Live Through This

Dreams Come True

My fantasy worlds help me deal with my real one.

Illustration by Kendra.

Illustration by Kendra.

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. ♦

13 Comments

  • Elsary August 12th, 2014 4:02 PM

    Another dreamer!
    I daydream/imagine things like this almost all the time. My problem has been that I don’t get anything from these dreams, they don’t help me in any way. But this article really showed me how to use my fantasies, how to get power from them. I’m so thankful.

  • Jenoris August 12th, 2014 5:37 PM

    Wow. I have always wanted to express this sentiment but couldn’t find the words. I have gone through hell and back for not being “feminine” enough, for being fat, for being a poc/latin@, living with an alcoholic, all of it and it’s always been so horrible so I’ve always allowed myself to create multiple fantasy lives where I can imagine myself doing something powerful or being someone powerful but with positive effect. When I was younger I was definitely always at Hogwarts or somewhere in that universe telling silencing or stunning bullies and bigots alike. Now, I just try to imagine myself surrounded by people who inspire me, having already made something of myself which I do really hope to do someday before it’s too late.

    Thank you so much for sharing/writing this Tyler. It means so much to hear that someone who, although we may not have as many shared experiences, understands fully the awfulness of being a minority sometimes requires at least the mental removal of the crappy situations we are in (without being a danger to ourselves, of course). There just really aren’t words for how much I loved this and how much it resonates with me. Thank you thank you thank you.

    http://paper-bottles.blogspot.com

  • Abbey xoxo August 12th, 2014 5:45 PM

    I totally used to/still do the same thing! I used to pretend to be a witch or a princess or a fairy (I still want to be a witch when I grow up…), but now my fantasies are more realistic and I just imagine myself as being more powerful, more confident, feeling less oppressed by a crippling shyness, trichotillomania, and a family, friend group, and school that just doesn’t seem to get me entirely.

    http://www.dearabbeyxoxo.weebly.com

  • Erin. August 12th, 2014 6:21 PM

    Yes Tyler! Exactly perfect!
    I hate it so so much when people brush fantasy aside by saying “it’s such entertainment, it’s just escapism, it has no REAL worth” – but what you’ve written about is exactly why fantasy has real worth.

    Also, I really hope that one day, the use of each person’s preferred pronouns becomes the norm. Also also, if people claim that it is ungrammatical to use the word “they” as a singular third person pronoun, you can tell them to shut up and check the Oxford English Dictionary online, because for a long time it was grammatical (Shakespeare used it).

    http://shambled-ramblings.blogspot.ca/

  • ellenelle August 12th, 2014 6:22 PM

    Wow, this resonates so much with me. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on things because I’m dreaming but for me, right now, it’s just a little better than my real world.

    Thanks Tyler.

  • ohdarling August 12th, 2014 6:44 PM

    This is beautifully written and really spoke to me. I often get lost in imaginary worlds and sometimes worry that I’m “dreaming my life away”. But it’s a coping mechanism and there’s nothing wrong with that (so long as I know when to draw the line of course, which I do). Thank you for writing this, it helps me feel less alone.

    Hopefully one day the world might be a more sensitive place and we won’t need to retreat into our imaginations.

    http://www.oh-darling.net

  • Hagai August 12th, 2014 7:19 PM

    This article kind of resonated with me. I don’t know if I’m in denial or trying to cope with unfortunate things that are happening in my life. My dreams are more realistic than yours, but I’m afraid I can’t live in the present and experience it/take control of it my life. (Okay, maybe I just want to talk to someone, and this is depressing). :)

  • moowl August 12th, 2014 7:29 PM

    All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other. ”

    ― H.P. Lovecraft

  • spudzine August 12th, 2014 7:47 PM

    This is exactly why I love making art so much. When I make an original world filled with original characters who exist only inside of my head, it’s like I am somewhere I wish to be. A peaceful environment where I can thrive.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • TessAnnesley August 12th, 2014 8:49 PM

    BEAUTIFUL AND PERFECT.

    I daydream more than I care to mention, a new movie/book always reaped new ones. After Pirates of the Caribbean, I could do be Jack Sparrow’s kickass daughter who followed him around and helped with his plans and won sword fights. After every Shakespeare production I saw, I would plan how I would have staged the play, bigger and better and more controversial.

    Sometimes I worry. Then I realise that it’s like rehearsing for creativity, just making sure I can still dream enough to do it when I need to. It’s not something for shame.

    “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”

  • RatioRae August 13th, 2014 7:13 AM

    I used to fantasise about things to escape from reality, now I know how to use these daydreams to gain inner strength. :)

    http://thegirlwhodrankstars.blogspot.com
    http://danyrys.tumblr.com

  • Nia August 14th, 2014 4:49 AM

    Kendra’s artwork is simply amazing!

  • Simone H. August 14th, 2014 4:41 PM

    Omg omg omg, haven’t read this yet but I almost sent a piece about Harry Potter and how it helped/helps me and how much I love it and aaaah thank you !
    More when I’ll have read it.