For this woman, who's blind and autistic, sex positivity matters even more.

Michelle Smith, 21, was understandably nervous when her mom found the BDSM restraints she had hidden under her bed.

"I was afraid you’d find those," Smith said, hiding her face in shame. "I thought you’d noticed them before and just ignored them."

"'Them' what?" Mom responded as she glanced around the room at the collectible anime action figures and other nerdy memorabilia that adorned the shelves. "It’s just a strap to a suitcase."


There's always a strange tension between parents and children when it comes to sexuality. But in this particular instance, mom's naïveté was compounded by the fact that Michelle is legally blind and has autism — and she was about to leave for a kink party with her then-boyfriend.

Photo by Sarah Ginsburg/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

Blindness and autism can obviously cause some complications, especially in terms of work and school. But what about sex and romance?

Humans are sexual creatures, and neither blindness and autism should change that. Still, Smith had some difficulty when she first began to explore her sexuality — not because of her disabilities but because of other people's perceptions of her disabilities.

"When I first got into this lifestyle, I was convinced that no one would want to play with 'some blind chick,'" she says. "There were people online who said things like, 'Oh, you have autism, that means you can’t consent.' And it’s like, excuse me? Who are you to say that?"

Photo by Sarah Ginsburg/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

When Smith finally found a safe kink community, she laid down the ground rules: They weren't allowed to ask about her disabilities, unless they had specific questions about what she could or could not do or see.

BDSM and other kinds of sex play involve power and authority — two things that don’t often get bestowed on people with disabilities, at least consensually.

Smith might enjoy being submissive in a sexual way, for example. But that's different from when people see her with a cane out on the street and treat her like a child. That is condescending and unwanted, while her sex life is liberating and cathartic and — above all — consensual.

Photo by Sarah Ginsburg/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

"When you’ve already had to acknowledge the fact that you’re a little bit unusual, finding out that you’re unusual in a sexual way, you just kind of shrug and say 'that figures!'" she says with a laugh.

In her experience, there's a lot of overlap between autism, kink, and nerd/geek communities. She also finds a similar empowerment from cosplay — dressing up like her favorite characters from anime or video games for conventions with like-minded fans. Again, it offers her a sense of control; she's accepted and appreciated for the same passions that make her "different" in the eyes of others.

Photo by Matthew Dorris/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

Since she began to embrace her kinks and quirks, Smith has had several relationships, lived on her own, and continued to pursue her career, just like any other able-sighted or neurotypical person might.

That doesn't mean everything is simple or easy, of course. Both her autism and blindness still affect her life in certain ways, and sometimes even work together to a disadvantage. "Sometimes with autism I get really interested in something, and then I’m frustrated with my blindness when I can’t do it," she says. (This can be particularly hard to balance with her love of video games, where her sight problems prevent her from enjoying certain games that aren't calibrated for people with low vision.)

In the meantime, she's still striving toward her dream job of being a full-time voice actor for cartoon work. She's making industry connections through friends in Los Angeles and building a reel and resume through making original animated projects with friends. It's not an easy path for anyone to follow — but there's no reason that her autism or blindness should get in the way either.

Photo by Sarah Ginsburg/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

By sharing the story of her passions and perseverance, Smith hopes to break down stigmas around disability, neurodiversity, and sexuality.

"Autism is a disability of the people who don’t have autism more than it is for the people who do," she says. "It’s a disability of perception. Neurotypical folks, a lot of times they don’t give us a chance, and I think that’s where a lot of the problems come from."

She also shared a story from a recent screening of "Best and Most Beautiful Things," a documentary film that chronicles her journey over several years. After the movie, an older woman confessed that the movie — and Smith herself — had made her rethink the way that she treats her own granddaughter.

Photo by Jordan Salvatoriello/"Best and Most Beautiful Things." Used with permission.

"I don't know if her granddaughter is queer or kinky or has crazy-colored hair, is a nerd, is blind, has autism, any of the above, all of the above, none of the above," Smith says. "But that girl who I have no idea about, who probably has at least a couple things in common with me, is now not worrying about the way her grandma looks at her. So that makes me happy."

And that's the crux of Smith's mission in life. She doesn’t want to change the way she is or the world that she lives in; she just wants to help others understand it, with all its kinks and quirks.

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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