what is queer longing

Understanding Queer Longing & Sublimating it into Queer Joy

I desire

And I crave.

-Sappho (Fragment 10)

Do you remember the age when your childhood friends started to talk about crushes? I don’t know about you, but for me, it felt so sudden. I’m not sure I could have ever been prepared for it, really.

When I was a kid, we mostly stayed separated: boys would go off to play kickball, and the girls would all break out into little discussion groups. I loved these little talking circles!

We’d discuss our favorite movies (“10 Things I Hate About You”), our favorite books (“Angus, Thongs, And Full-Frontal Snogging”), and we shared our feelings.

Holy time capsule, Batman!

One day as we were huddled around each other, a friend mentioned having a crush on a boy in our class. It was as if someone dropped a pint of blood into a shark tank. All eyes were rapt, watching this increasingly cool and mature friend talk about how it felt to have a crush. They erupted into giggles and excited noises like we had just seen Heath Ledger himself walk by the schoolyard. 

It was almost magnetic. From that point onwards, it felt like crushes were the one and only thing that my friends were excited to talk about. However, like most developmental stages in adolescence, I wasn’t ready for it. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t hadn’t ever felt a crush before, but for a little queer sprout of a child, I wasn’t prepared to discuss feelings like this. It would have meant explaining that, in that moment, I had already been well-versed in crush theory 101.

It would have meant telling my friends that I had experienced crushes on girls and boys. For a little kid in the late 90s and early 2000s, that was too much to bear.

Instead, I avoided the conversations. I was treated as frigid, or strange for not being as excited to explore the forbidden desire everyone had to play spin the bottle.

“What happens if a girl spins and lands on another girl?” I asked, I tried to look as uninterested as possible while my damp palms rubbed the Bohemian rug beneath me. “Do they have to kiss?”My friends and the “cool” boys laughed and made disgusted faces. 

“No, obviously,” replied the boy with the freckles spattered over his nose, “That would be gross. It would be gay. Girls don’t kiss other girls.”


What is queer longing?

Queer longing is a state of being. 

Queer kids don’t relate to the societal norm that tells them you’ll eventually fall for someone of the opposite gender. When you grow up being told that heterosexuality is the standard, these kids might not ever feel safe to actualize those crushes.

Imagine this: everyone around you is starting to fall for someone, and those who don’t are seen as “weird” and “childish”. You feel a crush, but instead of it being on the pretty girl who smells of Calgon’s Cotton Candy body spray, you find yourself wanting to be closer with a guy on your soccer team who smells of Axe. 

Acting or expressing this feeling to be closer, especially when every kid is expected to be the “factory default” of cis het, is impossible. So instead of asking him out like you would if he were a she, you ignore the feeling. You bury it deep down, hide it under the floorboards.

Every so often, when the nights are cold and lonely, you might pull that crush back up to the front of your consciousness. You indulge in fantasizing about holding his hand, going to the movies, and buying a house together at the ripe ol’ age of 18. You can experience the joy of connecting to someone and ultimately connecting to your own desires through longing, yearning for a world that doesn’t exist (yet).

Queer longing is a safe rest stop, it’s the cheap but clean motel we park ourselves in while we make the perilous journey to a time and place where we can exist as queer adults. However, sadly, sometimes we allow ourselves to remain there, forgetting it was only ever meant to be temporary shelter from the storm.

Yearning: A Brief History

Queer people have resided in this place of longing for generations.

Our past ancestors have created language, coded in flowers or handkerchiefs or music, to move ourselves safely from queer longing to queer action. 

It hasn’t been easy and likely will continue to be a struggle as the political tides shift again.

We shouldn’t let that force us back into that perpetual space of longing, however.

Regardless of our societal pressures or internal repression, we cannot let ourselves remain in the lonely space of believing the only kind of queer intimacy we can experience is queer longing.

We must, and should act on our desires.

Listen to Our (Queer) Elders 

In her hyper-influential essay, “The Uses of the Erotic: the Erotic as Power” writer, poet, and feminist Audre Lorde writes:

“The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”

For most people, they know they’re falling for someone or have a crush when that joy in being near their object of desire is accompanied with negative feelings. Being around their crush is excruciating, but being away from them is another form of delicious torture altogether; their mind races with ideas, fantasies, and prepared conversations.

But you know what would be even more delicious? Living out your desires. Don’t remain in queer longing, afraid to make that first move. If your queer longing means going out to dance, sandwiched between a bunch of sweaty twinks, do it! If your queer longing means living your best ace life at home, live it! 

Just don’t let your one life be one you live perpetually in your own head, in your own delightful sadomasochistic desires that desire should never ever be acted on. Stay safe, but promise yourself a future where you don’t feel as dull as a rusted penny. 

From Queer Longing to Queer Joy

The best and worst thing about tapping into your deepest desires and queer yearnings is that the only person who knows best is you. You can’t pick up a book that will list them all, you can’t ask a friend or parent what they think is best for you, heck you can’t even expect your therapist to know all the answers to what tickles your heart (and possibly other places).

The only person who will have those answers is you. It can be incredibly freeing to realize that you don’t have to live up to other’s standards, but instead, you can follow that sparkling feeling in your stomach. (No, it’s not the grapefruit Lacroix you just chugged either.)

Here are some tools and tips that have helped me along the way, in my own journey to tap into the queer longing and express it. Have no fear, allies, for this can also help release your own longings as well! They’re helpful for queer folks but not limited to that.

  • Get comfortable. You cannot expect yourself to feel safe expressing what you truly would want to bring into your life while things feel scary and unsafe. If you have to clean your space up, do that. If it means making time to take long showers or eat food that is nourishing and comforting, don’t hesitate. This is for your pleasure, lean into that happiness and follow it to safety.
  • Once you’re feeling comfortable, try to get silent. You don’t have to “clear your mind”, but actually the opposite. I want you to try feeling your sensations. We tend to inundate ourselves with tons of stimulation, and it can sometimes keep our desires at bay. How many times have you just washed the dishes without a podcast, audiobook, or a TV show playing in the background? Turn off the extra stimulation, lay down, and just close your eyes for a bit. Try to remember what joy feels like.
  • Think about your longings and the corresponding fears. Ask yourself:
    • What are you too afraid of bringing into your life, or acting out? 
    • What scares you about these desires? What thrills you?
    • Are you worried that your queer longing will not be reciprocated? Are you worried you will be engulfed by desire or limerence?
    • How do you know when you truly desire something?
    • Do you keep yourself in queer longing as a way to maintain control? Do you feel blase about it because it doesn’t feel achievable? Are there social or economic barriers between what you want and what you currently have?
  • Let the feelings arise. You don’t have to force any answers or theories. If you feel a response, focus on the feeling and try to let it open up to you. You can let the experience be an experience, you don’t have to explain the sensations or desires to anyone else.
  • Check in with your body and your desires often. What feels good and stimulating for you?
  • Read Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Uses of the Erotic: the Erotic as Power”. 

Whenever I get a bit stuck, or dissociated to what truly would thrill me, I try to remember that the joy I bring into my life isn’t just my joy; it’s a political experience, where I can reclaim space as a trans, queer, neurodivergent person in a world that would prefer my existence was simpler. 

You can be a beacon for others, and if you find that initially more helpful than doing it “purely for yourself”, lean into that. Remember that your joy brings joy into the lives around you, and those who identify with your human experience.

Finally, do not force it. This will be a lifelong practice, and that’s exciting! What you want in each present moment will change with time, and evolve.

Finally, you don’t have to discard your queer longing but remember it’s a rest stop. You can visit it in order to tap into creative energies for poems, or pass through as you figure out your crushes. Ultimately, our destination is one where you are present in your joy. 

Let your queer longing be metamorphosed into queer joy.

Good luck, friend.