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The Wonders of the Queer Cosmos

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“Let me see your chart,” says astrologer Colin Bedell within five minutes of meeting me at a coffee shop in New York City’s East Village*. I pull up my natal chart (the exact position of the planets at the exact time and place of my birth) on my phone and hand it to him; yes, I’m the sort of person who has my natal chart saved on my phone.

I had just finished telling him how this year I need to restrategize my career, re-consider how I spend most of my time, and consider new ways to stay organized. “Just what I thought, this year is your Jupiter return and your Jupiter is in Capricorn,” he says as he nods knowingly with eyes glued to my chart.

Apparently Jupiter is my ruling planet (I’m a Sagittarius) and it’s also the planet of career, action, and decision. Capricorn is the sign of logistics, hard work, and practicality. Jupiter’s orbit around the sun takes 12 years, so its return to the same sign it was in at my birth doesn’t happen very often. When it does, says Bedell, it’s no wonder I’m thinking about these things.

If you find that confusing, join the club. Astrology is a complicated dance of elements, planets, stars, and orbits. Not to mention the deeper you get, the more you get into geometry, astrophysics, and NASA-level understanding of interplanetary bodies.

Talking to Bedell is like getting a crash course in all of these things on a sped-up audiotape. He speaks at a rapid clip with sentences peppered with adjectives and throws out astrological terms the way most of us order a drink at Starbucks. But you can’t take your eyes off him and even if you don’t always know what he’s talking about, you find yourself nodding along. He’s a Gemini after all, the communicator sign of the Zodiac.

30-year-old Bedell has been interested in astrology for as long as he can remember. “I was twelve, which is a Jupiter return year by the way , but my mom always talked about it in the house. It was always around,” he says. He started learning in earnest about charts when he was 17 and started to go to astrology workshops when he was 23. But he never thought it would be a career. “I grew up in a lower-middle-class family surrounded by other people who had very blue-collar jobs to survive, so the idea of ever becoming self-employed doing something I was passionate about... come on!” he quips. But then after graduating from Parsons and entering a less-than-robust job market, he and a friend, a queer woman of color, started the website Queer Cosmos as something to do. The site hit big and a book followed (Queer Cosmos: The Astrology of Queer Identities and Relationships was released last year) and suddenly Bedell found himself with a full-fledged career.

Looking at it now, it’s no wonder his career took off so fast. Astrology is having a moment; it’s grown from silly horoscopes in the back of newspapers to a full-on cultural phenomenon fueled by increased millennial interest (a recent survey showed that astrology is the most popular new age practice and two in five Americans had read horoscopes). And Bedell is at the forefront. I ask him why he thinks astrology, a centuries-old metaphysical system, is having such a resurgence right now. “Neptune in Pisces, 2011, that's what started everything,” he says without skipping a beat.

For the layperson (me), he explains: “Neptune is exalted and expressed beautifully in Pisces, so people were opening themselves up to the possibility of more esoteric, mystical ways of being. And with historical perspective, we know that in times of national, cultural crisis there is usually a resurgence in interest in metaphysics.” In short, we as a society, and millennials as a generation specifically, are dissatisfied with the status quo and are looking for things that could help explain how we are feeling and help guide us to what we can do about it.

Photo by Jenn Morse

Bedell is part of a new generation of astrologers who are interpreting astrology in ways that previous generations neglected. Namely, how we can use astrology to enact social change and relate to the world around us. Bedell’s generation is also revolutionizing the industry in more subtle ways, like identifying problematic gender and sexual tropes that serve to isolate or exclude some people. Their mission is to make astrology a more inclusive tool and less about when is the right time to buy your next vacation home.

According to Bedell, inclusivity issues don’t come from astrology itself (“I don’t consider astrology to be an inherently gendered or heteronormative metaphysical system,” he writes in his book), but from the interpreters who have come before. “I believe that because of the cultural programming and the generational conditioning that was present at the time when people were interpreting it, the vast majority of our literature is ” he says. “We are in a massive cultural shift in identity and the burden, the exploration, and the actualization of self has never been greater than it is now. Astrologers have a lot of work to do to catch our system up with what the leading social theorists and empiricists are saying on notions related to identity.”

As an out gay man, however, Bedell says he’s never met any resistance within the astrological community as a whole. In fact, “there are many other queer astrologists in the industry who are doing phenomenal work.” The issue they face is not a lack of interest or information, it’s making that information accessible to the people who seek it. “I'm looking at my colleagues as like the new clergy because people are lonely, people are in pain, people are suffering and if they're leaning on astrologers now more than ever, we have a profound responsibility.”

In his book, Bedell writes a lot about how astrology can help lift the shackles of shame by showing us that we matter as part of a greater universe and shine a light on what our strengths and unique talents are. It’s a novel thought for something that is typically considered a little navel-gazing. “I try to empower my clients to know you already have the answers. Our job is to peel back what dominant social wisdom and patriarchy and capitalism and unethical programming has brainwashed you to believe. It helps reveal the masterpiece within you and show you love and light on your journey of self-actualization.”

He knows this because he’s seen it happen for himself. In his own wellness journey, astrology has always been the window he sees everything else through. “It gave me the focused template and attitude and structure to pay attention to the right things, and meditate every day, and forgive who I have not forgiven, and keep my heart open to the possibility of unlearning fear. My life has worked beautifully ever since .”

Still in today’s most astrologically-minded world, there are plenty of naysayers. I ask him a common skeptical question: “Is astrology a science or a belief?”

“The deeper question for me is ‘do we experience astrology?”, he counters. “What I know is that when I apply the instruction template of astrology, my experience proves that it works. I don't believe in astrology, I experience it.” To be an astrologer, for some people, means constantly defending their belief in the system; not Bedell. “Proving it’s right? Who gives a fuck. If it works for you and it's experiential, great.”

“But is astrology magic? I ask.

“Absolutely. Without a doubt,” he says. “Magic to me is the universe catching me in its arms. I see it all the time. Astrology helped me really have a perspective to register all the different ways that people can contribute and express their gifts and abilities, and that to me is just... There's no magic like it.”

Even if you’re not a full-on astrology head, he says astrology has a place in your life. “Don't deny yourself the mystery and the enchantment and the beauty of all that we don't know. Astrology does not claim a monopoly on universal truth, but it can be best served as an illuminator. Human beings are masters of their own self-annihilation and self-sabotage and the universe comes in to wake us up from it and we can either choose to take the lesson or not.”

So what do the stars have in store for Bedell now that he’s found his way as one of the new astrological guards? “I have no clue because I'm letting the same power that keeps planets revolving around the sun run my life,” he smiles as he runs off to a private reading. And I think, if astrology can give me that kind of faith, sign me up.