Forbidden Fruits

by Emily Smith

I’d like to take a detour from our usual program and call attention to the insights of another young artist, Lily Myers. She wrote an amazing slam poem earlier this year, one that any female/feminine listener must hear and understand with such immediacy; in three and a half minutes, Ms. Myers describes virtually all the accumulated hurts of our gendered lives. Even the third-party title of this link lays bare that stricken nerve: “Watch A Student Totally Nail Something About Women That I’ve Been Trying to Articulate For 37 Years.”

I cannot do it justice alone. Here it is.

Lily Myers Slam Poem worth spending 3 1/2 minutes of your life watching.

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If you identify as masculine, as a boy or man, I won’t exclude you in addressing this piece. In fact, it seems even more important for women to share this with you, the men in our lives. We love you to bits, but it hurts us when you don’t notice our frailties. Sometimes we need to hear that it’s okay to try for bigness. That permission can make a world of difference.

We feel small in our skins because men fail to notice our suffering, but also because other women don’t corroborate our feelings. Shrinkage is a hard problem to articulate; by its nature, it makes itself unseen. Despite the commonness of the struggle, nobody shares it. I doubt most women could have unearthed the raw emotion that Lily Myers exposes here, let alone denounce it as she has so bravely done.

We all face demons when occupying physical space, and I am no exception. Emotional eating is my ceaseless plague; all told, I’ve yo-yo’ed through sixty full pounds between June of 2009 and today. I currently weigh 190 pounds, nowhere close to ideal for my 5’3″ frame. However taboo or artless that may sound, my honesty feels right.

More taboo and artless honesties still to come, in what I hope will evolve as a series on gender and the autism spectrum. Today it seemed more important to cover a neurotypical base, a sort of default or control group for later contrast. Despite that, Asperger’s remains relevant. Stay tuned.

I never forget that my non-Aspergian female friends and family members understand demons, too. I count the following, nameless yet identified, among them:

  • A gluten-free vegan who does daily battle with both Crohn’s Disease and anorexia nervosa, quite the courageous “true, young and pure girl-woman” as she once wrote
  • A strong, fit teen who still went from designer sample size to an 8 within the space of a year (since grown womanly dimensions have this tendency to occupy more space, now don’t they?)
  • A gender-fluid female who resents her tiny hourglass waist — she would feel far more at home with a svelte, boyish cut of the body
  • My über-feminine high school gal pal whose body mismatches her indelible sense of self as a woman, and who makes a classier lady than most who are born to it

These women have so much more to offer the world than only their insecurities. Yet over the years, I’ve found I can best understand other women by considering them as self/self-image paired units. I confess to feeling awful about this; the women I know and love are full and dynamic characters. They make brilliant discoveries, speak vivaciously in many languages, seize control of their creative projects and build their own lives. Surely such positive traits should serve to identify them.

But no.

The body parts a woman hates, the workouts she despises but does anyway, the foods she’s convinced she absolutely must not eat— these are the facets of her character that prove as form-fitting and impossible to dismiss as her shadow.

We tell ourselves that beauty only goes skin-deep, but that hasn’t been true for a long time. Not since the summons of a seraph with a flaming sword. Not since the paradise where nakedness knew no shame. Not since two lovers sharing an apple marked the end of the world.

Why a Good Label Can Help You Avoid Disappointment

by Jill Wilbur Smith

My younger daughter, Sarah, loves jellied cranberry sauce. Don’t judge. She developed her taste for it from me. (I don’t know if I’m drawn to it because of the taste, the texture, or the fact that it slurps from the can in a perfect cylinder with hieroglyphic rings etched around its center.)

When Sarah was 9 or 10, she came across jellied cranberry sauce on a salad bar. It was the first item she went for when she brought her plate back to the table. She shoveled a huge piece into her mouth—a bite she immediately spat into her napkin, wiping her tongue of the offending flavor.

She hadn’t discovered jellied cranberry sauce—but pickled beets.

Imagine her surprise and disappointment.  A nice label on the salad bar would have been useful.

That’s how I feel about labels. They serve a purpose. They let you know what you’re getting so you can avoid unpleasant surprises. Good for a salad bar, even better for a person with a developmental disability.

The day my daughter Emily was diagnosed with Asperger’s was one of the most liberating of my life. I had a name for her idiosyncratic behavior. The label helped me know what to expect from her so I wouldn’t be surprised by her conduct.

Let me be clear. Emily’s label isn’t an excuse for bad behavior or a free ticket to let others take care of her. It’s just another way of understanding who she is so that we can better help her navigate the world. And so that others know what they’re getting as well.

I often tell people that Emily is on the autism spectrum, that she has Asperger’s. I don’t say it to elicit pity, but as a way to clue them in about what they can expect of her.  It helps explain why she might not look them in the eye when they talk to her. It provides context for my elation when she gets her first job at 21. It reminds them not to be surprised if she reacts to a loud noise or a bright light in a more exaggerated way than most do.

Her label helps assimilate her into society in a way that’s appropriate for her.

Lots of people like pickled beets. They’re delicious. They can be used in a variety of recipes—but never as a substitute for jellied cranberry sauce.

Emily is delightfully delicious as well. She’s wicked smart and has a quirky sense of humor. Like pickled beets, she has a little bit of an edge about her that, paired with the right set of expectations, can be phenomenal. Just don’t expect a sugary sweet disposition that melts in your mouth and you won’t be disappointed.