Why Queers Love Astrology by Christopher J. Lee
The queer reluctance to disclose intrinsic natures is a well-theorized subject in cultural criticism, epitomized in David Halperin’s note on the definitional bounds of queerness: “an identity without essence.” Yet enter a room full of queers, and one comes to know every manner of astrological testimony, which delves directly into the vocabulary of inherent values. Queers know their sun, moon, and rising signs; they know when Mercury is in retrograde; mention Geminis and their minds wander to feelings of rage, longing, or regret.
Queers are, perhaps, more inclined to share their astrological status than any other marker of their composite identities. Carefully guarded about their employment or education records, cautious in their transmissions of corporeal or abstract histories, they are surprisingly and uncharacteristically transparent about their signs.
That astrology occupies a privileged or overdetermined position within queer circles remains an uninterrogated thesis, at least by the methods of empirical reasoning. But anecdotally, communally, and personally, the evidence for a queer astrological tendency seems, as astrology deigns in its own narrative logic, universally apparent or even celestially fated.
Is it by coincidence that astrology is widely practiced amongst queers? And is it by coincidence that those queers who practice astrology do so sarcastically, sometimes, but sometimes earnestly, sincerely, and devotedly?
When sociologist Robert Wuthnow conducted his 1970s study of astrology in the Bay Area, he did so with marginality in mind, concluding (in especially positivist terms) that “it was the more poorly educated, the unemployed, non-whites, females, the unmarried, the overweight, the ill, and the lonely who were most taken with astrology.” Using marginality interchangeably with counterculture, his variable analyses of age, race, and class generated the reductive claim that astrological interest statistically corresponds with traditionally marginal demographics. Later studies have found fault with Wuthnow’s research, suggesting instead that astrological interest permeates all social strata, reaching even the hallowed halls of the White House, where Ronald Reagan was reported to have made geopolitical decisions on his wife’s astrological advisement.
This piece, however, makes no demographic claims, no assured stake in statistical or even historical links between queers and astrology, aiming at, rather, a relational tendency, an affective drive towards a system perceived, at once, to be intellectually bankrupt and damningly suspect. Indeed, contemporary astrology’s promiscuous, slipshod, and erratic appropriations render it unamenable to direct historicization, pulling, as New Age thinking tends toward, from numerous religious and cultural contexts.
When considering queers and astrology, one notes, further, that contemporary astrology represents not just a lucrative industry, but also, as Theodor Adorno argued, a ‘culture industry,’ where the mass production of commercial media promotes passive consumption. In his sprawling content analysis of the Los Angeles Times astrology column, Adorno claimed that astrology promoted “conventional, conformist, and contented attitudes.” Astrology’s commercial scope can, indeed, convey these predatory mechanisms; the exchange of currency for astrological advice is not an especially subversive idea; nor are its corresponding predictions, residing frequently in the twinned domains of romance and finance. But astrological desires convey a more compelling dream, confided in the Hermetic dictum, ‘as above, so below’—trusting that some configuration of celestial bodies allows for insight into all of the potential futures that exist, and all of the dangers and gifts that await us, whether fizzling or newly-founded.
It is a remarkable idea, and a totally inane one, doe-eyed and hopeful despite the realities of institutionalized violence, mass incarceration, or state surveillance. That stars and celestial bodies might have bearing on our collective fates, rather than government agencies, bosses, or landlords, gives otherwise worldly concerns over to the movement of stars. Yet astrological adherents, and queer ones at that, are not ignorant to structural inequities. Where, then, does astrology intervene in the ethic of queer suspicion, and why do queers adhere themselves to astrology when all signs point to more alienating, more critical, and less earnest ways of thinking?
While queers face their generously valorized entropic force—scheming spectacular ends to futuristic thinking, positing asociality as an organizing politics—astrology stages a stubbornly futuristic frame, brimming with relational and anticipatory energy—not optimism, necessarily, but a desirous understanding that good things will happen, or that we wish them to happen despite the feeling that things should only be getting worse.
Horoscopes plot out encounters and opportunities developing in the horizon, forewarning also travel mishaps, phone drops, and social tensions, as if we could avoid or better manage these setbacks if we were alerted in advance. Astrology provides, in its tacky way, a guide for responding to hostile environments, perhaps disclosing a campy appeal for queers, who face hostility for the sheer fact of their existing within normalized surroundings. Shifting to this campy aspect of astrology, one notes that whereas queer and camp are often used interchangeably, their meanings seem deliberately or stubbornly untenable. To define camp, as Susan Sontag famously attempted, is to define a sensibility, or as Sontag suggested, a “love for artifice.”
When asked on this question of camp, a professor of mine referred to his own research in the field, recalling neither a conference nor class, but a chance visit to an Atlanta drag bar, where a local queen performed a shoddy rendition of Beauty and the Beast’s “Tale As Old As Time.” With jeers and ridicule at the outset, the queen soldiered on, and by the last verse of the Disney standard, the audience was in tears, full-throated sobbing, and standing ovation. That this seemingly mediocre queen could evoke such an effusive response represented camp in its most intimate and powerful operation.
Because of or in spite of its apparent failures, that performance prompted the recognition of a wounded sentimentality, an overeagerness, and an empathic or relational understanding that a mediocre lip-sync of a sappy song could uncover something too, too real; presumably this was the case for many in the audience, convincing them not necessarily of an universal ethos, but of a shared one.
A love for astrology carries for queers this unconvincing illusion, this mark of woundedness, of wanting to be convinced, together with others who have been rendered symptomatically suspicious. It is the recognition that our worlds, imagined or otherwise, are fucked in totalizing and crushing ways, and that our existing systems of organizing identity have failed or hurt us relentlessly and recursively, with astrology thus seeming preferable to the psychosocial categories of gender, race, illness or the myriad others deployed and weaponized to delineate the muddled and intersectional processes of subjectivity.
The potentials of any post-identity imagination are, of course, completely precarious and completely sinister. In other words, any superseding ideology founded on the erasure of power relations can do so foolishly, preemptively, and without recognition that social categories, while indeed constructed, are also constructed to be durable, enacting juridical, political, and linguistic dominance.
But when astrology intervenes in identity, it does so in a way that it is ideologically hollow, in part because we can hardly imagine a world in which zodiac signs determine one’s social status, financial security, or personal safety, a world where Libras are systematically denied employment for their perceived laziness or where Capricorns are considered to be model minorities for their hard-working nature. Astrology offers, rather, a fragile but precious alternative—at once intricate and unconvincing, a kind of cheap fiction lacking the force to supplant our current world order.
Why do queers love astrology? To reduce this affective tendency to escapism or fantasy belies the sincerer ways these astrological attachments present. Given the traumas inflicted on queers by psychological and medical naming, given the pathologization of queerness—which render it hyper-visible as dyadic opposite while eliminating its social function—the fear of the established identity conveys lingering anxieties about the entrapment of labor or desire, which prescribe what we, as queers, should or must do, where we do or do not belong.
And prescription is, ironically, what astrology presumes to offer, except that its rubric for understanding the world rests on dubious grounds, thus rendering its insights equally suspect and a little trashy. Trashy, first of all, because it embraces shoddy reasoning or naïve thinking; trashy, further, because it is the shit of society, the comic relief, and the domain of tabloids and personals; and trashy, foremost, because queers love trash.
Queers love the outcast and the tasteless—astrology signing for the ideological refuse cast off by the rise of reason, and the coincident subjection of the world to its observable and documentable phenomena. The queer love for astrology intimates this embarrassing attachment construed, then, not merely as fantasy, but as phantasmic and aspirational, seedy and spectral, and as desire with and against the ghosts of dangerous circumstances, wounded expectations, and powerful sentiment for impossible or imagined futures.
Christopher J. Lee is a freeskool instructor in the Department of Whatever, where he’s taught classes on apathy, astrology, and queer theory. Based in Brooklyn, Chris enjoys riding his bike and reading theory; in his spare time he writes poems about cats and exes. You can reach him at email@example.com.