Imagine this: you have a first date that goes unbelievably well. You talk for hours and make out for just as long. Over your third cocktail, your date mentions that their birthday was last Wednesday. Bingo: You now know their zodiac sign. When you’re in an Uber on your way home, you google to see if you’re astrologically compatible — but the site you land on assumes one of you is a woman and one is a man. But what if you’re both women? Or what if you’re non-binary, not a man or a woman at all?
We’re currently in the midst of an astrology boom — the New Yorker recently proclaimed the field is, “enjoying a broad cultural acceptance that hasn’t been seen since the nineteen-seventies.” A 2017 Pew research centre poll found that about 30% of American adults say they believe in astrology, up from 25% in 2009. And economically, the field is thriving: Earlier this year, the astrology app Co-Star announced it had raised a $5.2 million seed round. Astrology is incredibly popular among the LGBTQ+ community, so much so that earlier this year, Vice UK released a guide to the “astrology queer” subculture, and in 2018, queer publication them. published an article about how queer people who don’t believe in astrology “often feel alienated from the LGBTQ+ community at large.” But queer and gender non-conforming people exploring astrology for the first time often come up against gendered concepts that exclude them: compatibility guides designed for cis straight couples; articles that differentiate between an “Aries man” and “Aries woman”; the classification of the signs as “masculine” or “feminine.” That’s why a wave of modern astrologers are working to change how gendered astrology can be, and in the process, making the field more inclusive.
Anna Joy, a professional astrologer and host of the podcast Queer Witch (who doesn’t use their last name), began studying astrology before they realized they were non-binary. “When I got into astrology, my identity wasn’t conscious for me, and I was definitely reading everything like, Oh, I’m a Cancer woman, these traits are feminine, and Cancer is a feminine sign,” they say. “When you get deep into astrology, there are very conventional assignments of masculine and feminine principles.” But studying astrology — and witchcraft — encouraged Anna Joy to tap into their intuition, and “my intuition let me know that I was non-binary: that I wasn’t a cis woman, or a trans man, but that I had a gender experience that was all over the place on the spectrum,” they say. “I started to feel really alienated and ostracised by the gendered language in both witchcraft and astrology. Then I thought, There’s no reason I can’t explore and translate this in a way that includes myself and my queer and trans siblings. So that’s exactly what I started to do.”
Now, instead of seeing Cancer as a feminine sign, Anna Joy sees it as a receptive sign. “What people traditionally define as feminine in astrology is a receptive energy,” they explain. “And what people traditionally define as masculine is an outward-going energy.” Traditional conceptions of “masculine” and “feminine” can be alienating, they say, “not only to people on the queer spectrum, gender identity-wise, but also to people who don’t experience womanhood as something receptive. Maybe they experience their womanhood as something that’s direct and action-taking — and why should that be a masculine concept?”
What if you’re non-binary, not a man or a woman at all?
Astrology has been interpreted by different people over thousands of years, and 2019 is not the first time that astrologers have created a LGBTQ+-inclusive approach. Jessica Lanyadoo, author of Astrology For Real Relationships, has been practicing astrology since the ’90s, and she's always worked within the queer community, of which she is a part. “I’ll never forget, around 1995, a lesbian in her 40s told me, If you have a group of lesbians, at least one of them will have an astrologer,” she jokes. Instead of “masculine” and “feminine,” Lanyadoo views the signs as those that have an external approach versus an internal approach.
“When we’re talking about all Libra men are this, and all Scorpio women are that, whether we’re talking about sun sign generalisations or gendered generalisations, they’re just that — generalisations,” she explains. To really understand someone’s chart, she says, you have to look at so much more than their sun sign or their gender, which is much more expansive than just male and female anyway. “There are so many different things we must contextualise when we’re looking at astrology, and the problem of making distinctions around gender, but not doing so around class or race or religion or ability, is that we’re treating gender as valid but these other things as not valid,” she says.
Astrology guides that heavily emphasise gender came about because of who has traditionally had power in astrology, Lanyadoo adds: cis straight white men. “When we fall back on this women are from Venus, men are from Mars archetype, it’s outdated and it’s misinformed,” she says. “I wouldn’t say it’s a relic of an old way of being; I would say it’s a relic of only certain kinds of people having a seat at the table, even in astrology.” It’s not just about getting rid of “masculine” and “feminine” classifications, either, she adds. “It’s about queering astrology, expanding how we understand gender roles, relationships, power dynamics, the complexity of sexual passion and sexual compatibility.”
Queering astrology doesn’t mean throwing out gender totally — it’s more about questioning the way it’s traditionally been conceived in the field. Naike Swai, co-founder of the queer synastry app Cosmic Life, explains, “Our gender identities fall within a huge spectrum, and when people do strongly identify as feminine-of-centre or masculine-of-centre, I find that some of the traditional language can be helpful in connecting to their experience. It doesn’t mean it encapsulates their journey, but it can sometimes speak to their experiences in a way that complete gender neutrality doesn’t.”
The problem of making distinctions around gender, but not doing so around class or race or religion or ability, is that we’re treating gender as valid but these other things as not valid.
In fact, after first becoming interested in astrology in college, Swai began studying the field more seriously after getting an in-person reading from an astrologer who affirmed their transmasculine identity. “Being able to talk to a complete stranger, an astrologer, and have them mention that in a very gentle, not too probing way, was incredible to me,” they say. “That reading fired me up and made me study astrology in a more dedicated manner.”
The internet — as well as in-person events such as Queer Astrology conferences — has made it easier for these astrologers to find each other and share ideas. As Anna Joy puts it, “This conversation has always been happening in queer and otherwise marginalised communities, but now we can all talk to each other. When we meet each other, we’re like, Oh my god, you don’t think the planets are gendered? I don’t think the planets are gendered! It’s definitely a community coming up.”
This movement is helped along by the fact that some of today’s most popular astrologers have an inclusive view of the field. Along with Lanyadoo, take Chani Nicholas, who although she’s been practicing astrology since the ‘90s, has found a new audience on social media. She currently has over 300,000 followers on Instagram, and her first book, You Were Born For This: Astrology For Radical Self-Acceptance, is forthcoming in January 2020. “I come to astrology as a queer person. My queerness informs my astrological knowledge. I know from my lived experience how damaging cis/heteronormativity is,” Nicholas tells Refinery29. “I want us to expand every aspect of our society beyond the gender binary. Since astrology is my field, I use it to question narrow perceptions of gender, race, class, ability, etc.” When she was first getting into astrology, Nicholas adds, “I read a lot about how water and earth signs were ‘female’ and air and fire were ‘male.’ Water and earth signs were described in ways that were so negative and fire and air so positive. It always upset me and it took me a while to find a way to appreciate the qualities of water and earth. We devalue everything that is interpreted as feminine so much.”
While rethinking the way gender works in traditional astrology opens up the field to people of all genders and sexualities, changing our approach to astrology isn’t enough; we need to do more. “Astrology is changing because people are changing. At the same time, we still live in a severely gendered world,” Alice Sparkly Kat, astrologer and author of the forthcoming book Magickism, tells Refinery29. “Gender within astrology cannot change without gender changing in our wider culture.” And for that, we need to rethink a lot more than just Sagittarius being considered masculine — we need to rethink all of society.