More than 'What's Your Sign?': Queering Astrology in the Digital Age

Updated: Sep 2

Brooke Iwan


Queering astrology is inspired by my community, by the conversations outside of queer spaces, my Toronto lesbians, and my cancer girlfriend. It is in these moments and these relationships that pushed me to ask; What is the connection between queer identity and astrology? And What are the ways digitality opens up history, expression, and ways of being together? Firstly, show me a larger group of people who’ve been more excluded by childhood religions, or who’ve turned their backs on normalcy, traditions and laws that don’t love, support, or accept them as they are. In this sense, astrology has been one-way queer folks reclaim the past systems weren’t working for us. We’re playing with identity; and we’re seeing what else could make life a little more meaningful, and a little more guided.  How than does astrology promote inclusion and how do digital platforms and the lexicons they produce shape astrological knowledge, community, and identity?


This project centres the expression of queer identity through astrology while examining the ways in which online applications such as Co-star and The Pattern are platforms for self-identification and guidance. By using content analysis, practices of imaginative methodology (Culhane 2016), and autoethnography, I analyze online astrologers and applications to a tool  that challenges heteronormativity . Relying on my individual experience as a lesbian woman engaging with these platforms, I give meaning to the ways in which access to astrology has ruptured normalized identities. Likewise, categorizing my work as imaginative, I am looking at digital social practices and the relationships among and between people- proposing that theoretical concepts, methods, and observation are most productive when embodied and lived (Culhane 2016) Categorizing these platforms as polymedia (Madianou and Miller 2011) draws attention to the way’s individuals play, cite, and embody signs as a form of person making and identity play. Likewise, these platforms provide a shared lesbian lexicon where new forms of communication are changing the way people use astrology, spurring new opportunities for understanding how people create and construe personhood in digital context. 


Western astrology is a logic that gives meaning to the placement of the sun, the moon, and the planets within 12 sections of the sky called ‘signs of zodiac’. The concept of astrology is that one’s character, pattern, or personality corresponds to the planetary placement at the time and place of their birth. By “queering astrology in the digital age”, it was essential for me to think beyond the binaries of sex/ gender/ sexuality that that are often presented in historical practices of astrology and mainstream digital media. In traditional Western astrology, star signs and planets are all gendered, with qualities of each playing out in stereotypical tropes—masculine energy is seen as active, strong, and confidant, while femininity is associated with passivity, sexuality, and emotions(Naylor 1933). Digital lexicons undo this, allowing for nuanced cosmic interpretations that are empowering and inclusive for folks of all genders and sexualities.


  Furthermore, I have framed my work using Madianou and Miller’s concept of polymedia. Polymedia is not simply the multiple ways we use media, it is the balance between access, availability , affordability and media literacy; it is how users exploit these affordances in order to manage and make sense of their emotions and their relationships (Madianou and Miller 2011,173)Co-Star teaches me that my Sun in Libra means I am “fundamentally oriented towards fairness and justice”, my moon in Aquarius rules my emotions, meaning I am intuitive, observant, ad detached, and my Venus in Scorpio determines how I love, desire, and feel jealousy. I do use these frameworks to make sense of my emotional patterns, to reflect on tense conversations with my partners, and relationship dynamics between friends. In this sense, I am using astrology apps and access to online astrologers to gain knowledge; therefore, to embody polymedia, to make sense of my emotions and relationships through free, and accessible media.


Astrology is well suited for the digital age, Instagram memes provide great starting points and easily citable personality types, and phone applications such as Co-Star and the Pattern offer an interactive experience allowing a user to gain access to more in-depth information surrounding their birth chart. Zodiac sign memes are all over Instagram and Twitter, where popular accounts like @notallgeminimemes, @astrology, and @poetastrologers rewrite horoscopes with memetic literary flair. Online queer astrologers Chani Nicholas,  Rhea Wolf, Colin Bedell of Queercosmos, and Jessica Lanyadoo all have enormous online following and centre their work on social-justice, inclusion, and healing. These platforms and astrologers are appealing to queer folks as they provide new forms of representing human emotions, experiences, and life events; in this sense astrology promotes community and support. 


Queer theorist Sara Ahamed writes: “Support is how much you have to fall back on when you fall… I suggest that heterosexuality can be understood as an elaborate support system…. To leave heterosexuality can be to leave those institutional forms of protecting, cherishing, holding. When things break, your whole life can then unravel. So much feminist and queer invention comes from the necessity of creating our own support systems” (Ahamed 2017, 219) . Chani Nicolaus speaks to this support, answering “I think that astrology is a way of witnessing the self and the societal reality that we're living through. If I have a tool that helps me to reflect and to heal in some way and to contextualize what's happening in the current climate, then I have a chance to understand myself and the world in a context that's greater than me. Capitalism and patriarchy want to keep us separate, compartmentalized, afraid, and alone, and unconscious to our collective power. Astrology helps us to feel connected to something larger.(Greenwood, Nicholas 2012).  It is essential to recognize the work of community members, healers, and activists Ahmed and Nicholas look to. As well as the history of healing and healing justice outside of the mainstream; Healing justice as a movement and a term was created by queer and trans black indigenous and people of colour. Beginning with the World of Kindred Southern Healing justice collective in 2004, to define a movement of politicized black and brown healers reclaiming our traditional methods of healing and redefine what healing and health could mean especially in terms of dealing with intergenerational trauma. (Piepzna-Samarasinha 2018, 98). I think the astrology boom owes as much to the dynamics of the modern internet as it does to any sort of cosmic significance about lesbian identities and activism in the universe.  Queer women have always advocated for practices of astrology and cosmology. Sedgwick argues that there is something queer at the centre of “virtually any aspect of modern western culture and knowledge (Sedwick, 1990, p. 1). Online astrology makes this knowledge accessible while providing an easy and accessible framework for endlessly personalized genderless identities. For example, rather than being bound by he/she/them binaries, I am able to embody my “sun in Libra, moon in Aquarius, and rising in Aries”. Therefore, rather that constructed identities, folks who engage with online astrology are able to partake in new forms of identity play. Likewise, without traditional gender binaries, astrology becomes a new tool for queer relationships citation. Applications provide insight into desires, communication skills, and emotional blocks. New ways of fantasizing about a Sagittarius crush or getting relationship guidance on your cancer girlfriend that hasn’t been accessible through previous digital technologies or mainstream film and television.


Davies’s (2008) research on the one of the only lesbian centred television shows, The L World, sheds light on the ways in which its characters reinforce both heteronormativity and dangerous femme/butch dichotomies. Similarly, the study of social media networks builds on a large body of research into socio-technological understandings of the self. In the digital context, scholars such as Kay Siebler’s interpret queer identity in the digital age by noting; digital representations; “rather than queering patriarchal representations of what it means to be female, feminine, or a woman, the lesbian culture of the internet serves to reinforce them (Siebler 2016, 90).  Representation through astrology challenges exactly that. Whether one is trying to understand a currently relationship, grieve a breakup, or fantasize about a crush online astrologers and applications provide a new space where queer folks hold agency in reconstructing relationship expectations, norms, and emotions, rather than looking to heteronormative constructions of queerness in the media.


Astrology creates new forms of knowledge and language that contributes to the study of gay semiotics.  For example, “in a hypothetical discussion of how to determine someone’s sexual orientation, lesbians often reject the idea of asking directly and instead invoke a series of tropes that rely on shared knowledge and ques of queerness (Bucholtz, Hall 2004, 496)”. In this sense, the lexicon of astrology is used as an indirect strategy to determine another’s sexual identity. Access to astrological knowledge through digitality allows all participants a space to produce and interpret these tropes. Astrology’s online vernacular translates to face-to-face interactions where signs and shorthand made accessible by such platforms have created new forms of language and communication; This communication creates community, flirtation, and a basis of mutuality that demands understanding and recognition. For example, “What’s your sign” is a passé pickup line, but I know girl is flirting with me when she asks the placement of my Venus.


Although there is wide scepticism about astrology maybe the point isn’t authenticity or reality? but rather the rupture of normativity and new forms self-reflection, embodiment, and community created by digital platforms. Digital platforms have allowed for a much more nuanced and complex lexicon to take place- this is the queering of astrology, and this is the space, the digital realm has taken horoscopes in a completely different direction.

Bibliography

Ahmed, Sara (2017). Living a Feminist Life. Durham ; London : Duke University Press, n.d.

Bucholtz, Mary and Kira, Hall (2004). Theorizing identity and language and sexuality research. Language in Society 33, 469–515. Printed in the United States of America

Coleman, E. Gabriella (2010). Ethnographic Approaches to Digital Media. Annual Review of Anthropology 39, no. 1 487–505.

Culhane 2016 Ch 3, Sensing, in A Different Kind of Ethnography (1).Pdf,” n.d.

Davies, Faye(2008). Paradigmatically oppositional representations: Gender and sexual identity in The L Word. In Televising queer women: A reader, ed. Rebecca Beirne, 179–193. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Fischer, Hall (1977). Gay Semiotics. n.d. https://www.gaysemiotics.com/gay-semiotics.

Greenwood, Elizabeth with Nicholas, Chani(2017) How to Make Astrology Your Day Job, Lenny Letter, May 17th 2012, https://www.lennyletter.com/story/chani-nicholas-make-astrology-your-day-job.

Madianou, Mirca and Miller, Daniel (2012). Polymedia: Towards a new theory of digital media and interpersonal communication. International Journal of Cultural Studies 16 (2) 169-187.

Piepzna-Samaraasinha, Leah Lakshmi (2018). Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver

 R. H. Naylor (1933). Home Astrology: A Non-Technical Outline Of Popular Astrology Tradition. Kessinger Legacy Reprints

Siebler, Kay (2016). Learning Queer Identity in the Digital Age. Palgrave Macmilliam

Sedgwick, Kosofsky Eve (2008)  Epistemology of the closet. University of California Press

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