Mercury may be in retrograde, but astrology is in a renaissance — and much like the post-Middle Ages art movement, the rise of the zodiac is being driven by members of the queer community.
Astrology is the sort of thing that feels inherently queer. It occupies a present, yet peripheral space in the dominant cultural consciousness, and it’s beholden to the natural world, unbound to a single leader or theology. A 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center found that nearly 30% of American adults believe in astrology, a rate of cultural approval unseen since the 1970s. Though the study siloes believers and nonbelievers, trust in astrology assumes a much more nuanced schema than a simple binary.
In his article for The New York Times, “The Age of Aquarius, All Over Again!”, opinion columnist David Brooks writes, “The people I know who talk about astrology sort of believe it, but they sort of don’t. Their attitude is ironical, attached and detached all at once.” Brooks’ insight illuminates the appealing liminality of belief. You can stand with one foot in the Mainstream and the other in the Alternative, shifting your weight depending on the scenario. But why is this stance appealing? Why not, as most mainstream discourse challenges, do away with this pseudoscience entirely?
The devotion to debunking the zodiac totally misses the point. Astrology isn’t competing with science — it’s a form of social, cultural currency. The zodiac represents an alternative mode of self-knowledge, an anti-traditionalist path to exploring identity. Conventional identity markers, such as hometown, family or culture, can be precarious ground for queer people to stand on. Instead, astrology endows identity markers indiscriminately, with stability and perceived intimacy. When society doesn’t see you, the stars still do. Astrology anoints the individual, and its modern resurgence is both a sign and a symptom of the narcissism embedded in our social landscape.
Cultural narcissism isn’t new. Novelist Tom Wolfe dubbed the 1970s “The ‘Me’ Decade” and claimed, “The new alchemical dream is: changing one’s personality — remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one’s very self … and observing, studying, and doting on it.” Wolfe frames the “changing” self through consumerist rhetoric: We “remodel” and “polish” our image like it’s a shiny new gadget, transforming our personalities into personas.
What’s missing from Wolfe’s observation, however, is the way the culture of narcissism operates differently in dominant cultures than in subdominant cultures. Disco, for instance, was born in queer communities, empowering and refashioning the terms of identity for queer, Black and Latinx folks. When disco eventually penetrated the mainstream, counterculture became, well, culture, and revolutionary expressions of personhood gradually lost steam. Though astrology never ascended to such heights, it nonetheless reached peak popularity in “The ‘Me’ Decade,” so it’s hardly surprising that the next spike arrived in the age of the internet, Instagram and influencers.
Astrology dilates personal depth. It makes every individual person visible and included, while simultaneously reducing everybody else to celestial shorthand. In Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Blanch Dubois muses to Stanley Kowalski: “I’ll bet you were born under Aries. Aries people are forceful, dynamic, they dote on noise.” (Blanche is, evidently, a Virgo, but, unfortunately, mistaken). Most people know their own astrological chart better than they know anyone else’s, but this reality doesn’t necessarily point to selfishness as much as it signifies a lighthearted strategy to explore the self.
In 1953, Theodor Adorno wrote that astrology allures “persons who do not any longer feel that they are the self-determining subjects of their fate,” which also explains why younger generations are spearheading the zodiac’s revival. After surviving a devastating pandemic, Gen Z and Millennials are set to inherit a dying planet and broken political system. The future looks grim and uncertain, which makes astrology and its external locus of control the perfect balm for powerlessness.
The vanguards of the modern astrology are young queer folks, allured by the promise of figuring themselves out but undeterred by the inflexible classifications in which it is rooted. Chani Nicholas, a popular Internet astrologist and author of “You Were Born for This: Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance,” tracks the rise of her practice, and during a podcast with The New York Times, she notes, “the queer community, I think, was my, like, base and really helped to circulate the work.”
While it’s flattering to hear what makes you special, it’s especially meaningful to be affirmed, to know that your quirks and traits are written in the stars; you belong in something bigger than yourself, and the towering, timeless cosmos give you permission to be exactly who you are. The prevalence of astrology in queer culture is a sign of the times, representing a proud reclamation of place and purpose in the world.