Columns, Opinions

Arnold ’20: Who we talk about when we talk about astrology

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Monday, October 21, 2019

In a quote from an article titled “Why Straight Men Hate Astrology So Much,” astrologer Randon Rosenbohm puts out a provocative claim. When asked about who she thinks the main followers of astrology are, she says, without hesitation, “it’s for girls and gays.”

And while Rosenbohm’s assertion may seem like a gross stereotype, there’s plenty of evidence that she’s onto something.  A quick Google search will yield dozens of articles examining the same pattern, with titles like: “Astrology is Booming, and It’s Queerer Than Ever” or “Why Women Believe in Astrology More Than Men” or “Queer Astrology: Why LGBTQ People Seek Answers in the Stars.”

The association between astrology and queer identity is so ubiquitous, in fact, that last year the queer magazine “them” published an article about how queer people who don’t believe in astrology often feel ostracized by their own community. And in terms of the correlation between belief in astrology and gender identity, there’s data to back that up, too. In the very same 2018 Pew Research Center poll — cited in Jamie Flynn’s ’20 Oct. 9 “When the stars don’t align: The failures of astrology” Herald column — you’ll notice a marked gender discrepancy. While 20 percent of American men believe in astrology, 37 percent of women do. The poll also shows that racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to believe in astrology than their white and non-Hispanic counterparts.

It is important to talk about who believes in astrology and why it might be useful, something the “When the stars don’t align” column fails to do. So when we talk about the “uninformed” people who are increasingly looking to “fake and meaningless” tools to gain a better understanding of themselves and their world, it’s important that we recognize that we are talking about a group of people that is significantly more female, more queer and more diverse than the mainstream. This isn’t to say that any critique of astrology is inherently misogynistic, or homophobic or racist — of course it’s not. I, for one, share Flynn’s concern that it’s all too possible for vulnerable young people to turn to astrology in lieu of seeking professional help. But I do think that the answer to the question “What value could astrology possibly have?” can be found, at least partially, by looking to the identity of the people who practice it.

Why do so many people who are part of marginalized groups find themselves drawn toward astrology, then? Well, there are a couple of theories.

The first is that, at least for some queer people, astrology offers a spiritual outlet and sense of community similar to that of organized religion, without any of the bigotry and conservatism.

Talking about her sizeable queer following, Jessica Lanyadoo — host of the wildly popular astrological show “Ghost of a Podcast” — says: “Too often queer people are rejected by their families and the religious institutions that they grew up in … Astrology offers a totally non-denominational and non-judgmental method of connecting to the Divine.” Astrology, then, carves out an important middle ground. It’s a space for people who are still very spiritual — but who, for some reason or another, might feel alienated by organized religion — to find meaning and belonging.

Another theory, like Flynn suggested, is about coping with stress and making sense of a senseless world. In a 1982 study profiling the people who consult astrologers, psychologist Graham Tyson came to the conclusion that “consulting an astrologer is a response by an individual to the stresses with which he or she is faced.” It makes sense, then, that women, LGBTQ+ people and people of color  — all of whom have been reported to have higher levels of stress — would be the ones to turn to astrology. When you’re constantly handed the short end of the stick in part because of your race, your gender, your sexuality or some combination of the three, there is a certain comfort and a certain value in understanding that not everything is in your control.

For the record, I don’t believe in astrology at all: I’m just about as big of a skeptic and a cynic and a textbook-thumping hard-scientist as you can get. But even as someone who has only ever looked at astrology from an ironic distance, I still see how it can serve as a great tool for self-reflection. Astrology hands down labels and explanations and asks people to figure out to what extent those explanations apply to their own lives.

To have a conversation with someone about whether or not you “seem like a Sagittarius,” for example, isn’t just a vapid, passive exchange where you trade clichés and then blindly submit to the will of the universe. In fact, it’s the exact opposite: it’s an active and engaging interrogation of the self. When you’re asking people if they think you are, in fact, “generous and idealistic, but also impatient,” like Sagittariuses are supposed to be, what you’re really asking is: “Is this how you see me?” and “Is this how I see myself?” Even if the impetus for these conversations is pseudo-scientific, it doesn’t mean that the conversations themselves are unimportant. Astrology forces you to grapple with your identity by daring you to disagree with the proscribed personality trait. The real understanding doesn’t come from being handed a label, but how you try to make sense of it.

As someone who has struggled with how exactly to label myself ever since I realized that I was attracted to women, I find that there is a lot in common with the way both astrology and my sexuality force me to try out different labels and explain who I am to other people.

Maybe astrology speaks to women, queer people and people of color because they are already forced to see themselves from outside themselves: forced to explain what it means to be a woman, what it means to be trans, what it means to be Latinx — and so on — in a society that was not built with their existence in mind. Maybe astrology serves as a fun, low-stakes way to continue to think about one’s identity outside of oppressive social structures.

Or maybe it is about finding a spiritual refuge outside of religion. Or maybe it is about coping with stress. But whatever the reason, if astrology really is a part of life for a lot of marginalized people — and it is — then it probably does serve an important function.

And even if you think that astrology really is ruining people’s lives and has absolutely nothing of value to contribute, then it is more important than ever to think about the kind of people that astrology attracts. Are “girls and gays” being failed by doctors, by mental health professionals, by organized religion and by the self-help industry? Is that why they are turning to astrology? Or do they just know how to have more fun?

Allie Arnold ’20 can be reached at allison_arnold@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

Correction: A previous version of this op-ed stated that astrologer Randon Rosenbohm identifies as a lesbian. In fact, Rosenbohm does not identify as a lesbian. The Herald regrets the error. 

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