He's still on his 'double rainbow' journey as a trans, autistic person
Leon Bote and his dog Dobby greeted me at the front door on a sunny summer afternoon at his home in Richmond Heights. Bote wore brown pants with a gray Manchester Orchestra t-shirt and a face mask draped around his neck.
Bote is transgender and uses he/him pronouns. He socially transitioned — meaning he adopted the name, pronouns and gender expressions to match his identity — several years ago and changed his name legally to Leon Zero Bote in 2023. Bote took the name from a greyhound dog character in a book he wrote as a child.
"I saw the book that I wrote and the other animals had names that I remembered [I had] animals with those names. And the only name that didn't fit with anything was Leon," he said. "I used to play pretend or whatever. When I was by myself, that's what I would call myself. I would always want to be like a boy growing up."
Growing up, Bote says he knew that he wasn’t a girl. He tried to tell friends and family – including his mom.
"She wanted a girl. I was the third born, she had two boys and then she had me and she put me in dresses — even if I was screaming," Bote said.
Because of how Bote was treated by his family, he repressed his true gender as a tween and teenager. Bote said he has a better relationship now with his mom. He didn't have a formal diagnosis of autism until much later in life.
"When I was about eight, a teacher said there was something going on with me and they tried to diagnose like ADHD, but when they did the testing they found no, that's not it," Bote said. "And then they just kind of like shrugged and said whatever and they didn't do anything else. But I've kind of known for more than a decade."
In middle school in Wickliffe, Bote was drawn to engineering. Students were required to take an engineering class in seventh grade, and Bote loved it. He said his seventh-grade teacher was the one who gave him a chance to explore this interest by assigning extra drawings and working one-on-one with him.
"Mr. Grimm was actually willing to work with me and let me do more of the drafting in exchange for less of the shop time," Bote said. "So I still had to do the major projects, but I was able to spend more time over on the other side doing the drawings."
Bote was then the only assigned-female-at-birth person who went on to take a drafting elective. He faced opposition from other teachers who thought that path wasn't suitable for him and his perceived gender.
"In senior year, when I was about to graduate, (another teacher) kind of took me aside and he told me about how I would come up against opposition," Bote said. "I would have people that would tell me that I couldn't do this because of my perceived gender. When that's done to you enough times you don't really learn to fight you kind of learn to [say] well, I guess I just have to do something else."
After graduating with an associate’s degree in science, Bote attended Cleveland State University where he excelled in the honors program. He minored in linguistics, which he loved because it was a way to bring language and science together.
"While I was able to earn the associate of science, I wasn't able to really have as developed of a curriculum towards a science-related degree to continue into my bachelor's," Bote said. "So I ended up having to do an English degree. And as I got into the English degree, some of the courses that I took, well, one of them was like Intro to Linguistics, and I kind of fell in love with that and I was like, ok, I want to do this as my major."
Having excelled in linguistics, Leon fell in love with perusing the Eggcorn Database. It’s a website devoted to documenting eggcorns in the English language — words or phrases that are mistakenly used but still make some sense. For example, the phrase “for all intensive purposes” when it should be “for all intents and purposes.”
"There is a logic to why they're saying that because intensive purposes, yeah, this is intense, you know, they could actually be thinking that they could be like this is an intense subject for all intensive purposes," he said.
Bote now works as an email marketing specialist contractor for Case Western Reserve University. He said that having autism and being transgender has made life difficult because of how society in general treats people like him.
"I've been discouraged from presenting either identity openly because you, you have to mask, you have to mask, you have to be normal," he said. "If you are autistic, somebody puts you in a box, you can't perform it. You're going to get exhausted if you're doing it [masking] all the time. Like, if you're autistic most of the time you're just not even successful [at masking] and somebody sees the cracks in the masks and that makes them suspicious of you and everything blows up in your face."
Bote said that there’s one thing he wants people to understand regarding individuals who have autism and are trans — a status that’s been called “the double rainbow” because, according to research, LGBTQ+ people are three to six times more likely to have autism than the population at large.
"There's the Hulu series 'Pride,' and one of the episodes had a quote from Bayard Rustin where he said when you do harm to others, you do harm to yourself," Bote said. "But when you help yourself, you inevitably help others. I can't directly fight someone else's fight, but I can, in fighting my own, I can open the way for them to fight theirs."