HOUSTON VOICE www.houston voice.com
AUGUST 2, 2002 9
lOillt PAULA MARTINAC
Now that it turns out women have been put
at risk with hormone therapy, maybe the
medical establishment will pay attention to us
Trouble in -je#e HEiAe-tANp
Maybe now they'll
listen to lesbians
WITH THE ALARMING REVELATION
that hormone replacement therapy actually increases women's risk for heart disease,
stroke and breast cancer, the country may
fin.ally be waking up to something lesbian
and feminist health activists first talked
about 30 years ago — that menopause, like
pregnancy isn't a disease to be "treated."
The danger of HRT is as big a scandal as Enron or pedophile priests, representing a massive breach of public
trust. Millions of women have taken
synthetic estrogen to relieve the annoying indications of menopause, like hot
flashes, loss of sex drive, mood swings,
and insomnia, and also to guard against
heart disease and osteoporosis. Doctors
have even prescribed hormones to peri-
menopausal women — those in their 40s,
just prior to menopause — to deal with
pesky problems like irregular periods.
Without a doubt, straight women have
been the primary market for this therapy,
which amounts to yet another sexist
ploy — like Botox or cosmetic surgery —
to convince women that they must halt
the aging process. Now many of the
women who used HRT face life-threatening health issues that could make feeling
sweaty, cranky, tired, .and not in the mood
look pretty good by comparison.
On the hopeful side, the HRT crisis may
help bring the terrible era of overmedicat-
ing women to a well-deserved close. In just
a few weeks, there's been an explosion of
media focus on alternative ways to navigate the trying time that my mother's generation referred to — in hushed voices, of
course — as "The Change." And when
Katie Couric starts weighing the merits of
herbs like black cohosh and valerian for
coping with menopause, a lot of women
will be listening.
WHAT'S NOT BEING SAID IN THE
media, though, is that much of the
information about alternative therapies
isn't new. During the heyday of the
women's health movement in the late
1960s and early '70s, feminists critical of
the male-dominated medical establishment began learning about their bodies
and sharing this knowledge with other
women through clinics, workshops, and
books like "Our Bodies, Ourselves." In
particular, they sought out natural therapies and preventative medicines from
Asian and Native American cultures.
Not surprisingly, a lot of the healthcare activists who spearheaded this
movement were lesbians. Among them
was Joan Waitkevicz, an M.D. in New
York who often had two choices of
remedies to prescribe: a convention^
pharmaceutical one .and an herbal one.
If you chose the herbs, there was a well-
stocked, lesbian-run apothecary shop in
the neighborhood. Many of these lesbian he.alth-care workers brought their
valuable knowledge of self-help and natural remedies with them when they volunteered during the AIDS epidemic.
Although it's not what it once was, the
feminist health movement is still going
strong in some areas, including cyberspace.
The pioneering Feminist Women's Health
Center in Washington state now has
branch clinics as far away as New Hampshire and Georgia. Its Web site (wwwfwhc.org)
correctly addresses menopause as a
wellness issue, not an illness.
THAT MAY BE BECAUSE OUR
community, just like mainstream
America, often glosses over the health
concerns of women over 40, until they
become manifested in a disease like
breast cancer. When was the last time, for
ex,ample, that you read about women's
bone health in the lesbian and gay press?
The concerns of younger lesbians, like
pregnancy issues and safer sex, make
better copy — that is, when they're dealt
with at all. We've also virtually erased the
enormous contributions lesbians made to
managing our community's wellness.
Nowadays it's more popular to diss '70s lesbians for going off the politically correct
deep end than it is to praise their groundbreaking work in the area of self-help.
What the HRT crisis clearly demonstrates is that health care for middle-aged
women is in a sorry state. Ideally, our
community would use this information
to set up workshops specifically for 40-
plus lesbians, implementing the lessons
of the feminist health movement. That,
of course, means acknowledging that
maybe all those granola- and tofu-loving
lesbians weren't so crazy after all.
Paula Martinac is an author and
il syndicated writer and can be reached at
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