The fluorescent lights buzz overhead as I sit quietly in the back of the class. I’m buried deep in the rows of identical desks with all my classmates as we watch the teacher in the throngs of an English lecture. Everything is organized and simplified here. My desk is perfectly situated to match my books which are perfectly centered along with my pencils which lay perfectly parallel to them, almost. I take my eyes off the teacher to notice one of my pencils is out of place. I quickly rectify the placement as I feel tension building in my shoulders.
Moments like these are common in my day-to-day life.
I was diagnosed with autism when I was 10 years old. Shortly after that, I was also diagnosed with OCD and anxiety, which compounds my autism. The combination of all of my diagnoses affects my daily rhythms, like the way I tap light switches in multiples of threes or count every step I take. On top of that, I realized that I was gay around the same time in my life and first came out privately to close friends in my late teens.
With regards to being autistic and having OCD, I always knew I had specific tendencies, but never understood what they meant until I received a proper diagnosis from my school. For most of my life, I had assumed that having either, much less both, meant something bad as I had often heard them described in a negative context. As I learned more however, the uncertainties gave way to clarity and the diagnoses clicked in my mind; I said, “That’s me!”
Being a young person at the intersection of these identities can be precarious. A 2017 study by the CDC found that 34 percent of LGBTQ+ students reported being bullied on school property while for autistic children, a CBS survey found that 63 percent of them reported being bullied at school. Despite not coming out publicly about my identities when I was younger, I often felt left out and different. Bullying in elementary school was particularly terrible for me. In middle and high school I tried to fit in, but I could never avoid the contemptuous looks and condescending voices when I struggled to function. Changing schools often due to my military family life helped by getting fresh starts, but it also hurt my ability to make connections.