When I was seven, my parents sent my two older sisters and me to take tennis lessons. At the end, the instructor wrote evaluations on the three of us. While my sisters’ evaluations mentioned coordination and talent, mine noted that “Olivia has a party in her head.” It’s unclear what the instructor thought of my tennis skills or if they were even displayed due to said “party,” as my tendency during childhood sports was to wander off, lost in a fantasyland.
In 2020, the party is still going on in my head, a fact that has been as praised as it has been criticized. But as I sit in quarantine in Arizona, far from my friends in LA, and even farther from my family in New York and Greece, I find myself turning to that space in my head, one that is filled with longing. As a lesbian, I am well versed in longing and fantasizing, which are tried-and-true LGBTQ+ survival tools that have allowed me to express myself and be accepted, even if only in my head. As the COVID-19 pandemic transforms the world, perhaps it’s this queer practice of longing that can help us make it through this pandemic.
My favorite activity is to daydream, making up conversations with people. In my adolescence, those conversations were mostly with my sisters, the people I admired most, and subsequently, who intimidated me the most. My sisters were who I wanted to be — cooler, prettier, and smarter — and I often lost my words around them, fumbling around to say the right thing. I realize now they were also straighter, which may have been what I longed for the most. I spent my youth dreaming about being someone else. I would wander around New York City, blasting music (so much Radiohead), picturing the “better” version of myself who wasn’t as awkward or weird or different. I didn’t know what was different about me and internalized that as something wrong with me, damage that I’m still undoing. In my head, though, there was nothing to undo: I was both more acceptable and accepted.
Fantasy is an ambiguous space, and it’s in this ambiguity where queerness lives and thrives. The queer identity itself can be an ever-changing, borderless space. Those who have been closeted perform one way externally (straight) while living in another way internally (definitely not straight). Fantasy is a bridge between the internal and external; in our heads, the distance between the two becomes much smaller. In our heads, we’re safe to long as much as we want without threats to our safety or senses of self.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the entire world into a more ambiguous space. The future feels so uncertain right now, partly because we’ve lost our ability to paint a picture of it, as the virus has ruptured our old ways of existing. Solitude is the new reality.
Several people have noted how well-equipped I am for this quarantine as someone with a “rich inner life” and “love of solitude.” It’s hard not to think of these things in the context of my queer identity. Do I like solitude and the fantasizing that comes with it because that’s just who I am or because I needed these things to survive as a gay person? Perhaps the answer doesn’t matter.
In this time of Corona, my longing knows no bounds. I long for my parents and picture the feeling of my mom hugging me or the sound of my dad’s voice talking about Sappho. I long for my sisters and brother and miss gossiping and talking shit with them. I long for my chosen family and lose myself in fantasies of us dancing together and taking our shirts off to Robyn. I long for my crush and imagine us reading next to each other, because that feels like the sweetest form of intimacy right now.
The queer art of longing, it turns out, is an essential survival tool in this pandemic, as now, many are separated from the ones they love or desire, forced to connect from afar. Longing itself is a private, secret affair — something we don’t share with others. Because if we do, then it isn’t really longing anymore. It’s an isolated, solitary act that is perfect for quarantine, since there’s all this time to long for our loved ones and those who may not love us yet, fantasize about the lives we want, and watch “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” on repeat to reaffirm and reignite all those feelings.
Our individual realities are smaller these days and longing is a way out, something bigger than our physical spaces. It’s also a way in – down into desires for ourselves and for others. Longing, as always, is bittersweet. It is all that fills the space between us and our dreams since many can no longer cross that space right now in reality. For years, I lived inside my longing, as the person I was didn’t match the person I wanted to be or the life I had, so my fantasies took over to make up for all that felt off. Coming out and accepting myself shifted things so that my longing now lives inside me. It’s a part of me, but not the only part. My survival tool has become a different kind of tool for a different kind of survival, as I can create a fantasy space from love, rather than from the self-hatred and shame that drove me in the past. It doesn’t make it easier to miss all that’s gone these days. But it does make it more bearable.
Everyone and everything I love is now invited to the party in my head until we can meet again.