By Chani Nicholas
I recently sat down with one of San Francisco’s most beloved astrologers Barry Perlman to discuss gender, politics and planets. Barry will be co-facilitating a workshop entitled Queer Talk on Client Work at the Queer Astrology Conference in San Francisco July 20th and 21st.
What does the term “Queer Astrology” mean to you?
Barry Perlman: Astrology is the craft of identifying meaningful connections between the apparent movement of celestial bodies through our sky and human behavior here on earth. Like with any meaning-system, astrology reflects the mainstream biases of the society in which it’s practiced—for instance, that among one’s primary life-goals should be the establishment of a long-term monogamous relationship with a member of the opposite sex. Queer astrology adopts a perspective that actively challenges such biases, deconstructing the assumption that our relational desires, our gender and sexual expressions, will always neatly line up with each other according to societal expectations. Rather than seeking to fit ourselves into certain confining identity-boxes, proud queers (as opposed to, say, ‘homosexuals’) happily wear our incongruities on our sleeves. Queer astrology breaks the silence that astrological tradition has typically held on these matters, while working to defuse the pathologizing tone in which the rare mentions of alternative gender or sexual expression are offered, to present alternative models for attaining personal satisfaction that actually speak to our lived experience.
Why do we need to queer astrology?
BP: We need to queer astrology because individuals are actually more different from each other than we commonly admit… and the more we can evolve our astrological practices to address an ever-widening diversity of human experiences and desires, the better we can help our clients gain comfort with genuinely expressing the unique quirks of their true selves. Whether or not clients identify as queer, they will still benefit from an astrological approach that doesn’t assume they ought to look, dress or act a certain way, date or sleep with those of a certain gender, or structure their interpersonal relationships in a certain fashion, based upon what sort of body they were born into. In queering astrology, we give individuals the permission to freely be themselves.
How does your practice of astrological counseling interrupt habits of oppression?
BP: As an astrologer, I am aware that clients often arrive at our session ready to hand a certain power over to me. They assume I’m the one with the magic answers which will help them resolve important questions or issues in their lives. However, I don’t feel comfortable taking that privileged position of power in the client relationship. I explicitly encourage clients to see our session as an interactive dialogue, and themselves as the expert on their own lives. Sure, I may possess some additional insight into their situation, thanks to my astrological knowledge, but I also listen carefully and openly to what my clients tell me. And I give them permission to disagree with what I’m saying, if it doesn’t resonate with them. Most of us have a history of being told what to do and how to act by people who wanted us to conform, in one manner or another, to the way we’re ‘supposed’ to be… even if, to do so, means disavowing an integral part of ourselves. Inside, though, we know what’s right for us. In the vast majority of my sessions, I am affirming aloud what a client already quietly knows to be true. Helping a client gain this self-affirmation, through an intimate conversation framed by astrology, means I’ve done a good job.
As a counseling astrologer what level of knowledge do you feel you need in regards to historical systemic oppression? Is it applicable to your profession? Why would it be important to have an anti-oppressive frame work to come from while facilitating an astrology session?
BP: Each astrologer will draw the clients that are right for them. Whether due to their own life-experiences or how they’ve been educated about societal power dynamics, some astrologers are better suited to serve clients who have endured the worst systemic oppression than others are. I don’t think a compassionate understanding of such issues is something that can be faked… nor even necessarily taught, if counselors (astrological or otherwise) aren’t open to exploring the ways in which their own privilege has perhaps blinded them to the painful realities others experience. Above all else, humility is the quality that allows counseling astrologers to continually increase our knowledge of how people can be oppressed, so we may be as sensitive as possible to why our clients might be struggling to accept themselves.
What are other things that we can do as a community of queer astrologers to further this discussion?
BP: As this conversation develops, it’ll be important for queer astrologers to intersect more directly (and, potentially, more confrontationally) with the wider astrological community at large… presenting papers and books for publication, speaking at high-profile conferences, providing critical feedback to those well-established astrologers whose work perpetuates a limiting perspective on the variety of positive gender and sexual expressions. While it might be easier to maintain a position outside the mainstream community and complain about how they ‘just don’t get it’, we face an ethical imperative to open our colleagues’ eyes to ways in which astrology must evolve to serve clients who might be grappling with, say, their gender or sexual identity or issues around non-monogamy or polyamory. We’ve got to advocate for those clients before they visit one of these astrologers who ‘just don’t get it’. We must do our part to help them get it.
For folks that are new to astrology, why is it important or valuable and how can it benefit a queer person/help navigate some of the experiences of being queer?
BP: Astrology creates an entry-point for discussing the dynamics intrinsic to our personality, as mapped in our natal chart. Through such discussions, an individual (whether queer or not) can gain a framework for understanding the potential challenges or internal-conflicts at play in their experience of self, hopefully helping them more productively address whatever might be inhibiting their most-desired free expression. For queer people, who often have to overcome tremendous societal and/or familial pressures in order to be our authentic selves, having a means of interpreting these pressures through the lens of one’s own personality—that is, using astrology to see how we may have internalized these pressures, and then go on to replay them through our own behaviors—can be quite empowering. Rather than turning our awareness outward, we are instead able to focus on ourselves and what we can do to improve the quality of our lives.
What can queer folks ask/look for when looking for an astrologer?
BP: Don’t be afraid to be direct about what you’re looking for from a session. Listen to your intuition. You’ll be able to feel out an astrologer’s comfort level with open relationships or non-gender-conforming self-identification or any other queer topic as soon as you broach it. If you can’t be forthright with your astrologer, then it’s not worth wasting your money on the session. Who wants to spend an hour listening to some self-important know-it-all tell you when and how you’re going to meet your ‘husband’ if you, in fact, date women?
Chani Nicholas is San Francisco and Los Angeles-based astrologer, writer and yoga teacher. She holds a BA in Integral Studies from CIIS, an associates degree in Feminist Counseling and she is a certified Yoga Therapist and Reiki practitioner. Her work is rooted in Queer/Feminist theory and believes that within that framework the practice of astrology can be deeply liberating and healing. Chani has been a professional astrologer for the past 10 years and writes weekly and monthly column’s for many different sites and publications. You can read her astrological musings and horoscopes at www.chaninicholas.com
Queer Astrology Conference: July 20 & 21, 2013
Co-hosted the San Francisco Astrological Society, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Founding House