitioning to different stages of their life’s chapters. I did not necessarily want this to be the space where folks were like, ‘I need to come to you because I need to figure out how to address hot flashes or how to address insomnia.’ I’m like, yeah, but underneath that insomnia is a part of your story that’s also keeping you awake. What’s up with that? You want to talk about that? You want to talk about grief? You want to talk about death and dying? Do you want to talk about pleasure or sex? Cause that’s a part of your menopause journey as well.”

Expanding beyond one-on-one conversations on menopause

Omi also realized that there needed to be intergenerational conversations and not just conversations with her peer group. Influenced by what she felt was missing from her own mom, she wanted to foster discussions with younger generations – not just to be seen as bestowing knowledge or sharing her perspective. With millennials starting to turn 40 this year, she also wants to make sure they’re not caught off guard as their bodies start changing.

She also wanted genuine conversations and to find topics of shared interests.

“I wanted us both to talk about the body. I wanted us both to talk about pleasure because I think it’s important for us to be reminded of our journey and to be reminded that we’re still emerging every day. Like there’s no shelf-life on being emergent.

I wanted the younger people to be like, ‘Damn. You mean when I’m in my 60s, I’m still going to be trying to figure out this whole intimacy thing?’ Like, yeah, it gives you perspective. I think it makes it accessible.”

Why Black Girls Guide to Surviving Menopause?

“Two things – I’m friends with Yaba Blay from Professional Black Girl, and we’re always talking about the fact that no matter how old you are, your Black girl is still present.

The ‘surviving menopause’ piece was a bit of a nod to Are you There God? It’s me, Margaret a young adult novel written by Judy Blume published in 1970. And I also wanted to make sure that people were clear that not every Black girl who’s going to tell their story on this podcast will identify as a Black girl necessarily. And so, it’s also expanding people’s understanding of blackness and who’s experiencing menopause and what it looks like.”

In further expanding the reach and knowledge of the podcast and her menopause efforts, Omi had a couple of ‘ah ha’ moments that came as she interviewing Mona Eltahawy, a queer feminist writer, and having a conversation with Ignacio Rivera, a queer, Trans activist, writer, educator, filmmaker, performance artist and mother.

“What must it be like to not identify as female, have another gender identity and still be processing all of it?

There’s also a generation of folk who identify as trans or nonbinary people who are coming of age. They are about to turn 50, and no one is asking them about their experience with menopause or aging. And that, to me, is very limiting.”

Amplifying the connection between aging, menopause and Black women’s health

Omi recently kicked off season 3 of her podcast and is actively working to bring her experience in reproductive justice to her current work in the menopause space. Last year she participated in a Black Reproductive Justice policy roundtable and joined the Black Women’s Health Imperative in drafting a policy summary on aging and menopause. It’s inspired her to align more of her efforts related to menopause with the Reproductive Justice advocacy work she had done prior to her sabbatical.

“I see menopause as an extension of Reproductive Justice [and] I do think that there is additional advocacy work that I could be doing that is connected to work that I’ve already done… So that’s where I see myself going.”

For more of Omisade Burney-Scott, subscribe to the Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause podcast. You can also follow her on Instagram @blackgirlsguidetomenopause and look out for the next edition of the e-zine – Messages from the Menopausal Multiverse: The Motherboard.

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