My nephew, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, was in Washington, D.C. this weekend on a school trip. He goes to a special boarding school in New England for kids with emotional or learning challenges. While he is almost 17 years old, he talks and acts more like a fourteen-year-old. He has the classic traits of ASD such as an intense focus on a very narrow set of topics that he will ask about nonstop. He has a lumbering gait that makes him look a bit clumsy. He has repetitive behaviors or rituals, such as constantly touching the acne on his face. But with all this, he is a sweet young man and is very easy to like. Last year he shared with his father that he is bisexual. Since he knows I am gay, this has also become a central topic of our relationship.
I met his school group at the Natural History Museum. In classic fashion, even though I had carefully arranged with my brother, who arranged with the school, that I was to pick my nephew up and take him out to dinner, the group leaders on the trip were not aware of this. I had to text the group leader the email thread between me, my brother and the school so he could read every word and verify that I indeed had approval from the school and my brother to take my nephew away from the group, all while my nephew repeatedly asked me what was going on.
To be fair, taking a group of twelve young men and women, all will developmental difficulties, to a major Washington museum on a Saturday is a crazy and exhausting idea. All three group leaders looked like they were in a state of shock. Finally, the email trail was read by the group leader and we had some discussion on the logistics about when to bring him back to the hotel, we were cleared to go.
When we left the museum and had picked up my car from the parking garage we decided to take a ride through Dupont Circle and Logan Circle parts of D.C. My nephew has gotten obsessed with “Gayborhoods”. Even though I have repeatedly told him that LGBT people live everywhere today, he does not seem able to process it. “So the gay people live here in Dupont Circle or Logan Circle or both? Do you think I should live here?” he asked. I replied, “Well, there is a concentration of LGBT in this area but gay men and women live everywhere today.” But then five minutes later he would ask me the same question about a different city. “So the gays in San Francisco live in the Castro, right? Have you been to the Castro? Do you think I would like the Castro? Should I live there?” And we go through the same cycles of questions and answers over and over again.
Today I asked my nephew why he felt he was bisexual. He was very adorable in his answer. He told me he found handsome guys, and only handsome guys, attractive, and especially men with hairy chests. I have to say, I agree with him on the hairy chest part, but I kept my own attractions to myself. Interestingly enough, he did not provide any details of his attraction to women, but he does say he is attracted to both equally.
Most of the questions my nephew asks me about being gay are around the gay areas in cities. Geography and real estate are some of the things he has gotten hyper-focused on and repeatedly talks about. As we drove around Washington, D.C. he kept up a running commentary on how nice each neighborhood was, in between asking me a continuous stream of questions.
He found a restaurant online that he wanted to go to and it turned out to be Restaurant Nora, one of the top restaurants in the city that serves only organic, environmentally conscious cuisine. At first, I hesitated to go and spend a lot of money, but then I thought, why not. So we had a fantastic meal as my nephew continued his constant stream of questions.
My nephew also hyper focuses on family history. He peppered me with continuous questions about my siblings, parents, and grandparent. He had recently read the book: A Child Called It, by David Pelzer, about a child abused by an alcoholic mother. My nephew went through every abuse listed in the book, one by one, and wanted to know if my mother had done the same to me. “Did she burn your arm on a stove? Did she make you drink terrible liquids? Did she hit you? Did she tell you terrible things about yourself?” This theme went on throughout the evening. And like his other topics, he would cycle back to the same set of questions repeatedly.
When I finally dropped him off at his hotel in Arlington, VA, I was exhausted. I parked the car and walked him to his room where his roommate was watching TV. And that was it. I got an awkward goodby from him. No eye contact and he was already focused on the next thing.
It is challenging enough to navigate being gay, but I do not know how my nephew will navigate having ASD and being bisexual. But he has another year and a half of high school and then hopefully college. He is lucky because he has an out gay uncle, me, who he can ask questions, and parents who are very open to him being who he is. This story will continue.