Old NASA Illustration of Sun and Planet

The Astrological Significance of Planets As Queer Elders

How queering ancient conceptions of astrology opens new possibilities for understanding the cosmos—and ourselves.

DoubleBlind Mag

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Many a queer has gazed upward at the planets in search of a mirror or a map to help understand the mysteries of their earthly experience. What forces might have shaped their constellation of relationships? And what of their own nature, ever intertwining and mutually constituted with not just other people but all forms of life?

The practice of Western astrology, traced back to ancient Mesopotamia, draws from centuries of planetary correlations to reflect personal aspects, seasons of ease or challenge, and even global ruptures. Rather than causing events on earth, astrologers believe that planetary cycles reflect them, giving us an opportunity to see the patterns of a time in a new, celestial light. This tradition also understands the planets to have certain binary qualities: they may be either cold or hot, for example, or wet or dry. But these binary humors and the common interpretation of certain planets as either feminine or masculine may not resonate with someone whose experience of gender and sexuality is more fluid. 

Dr. Diana Quinn, a naturopathic doctor, healing justice practitioner, and teacher of astrology based on Anishinaabe territory in Waawiyatanong, also known as Detroit, Michigan, explores the notion that the planets’ archetypal qualities can be seen as multivalent, understanding that binary associations also contain their opposites. Putting a queer lens on this interpretation creates space for queer and trans people to look to the planets as teachers and, as Quinn suggests, perhaps even a cast of queer elders, wisened by the passage of time and steadfast in their orbits. 

In an era where so many queer elders have been lost and many queer and trans people feel disconnected or disowned by their families of origin, Quinn invites astrology nerds and skeptics alike to take the planets as examples: on the fruits of rigor, or the luminosity of outsider identity, or the stirring properties of heat. 

How does viewing these distant, twinkling bodies as our elders allow us to expand our scope to the scale of the cosmos? And what can astrology teach us about personal and collective liberation? I sat down with Dr. Quinn to find out more.

DoubleBlind: What role have queer elders played in your life, and how did you arrive at the idea of planets as queer elders?

Dr. Diana Quinn: As a young person coming of age, particularly in my early 20s, being in spaces where I had the opportunity to encounter elder queer folk who were so affirming and lived, by example, these just spectacular lives filled me with so much hope. I really feel like that was life saving to experience. 

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I certainly had many flesh-and-blood elders in my life as a younger person, but some of the most influential queer elders are those who I never met: radical feminists such as Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa. Anzaldúa, in particular, I have a very strong affinity for as a queer Chicana. Her writings about liminality have been deeply influential, and I feel fit right into a conversation like this because she was very attuned to non-ordinary states. Being in between, as neither this nor that, as a mestiza—as she writes—is an inherently transgressive, liminal, and queer positionality. 

The concept of considering the planets as queer elders is inspired and co-developed through conversations I had with my friend, the queer astrologer Bear Ryver. Bear was my thought partner and co-creator of the Planets as Queer Elders workshop that I offered at the Queering Psychedelics conference. This concept was born out of work that he had done in partnership with Ari Felix for a workshop at the Allied Media Conference a few years ago, where they were talking about the planets as ancestors. 

In my conversations with Bear, we were reframing that a little bit to consider the elderhood of planets as being something that has both this eternal and timeless quality, but also touches on archetypes that very much apply to the day-to-day struggles of modern humans. 

Which particular planets speak to queer elderhood and queer embodiment? 

All of the planets do in their own way as multivalent, multidimensional, and archetypal beings. For example, Saturn, which signifies the rules and structures that govern our lives—and what it means to exist within those rules and structures—also signifies that which lies outside of the boundaries of the status quo, symbolizing the outsider. 

Saturn, as a teacher, can be stern but is very much in support of our growth and maturation, which brings us into sharper praxis. And certainly, what I’ve learned from queer feminist theorists is that we can theorize all we want, but what are we practicing? What is our praxis? Saturn can represent that sharp rigor, which I associate particularly with queer, Black feminist thinkers and writers who have influenced queer thought and culture for decades.

And then we have Venus. I think a lot of the planets have gender-bending qualities, but Venus, in particular—having both an evening star and a morning star phase—has a both/and quality. 

Even though the archetypes that signify Venus in Greek cosmology are Aphrodite and Athena—they’re female—there are cross-cultural myths of a human or an embodied representation of Venus that are masculine or are outside of a gender binary. Like the Mesoamerican cosmology that looks at the morning star Venus as Quetzalcóatl, the feathered serpent, and the evening star Venus as Xolotl, the psychopomp or the one that crosses the veil between the living and the dead. 

So these same planets, vibrations, archetypes, have multiple faces. And then, of course, Mercury which, in the traditional Hellenistic system, completely defies binary and is liminal in every way. Mercury in that tradition is the planet associated with astrology and other systems of divination and magic, which seems very fitting and very queer and also kind of calls to mind the ways in which the occult and systems of divination and ritual magic have been used, particularly by oppressed people, throughout time and space as a tool of collective care and collective liberation.

One thing you mentioned at Chacruna’s Queering Psychedelics conference is that, in the wake of losing so many queer elders through violence and the AIDS crisis, we can look to planets as queer elders and role models. Can you speak a bit about that?

You summarized it so well but I think what I’ll add is that we can develop relationships with these beings and their very queer and transgressive aspects can be a source of strength and resilience as we continue to struggle for equity, for justice, for dignity, for the right just to live—as we stand up against fascism and attempts at control over our bodies and genocide against people whose bodies don’t conform to societal gender expectations. And I think that in leaning into this planetary guidance and divinatory systems as our queer birthright—to pull from the occult and from the magical as a source of support through collective liberation—we can grow into the elders that the future needs us to be. 

Can you speak to queering more traditional conceptions of femininity and masculinity among the planets?

In the traditional Hellenistic system, there are these categories for classifying planets according to binary systems, including gender but also whether they are cold or hot, wet or dry, nocturnal or diurnal—these different qualities that the planets have. It’s interesting because, on its surface, the Mesoamerican system also seems to approach cosmology with a similar binary lens—I guess it’s more accurate to call them polarities. But there is a deep, esoteric recognition that both things contain some element of the other: both are simultaneously flipsides of the same coin and both things are actually the same thing. In the Mesoamerican cosmology and in the Mayan and Mexica (Aztec) calendars, there are very similar concepts as we see in Taoism: the one thing dividing into two things so that it could experience itself and then between those two things the third thing emerges, which was relationship. And from the third thing comes everything else. There’s a passage in the Tao Te Ching that says, from the one comes the two, from the two comes the three, and from the three comes the ten thousand things. 

I think it’s an oversimplification to try and pigeonhole any of these archetypes into binaries, including gender binaries. There was something that was said at the Queering Psychedelics conference by Dr. Rachel Lynn Golden in a different workshop: that people think of gender as a spectrum when really it’s all of the stars in the sky. It’s multidimensional and endless and there’s an infinite expression. We can apply a queer lens to understanding some of these ancient systems that on the surface appear to have these rigid binaries. I really dislike when, for example, in the Hellenistic system, Venus is considered feminine because of having the qualities of warmth and wetness, these inherently life-giving qualities, versus Jupiter which is cold and dry and non-generative of life. Then they become associated with different genders and because the way we in modernity conceive of gender is so narrow, it overly confines them—so I dislike referring to any of the planets in a gendered way as a rule.

What do you want to share with folks who are skeptical about astrology?

I’d start with the fact that astrology and the planets aren’t causal. You know, there’s nothing causing anything to happen. When you’re attuned with the natural world and in observation of planets and cycles and seasons, you begin to understand that there’s a time for everything and our modern, so-called civilized way of life obstructs us so deeply from being in relationship with those rhythms and cycles that we would be more inclined to be skeptical that they have something to teach us. That, to me, says a lot. 

These are really the roots of understanding astrology as well as the qualities of time. The quality of time in the middle of January is markedly different from the middle of August. These are things that we might take for granted, and I don’t think that how I understand astrology is so different from that. I think it gets so canned, superficial, polished, and cheesy that people assume that it’s meaningless but I think that’s just part of the over-homogenization of modernity.

I also think the deep roots of astrology—as a divinatory system, as a language, or as a human framework for understanding concepts that are really beyond what humans can grok of the mystery that we’re inside of—come from Traditional Ecological Knowledge, thousands and thousands of years of observation and deep relationship of human beings to place, to the sun and the moon and to the visible planets and to the constellations and to gestational patterns and patterns of wild game. The earliest calendars were basically markings using lunar cycles to track when it was time to hunt. You know this is 10,000 years old, right? 

*This interview originally appeared in DoubleBlind Magazine Issue No. 10.

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