I’m sitting on a hotel room bed under harsh fluorescent lights. I’m surrounded by people who seem like my friends, but they are mocking me. They’re telling me my gender is confusing to them and that I need to “pick a side.” They say my preferred pronouns are “weird” and “not grammatically correct” and therefore unusable. I can’t get a word in to defend myself without someone interjecting, “Stop being so sensitive! Learn to take a joke!” I’m frozen with anxiety. I need to escape.
Suddenly I’m running down a corridor clutching a magic wand. I turn a sharp corner and run into a locked door. Alohomora! I think as I point my wand toward the keyhole. The lock clicks and the door opens with a low creak. I enter and shut the door behind me.
This is my Room of Requirement. In the Harry Potter series, this is a shape-shifting secret chamber that appears only when a student is in dire need of it, and right now, I definitely am. I lean against the marble wall and sink to the ground. My breathing returns to normal. I’m safe.
I started fantasizing like this when I was six, after seeing the movie Matilda, about a girl my age who took charge of her own life with sorcery. Matilda’s telekinetic powers let her punish her abusive parents, get revenge on cruel teachers, AND enjoy simple pleasures like telekinetically stealing chocolates! It all sounded pretty great to me.
Matilda and other fantasy-based stories resonated with me because they depicted autonomous, powerful children. As a kid, I couldn’t do anything without the approval of adults. It was frustrating to be so reliant on others for everything I needed. When I tried advocating for myself, I was told hearing that I was a “crybaby” or “looking for attention” instead of being a “good girl.” But the idea that Matilda, a kid who could’ve sat at the desk next to me at school, had so much self-determination gave me hope for my future. I decided I could accomplish anything that she could, even without supernatural abilities.
For some of us who still feel powerless—women; people of color; disabled, queer, or transgender people; and people who live at the intersections of these identities—disappearing into magical worlds isn’t just entertaining. It’s a method of survival. In my daydreams, I can silence catcallers with laser beams that shoot out of my eyes. I can take on my bullies and oppressors. I’d love to be able to seal the mouths of my harassers shut, or maybe put them to sleep using a Pokémon attack while I strut away to “Yoncé.”
In my fantasies, I can change my body at will to properly express the entirety of my gender-fluid identity. Disempowered people get to be protagonists and heroines. We become important, unashamed, and unapologetic. It’s heartbreaking that we have to rebuild these worlds for ourselves because the real one doesn’t have space for us as we are. But it’s also amazing that magic can empower so many different people. These dreamers refuse to let the laws of space and time stop from finding their own richly deserved space.
Imagining fantastical scenarios changes my attitude about my obstacles. It gives me space to breathe and helps me solve problems by determining what I can do without magic. I assess my surroundings more proactively. That Room of Requirement daydream, for example, told me that I needed to leave the hotel room I really was in, head back to my own, get into bed, put my headphones on, and turn the lights off. And while it didn’t change what the occupants of that first room had said to me, it made me feel a lot better.
When I fantasize about hexing my hecklers, I hold my head a little higher while walking down the street. I might not be able to cast spells, but pretending I can makes me feel as powerful as Hermione Granger. When I can see bits of her in myself, I feel like I can conquer any obstacle. I harness all my potential and understand that all the forms I can possibly take are of my own conjuring. If you can dream it, you can be it—or at least embody some aspects of it! That, to me, is power. ♦