My nephew, who will turn 17 in a few weeks, in on the autism spectrum. He is considered high functioning and will graduate from a special high school with a high school diploma in two years.
As far back as I can remember, like many on the autism spectrum, he could hyper-focus on a subject to the exclusion of everything else. For a long time, it was cars. Every conversation began with the same question, “What kind of car do you have?” He would step through all kinds of detailed questions about my car until he got quickly beyond my knowledge of my car. Next, his focus was on houses. “Where should I live? I am thinking of living in (insert any neighborhood).”
Last year he began to say that he thought he might be bisexual or gay. I think he is still trying to sort this out and from what I understand from my brother, who does not believe that his son has had any sexual experiences yet. But my nephew knows that I am gay, and we have begun to have some interesting conversations on gay-related topics.
His latest area of hyper-focus has been the Gayborhood. The gayborhood, to my knowledge, it not a universal term, but one commonly used in Philadelphia, where we grew up. My nephew asked me in rapid succession: “Where is the gayborhood in Washington, D.C.? Do you think that I should live there? Have you ever been to the Castro in San Francisco? Do you think I would like the Castro?”
When I tried to explain that today, gay people live everywhere, he struggled to get the concept. I told him that the gayborhoods around the country are shrinking or dying. But he persisted in peppering me with questions about the gayborhood in Washington, D.C, San Francisco and other major cities. The gayborhood conversation is one we have had three times, and every time he goes through a similar series of questions, much like he once did about cars or houses.
When I asked my nephew why he wanted to live in the Castro, I got this simple answer: “That is where I belong.” I tried not to read too much into his answer as I know his thought process is filtered through his hyper-focusing and his autism, and not likely based on any personal oppression or stigma.
Next month my nephew will be in Washington, D.C. for a school trip and we plan to get together. I have not seen him face to face in a few years. I was hoping to join his class on their tour around Washington, but he would prefer that I see him privately and take him out somewhere. I am quite sure that the destination of choice will be the gayborhood.