Being Queer and on the Autism Spectrum

by Jordan Davis

As you might already know, I write mostly about permanent supportive housing and how San Francisco’s government stands in the way of delivering effective services on time, under budget, and in a manner that works for everybody. I don’t like to talk much about my past, but since it’s Pride month, I’d like to share how being a neurodivergent, non-binary trans femme who began transitioning nine years ago has impacted me, especially as someone who is formerly homeless and marginally housed.

I was born in the mid-1980s in the OC—no, not Orange County, California, but Ocean County, New Jersey, although both counties share a conservative culture. My family, and much of the region, could best be described as white working class—the type of people who moved heavily towards Trump in 2016. Though we always had what we needed, we didn’t always get what we wanted. I was raised to embrace masculine gender stereotypes by a functionally alcoholic, hot-tempered father and an Italian mom who was a disciplinarian. One of my formative memories was talking about wanting to be a girl on a bus back home from an overnight camping trip at the Delaware Water Gap and getting chewed out by my peers and adults at Cheesequake Service area. More than a decade later, I would go to the service area to change into feminine clothing heading north and masculine clothing going south back home during some lost years of my life.

Did I mention I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 5? It would set me up to repress my gender identity for a long time, since I didn’t want to rock the boat. Plus, the Jersey Shore in the 1990s was not a safe place to be gay, especially at my chronically underfunded public schools. If there had been an openly gay student at my middle and high school, which had more fights than Madison Square Garden, there would have been a homophobic riot encouraged by the faculty. If such a queer student were murdered, the cops would have covered it up.

I would say that I was an above average student, but a combination of relentless bullying, getting into extreme metal, and dressing in black in an environment that had zero tolerance for general rule-breaking, plus getting into a tussle with a local yokel police sergeant’s kid, all pushed me to leave school. As a result, I developed a “fuck the police” attitude—something that would guide me as I ended up homeless in my adult life.

I ended up at a therapeutic board school where my peers continuously bullied me and a staff member sexually assaulted me, which contributed to my trauma. Then I went to college, where I managed to keep a full scholarship. But after flunking out of grad school, I got my first taste of extreme poverty, and one of my last memories in New Jersey was being forced to be drug tested to access the only clinic in my county that took Medicaid—that’s why I reacted badly to the passage of Proposition F earlier this year, even though it wouldn’t affect me. I feel like San Francisco had turned into Ocean County.

I experienced homelessness several times, both in Pennsylvania in my 20s and later in San Francisco. I’ve slept in a friend’s art studio and got banned from a university. I’ve dealt with toxic roommates, which is why I prefer living alone. I’ve also had to go to church-sponsored drop-in centers with modest dress codes where predatory men prey on women, making me a firm believer of secular-run homeless services. Since a man tickled me at the first Navigation Center in the Mission District, I’ve rejected the shelter-first model in favor of housing first.

As for my gender transition, I am almost eight years into not having testicles and a little over two years into having a vagina. But even though I fled Pennsylvania to reach these transition-related milestones, I needed my own space with a private bathroom to support my transition. That was a challenge because San Francisco has historically housed its homeless in single-room occupancy hotels with shared bathrooms. There, I had to navigate around visitor policies for post-surgery care. Because of this, I support a scattered-site model for permanent supportive housing, not only for trans people like myself, but for everyone who experiences difficulties managing SRO life.

As I reflect on my experiences as a trans, queer person with a disability over the last nine years, I believe that we should recognize the intersectionality in our lives as we find our way home.