Roseanne Barr on the Joys of Menopause

Illustration by Sean McCabe

Madonna is 53. But don't worry–she still isn't acting her age. While celebrating in the Hamptons, the Material Girl was spotted smooching her 24-year-old boyfriend, Brahim Zaibat on the beach. The two met after Zaibat performed at the launch of Madonna's Macy's clothing line last year. —Mike Krumboltz, Yahoo, Aug. 16, 2011

When first I read the above paragraph, I thought that maybe I had changed in a very profound way, because I found myself feeling sorry for Madonna, rather than judgmental and resentful. I also was not ready to pull off the head of the author of this trite journalistic piece and shit down his neck. I had mellowed, I realized. Menopause had indeed made me into a nicer person.

I think Madonna will one day say the same about herself, if she makes it through the rough waters that lie ahead of her, those premenopausal years—the last chance one has to avoid the realization that sooner, not later, life will even the score, and it will go against you.

Despite the Botox, spas, and youthful boyfriends, and about the same time you acquire gray pubes, a clothing line not with Dolce & Gabbana, but at Macy's, will be all the haute couture your dusty old brand can muster. No one gets out of this shit alive, hon.

Madonna will not like it when her body, which has always been part of her art, gets a mind of its own and takes over her tightly knit daily shedule, as the posh pronounce it. But, girl, don't even sweat it—if you can help not sweating during the "Pause." Most likely, as your vaginal walls recede and become paper thin, rendering your sexual passage dry as a bone, and while gravitational pull moves your once jaunty pockets of stored fat ever downward into your ankles and feet, making them really puffy, the sweating will add the coup de grâce to the whole mess, rendering you wet where you used to be dry and dry where you used to be wet. After a little while, the blessed memory lapses will make it so that you will hardly remember what was wet, and that really helps a lot with the depression. Madonna is 53, and I am 59. Fifty-three is the year when everything starts to go to crap physically, starting with your material-girl parts. In other words, 53 is The Apex year—I hear that her new album is her best work ever, I now say, admiringly!

After menopause, I discovered the joy of drinking wine, and of sinking deeply into writing and time alone. These things replaced the sex drive I had thoroughly cruised down as a youth, exploring one dead end, detour, and unpaved dirty road after another. I have refused to take the libido-restoring male hormones constantly proffered me by this culture and Suzanne Somers and her hordes of apologists and postmenopausal cougars. Being 53 and having sex with folks in their early 20s is just so Norma Desmond. There, I said it. I can dig the dead writer in the pool thing, though.

I am more of a badger. The sex drive is that dark continent that I see now receding in the distance, behind me and the ship that has sailed with me at its helm—and I am no longer feeling mixed about seeing it go; I am actually relieved. It produced so much pain, really, so much wear, tear, and worry, not to mention the work, and sweat of raising the kids that come from it, who roll their eyes at you when you say things like these things I am saying in this article. My three daughters are approaching middle age themselves, the age when the libido of a woman speeds up for a time, just before it has a stroke, goes blind, and dies.

I am old now: gray, wrinkled, tired, and bloated, and my joints ache, too. But I am ready to come into my full destiny—as my childhood dreams predicted—as a Neo-Amazonian Pirate Queen of my own vessel: firing cannonballs at the worldwide culture of patriarchy in the name of all that does not suck. I no longer fear moving on to a better existence than this one, which is, of course, no existence at all. Oblivion will be fucking sweet after a lifetime at the mercy of my hormones and my biological clock and the twisted logic that produced the craving for a dominant male sex partner. I'm quite thrilled to say that at this late hour, in my autumn years, I have at last found a man who is more savant than idiot, and with whom the sparse occasions of physical enjoining of souls is quite sublime.

Ahoy, matey! Hail, hail, all ye who enter here! You have arrived! Congratulations, sister!

You have made it through the grip of Nature, and the attack on your intellect that began at your first breath as a female on this spinning sphere of waters, and you are still here to tell the tale—the tale of the Queen of Swords alive in each of us who navigated her way through those most dangerous Matriarchal Waters and Emotional High Tides. Sailing through the dictatorship of the body, the pulsing, plodding meat machine of it all, from that first shock at puberty, through birthing, nursing, raising, and letting go of grown children, you have reached uncharted territory, dangerous and mysterious. Brain space seems more liberated now. Time to kick back a little, to observe more, to feel less fear and more connection.

More than a few times recently, as a verified old woman, when I've been tempted to view life as a swirling, chaotic rush from the womb to the tomb, I'm brought to my senses by the unshakable feeling that something sure as hell seems to know what it's doing.

Just as the acceptance of rot and death sets in, the funnier things get. When all is done and said, my body, not my mind, was truly my destiny after all. ROFLMFAO.

Sooner or later, we're all made aware of the über-politics of the body. The real deal that's never stopped churning away down in the engine room is the physical reality of our marvelous, mysterious, meat-puppet bodies in all their accident-waiting-to-happen splendor. Of course, splendor isn't the word that leaps to mind when the average hapless 12- or 13-year-old hears and feels that first all-consuming full-body "uh oh" that marks what the happy-talkers love to romanticize with commencement-speech rhetoric as "the entry to womanhood" or some other shiny, sugared-up BS. Maybe they mean well, and figure that such a euphemism sounds so much better than "40 years of blood, sweat, and depression bordering on occasional madness."

Of course, again at the back end of the long road that is the tyranny of reproductive biology, the colorful language folk start up with their whiny crap about feeling less like a woman. Hey, for starters, we only get old if we're lucky! Can we let the logic of that sink in, sisters? Yeah, you're not going to be taking home any more little bundles of joy from the hospital, and maybe you won't be getting quite as many lascivious glances from the males of the species (if you were ever the type to get lots of those), but guess what? You're free, goddesses! No more "time of the month" or "curse," no more "on the rag" with all its attendant hassles, no more "riding the cotton pony"... in fact, take a minute to stand in the winner's circle as the cotton pony is led out to pasture, for good.

Menopause is the victory lap over the curse of being born female!

You can bet that a realist like moi isn't here to take up your time pretending that menopause is a walk in the park. I've heard that close to a third of women find menopause to be, at worst, a temporary and fairly inconsequential passage. To those women, I'd like to say: congratulations, and I hate you! My experience was a raw and often torturous ordeal. And about the only two factors on the upside were the just-mentioned no-more-periods, and also the chance to occasionally pitch a major, flaming bitchfest without being (or needing to be) sure that it was my biological transition and not just me being myself in high gear.

Sometimes, as the months whip past now, like telephone poles from the window of a bullet train, I continue to realize how much of my life I spent firmly under the thumb of Mother Nature, that inscrutable Boss Lady. I can still hear my biological clock ticking, but it's a calmer rhythm. Without being one of those happy-talking, sugar-coating types I can't stand, I just have to say it's so much easier living on this side of menopause, even with my high-mileage body.

On the far side of that long passage, I'm sailing on much calmer seas. I'm not exclusively under the flag of any of the titles that womanhood bestows on those who choose (or are pushed into) the familiar roles: mother, grandmother, wife. Although I am, of course, a mother and a grandmother, which is a stone-cold blast.

My family is close, but I have more me time—there, I said that too! And what do I do with some of the time I don't spend being whipped around by the desperate process of staving off the appearance of aging and all the rest of the crap we're sold 24/7? For one thing, I meditate, and for another, I think. Let me elaborate (after I meditate, and then think for a bit). Ah, OK, I'm in full Crone mode now.

Depending on who's defining the word "crone," it can be a really wonderful gem of language. Crone got saddled with the role of synonym for hag, an old grizzled woman who's often bitchy at best, malicious at worst: the sinister, old, gossipy type who sometimes had magical or supernatural associations. Luckily, intelligent women, and some men, have begun returning the word to its rightful definition: an experienced, mature woman who's arrived on the north shore of the raging seas of this largely corrupt planet.

We've run the gauntlet and we stand, battered, bruised, and perhaps even worse, some of us, but we're consciously here and mostly intact.

And, with a little luck, we have some time to affect things. Some sources cite Crone as the third stage of goddess formation: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Well, I like the goddess part, but I don't mean to insult or diminish women who aren't mothers. In fact—after holding the world up to the light and subjecting it to a quick exam I call "Do the math!"—I'm here to say, we could use a lot more women who don't become mothers of their own offspring, but instead Mother the world in a more expansive way—and help to alleviate some of the misery and need of countless millions of people who are here already.

But, let's get past the idea of things we have to do, breathe a sigh of relief, and remember that there's probably more time to do things we want to do. Form or nurture a few good and real friendships, and silently observe the world. You don't need a young athletic body or piles of money to read some of the world's great books; or to soak up brilliant music and art; or to grow something beautiful (and edible?) in a little garden spot. May your uterus remain relatively undisturbed during these, your glorious turban years!