Homelessness and the Fear of Standing Out


By Zephyr-Rose Poe

I’ve loved having funky glasses since I first began wearing them at the age of 7. When I discovered that I could buy rainbow glasses, I was ecstatic. I’m on my third pair. When I moved to Orlando, I came with the assumption that it was an extremely queer-friendly city. When I arrived, however, I became homeless immediately and suddenly I felt an instinctive need to blend in in any way possible.

I don’t correct people on my pronouns. I go along with being called ‘ma’am’. I use my deadname* (it’s the only ID I have), even though it’s no longer my legal name. I don’t try to assert myself as an asexual genderqueer person at all. My glasses, however, scream ‘queer’.

Living in motels for 2 ½ months, I wasn’t too worried. I still loved my glasses and I received compliments on them. I still felt safe. Then I had to pack what I could carry, because I was going to be on the streets if I couldn’t get into a shelter. On a video chat with one of my best friends while I packed, I told her that I needed to find my spare glasses—the unassuming teal ones that I had never worn. I searched through my luggage but realized that I had left them back in WA with the rest of my stuff—waiting for me to be housed so I could have it all shipped to me.

The shelter was unable to accommodate me in my wheelchair. I was suddenly thrust onto the streets of Paramore wearing giant rainbow glasses. There are a number of aspects to my appearance that don’t blend in well with any group of people. I’m fat, I’m in an electric wheelchair, I’m bald, I’m extremely pale from living in the Pacific Northwest for almost 36 years, and of course I have my rainbow glasses. I’m certainly a sight to behold. I also don’t fit in among those on the streets.

The fear I feel being queer and unhoused is a fear of standing out, of being seen as uncompliant with social norms. Along with standing out and making things “complicated”, I legally changed my name just a couple of weeks before I moved to Florida. I didn’t have time to get a new ID. The only identification I currently have is a passport in my deadname. I do have court papers explaining the name change, but I often fear that that is too much. It complicates things.

When I need to check into a motel or do anything that requires an ID, I go by my deadname. With the housing authority, I’m in limbo. They know about the name change, but I never know what name to sign off my emails with. When I apply for apartments, I have to use my deadname. I certainly don’t want to appear queer or complicated to any prospective landlords, but I also can’t get a legal ID without already having an address. I can’t get an address (such as a PO box) without adequate proof of who I am, and often, already having an address. This puts me in the position of having to use my deadname, rather than going ahead and making the change complete.

Zephyr’s story experiencing homelessness is ongoing. Right now, they’re staying with mutual aid organizers while navigating the challenges of finding a wheelchair-accessible Section 8 apartment.

Teams in our Food Security Project provide relief to unsheltered people without consideration to factors like age, body size, disability, relationship style or status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other culturally outlawed way of being.

Many of these teams dug into their own pockets this summer to help people like Zephyr survive this summer’s extreme heat crisis. We’d like to reimburse them and keep them motivated to offer this relief next summer. When you have a chance, please take advantage of this last chance to chip in.

Zephyr-Rose Poe is a queer, disabled, unhoused person who has recently moved cross-country to the Orlando-area. Zephyr has previously written and published two books: A Butterfly’s Wings, a book of poetry centered around feminism, queerness, and mental health, as well as The Adventure of It All, a two-part memoir about traveling around the world in a wheelchair. Zephyr’s pronouns are they/them.

Click to read part 1 and part 2 of this ongoing blog series by Zephyr.


*Deadname: the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning.