*Disclaimer – I want to make sure I state that this blog post was inspired by my own experiences. Not every person with Asperger’s Syndrome or high-functioning autism may feel the same way or experience the same issues, although from what I have read, these issues are not uncommon among females with autism.*
I have had a long, complex relationship with my own femininity. Growing up, I never noticed a huge difference between myself and other girls until I hit middle school. In elementary school I was just a “normal” little girl who was into books, Barbies and ponies. I did have some sensory and social issues, but they weren’t huge red flags back then and were easy to ignore. When I got to sixth grade it seemed like the whole world suddenly changed. Girls became obsessed with makeup, hair and clothing. They also read fashion and relationship magazines so they could learn to draw attention from the guys they liked. I was still into books, Nickelodeon, Disney movies and playing outside. I really couldn’t care less about my looks or guys. I didn’t care all that much about making friends either.
It was at this age I first experienced real bullying. I was made fun of because I didn’t start shaving as soon as the other girls did. I was picked on because I didn’t dress in style, wear makeup or have a “cool” hairstyle. I was picked on because I still liked many of the same things I liked as a little kid. I was called a lesbian or ‘butch” because I was a tomboy who was socially clueless in many ways and had no interest in guys yet. Middle school was hell for me in many ways. I was lucky to have a few friends who were outsiders in their own way, but I often felt very much alone. I was constantly told that I was unfeminine, so I started to believe it and wonder what was wrong with me.
Things got a bit better when I reached about 16 or 17. By then I had learned to “fake it” to fit in better. I still didn’t wear makeup or jewelry but I did try to look enough like everyone else to fly under the radar. I started wearing jeans and cute little t-shirts like everyone else (even though I really don’t like the feel of jeans). I adopted a hairstyle that was simple but not “weird”. However, flying under the radar didn’t always work and I started having different issues. As I matured, some guys started to find me attractive and hit on me. This made me want to run & hide. I was uncomfortable being an object of physical appreciation. I didn’t want to be called names like before, but I didn’t want to be seen as a sexual object either.
During this time I actually started to find it easier to relate to guys than girls…as long as the guys didn’t see me as more than a platonic friend. I did start to develop real feelings for certain guys around 17 but was still terribly shy and uncomfortable with the whole ‘dating’ thing. I never really dated until a couple years later when I met my husband, who I got to know online before we ever met in person. Even when we met in person we were friends for a while before we started anything romantic.
As an adult I have developed a better relationship with my femininity, but I still face judgment sometimes. When I got engaged I received real disdain from some women because I didn’t wear my engagement ring all the time (sensory issues). I often feel bored or left out when women talk endlessly about shopping, parties, clothes, weight, guys or gossip. I still don’t care that much about looks. My hairstyle is wash and dry, my clothes are simple and comfy and I haven’t worn makeup since my wedding day. Occasionally I still get a comment about how much I am “like a man” or something along those lines.
Because of these experiences, I somewhat look forward to growing older even though most women seem to dread it. I have hope that as we all age, looks and other superficial things will start to matter less and less to my peers. I don’t want to be invisible anymore like I once did, but I still don’t want to be judged by appearances. When others think of me I hope they think of intelligence and kindness. I hope they think of someone who is creative and passionate. To me, those qualities are what make someone a “real” woman anyway.
Lately, as I have been working with my editor to get my first book for young adults ready for publication, I have been thinking a lot about what is ok and isn’t ok to put in young adult literature. My new YA book is a poetry collection, and while it certainly isn’t riddled with sexual stuff or bad language, there is one poem where I use the word “damn” and one where I use the word “sperm”.
Now, I want to state up front I am not really a bad girl. I have never been one to turn to bad language, especially since I am around kids all the time and believe in setting a good example. In the poem where I used the word “damn”, I just felt that any lesser of an expression would look weak and stupid. The mood of that particular poem is serious and heartfelt, with the person speaking coming from a place of desperation. Saying “darn” just wouldn’t be honest to the depth of the feelings represented.
As for the use of the word “sperm”, it isn’t even really used in a sexual way, but more in a technical way. As in, the thing that eventually becomes a human baby is a sperm. Surely, no one could balk at that, right? But a part of me wonders. I know some parents and teachers can be so conservative and protective of their kids that they run from any sign of impropriety. Plus, many kids that aren’t even in the young adult age bracket still read young adult books. I know 10 and 11 year olds that have read “The Hunger Games”, which I’m sure is geared for an older audience.
I know this quandary of mine might seem ridiculous. After all, in a world where many young adult books are laced with the “f-bomb”, gruesome violence and descriptive sex scenes, why in the world would I worry about something like “damn” or “sperm”? I guess it’s just because I always tend to worry about what parents and teachers think. Maybe too much. Of course, it could be that I am just nervous because this is my first foray into the young adult literature world.
So what do you guys think? How much is too much in young adult literature? And how young is too young to read young adult literature?