At the risk of losing mysticism skeptics, I invite you into an anecdote from my first encounter with Tarot cards. We’re in London, Southbank, middle of winter, so naturally a cold rain taps at the floor to ceiling windows of Anique’s apartment. The streaking trails blur and distort the city lights beyond as they run down the glass, gathering speed with each stationary drop consumed along the way.
The cozy room holds quirky company. Seven friends, old and new, commune over a classic Sunday roast, prepared home-style along with cheddar broccoli, roast potatoes, and scratch gravy so good even your grandma would lick the plate. My hosting amiga doesn’t mess around with group gatherings. Sure, the atrocious weather is a city-wide hot topic and Arsenal battles Liverpool on the telly, but we’re ushered far beyond these trivialities upon entering her flat. Dig in, get real, bon appétit. Thus it’s fitting, as the candles burn past their midway point, that a deck of tarot cards is served in place of (my preferred) dessert course. Mmm delicious. Everybody must try a bite. The premise of the reading is straightforward: Ask a question, shuffle the deck, pick a card, and share your gut-based interpretation of the image drawn in the context of your inquiry. Simple and harmless, right? We begin.
Discourse stemming from the first few draws goes deep. This buys me time to fill my wine glass twice before accepting the deck from my left. By then, however, the bizarre stack of cards is loaded with the expectation that I hold nothing back. Vulnerability or bust, and the question I choose tees me up: “What is most suppressed inside me?” Brilliant. Cut-cut-shuffle-DRAW... magic. Dark inexplicable astrological magic. It was the perfect image. No doubt about it from the moment my eyes catch the brilliant rainbow contained by three triangulated scraggy sticks. Like a window into the deep end of my soul, the card exposes that, suppressed within me and still dying to be released, is my true and most brilliant self.
I manage a few shallow breaths while studying the innocent triangular rainbow. Internal reactions are in disarray, but when I look up, a collection of curious expressions demand that I speak.
I was so confused in that moment. You see, my sexual orientation was challenged from the moment “gay” was introduced to our adolescent vocabulary. I was soft, my voice a few octaves too high, and my emotions sensitive and deep. I wasn’t expressively homophobic like many of the “cool kids” in school and that too raised red flags. Most controversial, however, was that I appeared to wear makeup… at least eyeliner and a dusting of rosy blush. Those were the phase one whistleblowers. Child’s play. Phase two sparked after my older brother and idol, Mac, came out when I was 24. First, there was a question - if the person who I identify most closely with is gay, then what does that make me? Then, there were experiences - notably Burning Man with Mac and his wild West Hollywood crew… 7 days in the world’s most progressive environment with some of the Playa’s most eccentric characters. Let’s leave it at this… if it were meant to be, it would’ve been. But it wasn’t. Herein lies my confusion with the rainbow tarot card. I ran the sexual orientation gauntlet and came to peace with my personal reality… or so I'd thought.
After explaining this to the group, I retreat to the sensations of my long-stemmed wine glass while they silently contemplate my interpretation. A few exaggerated swirls send tantalizing aromas drifting up to meet my now red-hot face. I take a long gentle sip to reward that which had felt courageous. I don’t know what's more comforting in this moment… the burn of red wine running through my chest, the weighty pillow perched on my lap, or the ongoing rap-rapping of ice-cold winter rain against the windows. Eventually, a question breaks the silence, disrupting my sommelier's day dream: “Has society still not accepted sexual orientation as a dynamic spectrum?” Discussion begins.
Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the creator of the Kinsey scale which first (officially) represented sexual orientation as a spectrum, nailed it: “The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.” Great, sexuality is as organic as it gets. So why does the Western cultural majority maintain the hard-edged classification of sexual orientation as straight, gay/lesbian, or bi-sexual? Because humans love to group, bundle, and categorize… Our brain’s ability to do so, even subconsciously, is critical to our survival in this hyper-complex world. But our little mind-game of ‘simplify the world’ has dire consequences in cases where swollen labels produce stereotypes and societal expectations. Let me use myself as an example here. I exist towards the middle of the heterosexual<>homosexual spectrum. Theoretically, this gray area is “home” for most other men (and women of course), but if I wish to peacefully retain my external classification as a “straight” man, I must behave a certain way so as not to rock the boat of my perceived identity. This is disheartening. Why? Because the lingering American stereotype of a straight man glorifies sports, loves beer and whiskey, suppresses emotions, puts work above all else, degrades women, and feeds a tough guy persona...to name a few. For a while, I tried to cram myself into these limiting and uncomfortable molds because I was self-conscious, fearful, and protective of my fragile ego. Cultural pressure lent a forcefully helping hand, but try stuffing a sleeping bag into a pint glass… It’s exhausting and downright impossible. I now stand proudly with two feet in that gray area… Aka no coming out party, but a fuck-the-molds mentality. Based on the dinner party’s reaction, this makes me a minority amongst men. My face goes flush with sympathy for my restrained brothers.
Thoughts continue to dip, dance, and dissipate in rhythm with the erratic streams of candle smoke. I sense that we’re getting bogged down by frustrating theory technicalities. A compelling thought tethers us back to first principle bedrock... Spectrums, labels, stereotypes, blah blah blah... the alternative to our obsession with compartmentalization is to drop the complex vernacular. The alternative is to just BE. To ditch illusory constructs and effortlessly ACCEPT. To create space for and celebrate genuine self expression because it’s decidedly HUMAN. Mmm yes, very good...sounds wonderful in theory, but the power potential of the sentiment is missed without more personal context. I offer an anecdote - The floor is granted. As the one who led us into this rabbit hole, the group seems eager for me to pull us back out. Truth is, I’ll enter uncharted territory by disclosing my reaction to Mac’s coming out publicly. Screw it, it’s necessary to frame an important point. This is my confession. I prepare for a Sunday roast. Frickin’ Tarot cards…
From my perspective, Mac’s coming out landed gently amongst family and friends. A beautiful outpouring of love and support cradled his announcement. We were so proud of Mac for owning his truth and cherished his trusting us with it. His courage was worthy of celebration. The initial sheen wore off for me though. I grew jealous in the months that followed. Mac’s courage to profess his true self unleashed an outpouring of interest, energy, and love from friends and family alike, of which I not only envied, but craved. Let there be no mistake, Mac is a person of extreme merit, always earning respect through his actions and character, but this seemed like the cherry on top of an already magnificent cake. I hated myself for being envious of Mac’s circumstance. He overcame a challenge that I wasn’t forced to face… or so it seemed. We were like professional athletes from opposite sides of town. While I was the coddled star who waltzed a frictionless path to the big leagues, he represented the underprivileged teammate with an against-all-odds-I-dare-you-not-to-cry story of ascension through adversity. I resented his being the fan favorite. The game was the same, only now the playing field even. In response, I pushed myself to work harder, date better, achieve more, and travel further to generate validation from the extended family I wished to impress… How else could I express my own legitimacy beyond commonplace successes? How else could I come out to the world and be celebrated for the man I was?
I limp to the finish line of my confession, hoping that the shame I feel is exclusively internal. Was it still clear that I carry the ultimate respect for my brother? And that I admire the entire LGBTQ+ community for choosing courage over fear? Debatable. But in the trailing silence, I make a massive breakthrough. The trunk of my jealousy did not stem from a desire for self-worth validation, rather the desire for a comparable environment to freely explore and profess my truest masculine self. In many ways, coming out was that environment for Mac... at least in the embracing community that received him. Coming out is far more dynamic than a statement about who you choose to sleep with or date... it’s an identity reinvention function… a coming of age celebration… an accepted “who am I” reset opportunity. THAT is what I’d been desperate for.
A surge of revelatory energy all but drowns out the group’s heartfelt reactions. I clear my throat to speak again. Yup, another classic conversation hi-jack by yours truly… but I was feelin’ it. At risk of being booted from my soapbox, I loop us back to Burning Man, the context where this all becomes clear. I paint a radical picture. It’s summer, middle of Nevada, surrounded by thundering bass and vertically contained by nothing but a jet-black sky slashed by the soaring milky way. I’m forreal “dancing” for the first time in my life, like a madman with a wasps nest trapped under his already ridiculous fur poncho. For hours, it’s uninhibited self expression in perfect concert with thousands of other grooving desert dwellers. We bathe in the golden freedom to fully express ourselves. For the non-burners out there this is THE essence of the unique gathering. Where money, hierarchies, molds, etiquette, and judgement vaporize, AUTHENTICITY reigns supreme. Bye-bye sexual orientation, past relationships, job title, bank account, and hometown. Bye-bye previously held identity. Hello, magnificent coming out celebration.
Our souls crave these unshackled environments. The world desperately needs more you, you, and YOU. Only our most brilliant selves will make this universal party dance. My own avalanche of self-exploration was set off under the desert stars that night; what a monumental gift. And the best part? It was all made possible by my big brother and best friend, Mac. I ignore all masculine expectations and finally allow myself to cry.
Where Alfred stated that everything organic exists as a spectrum, I claim that everything human exists as a muscle. We must exercise the muscles of our authentic being to manage the heavy lifting of humanity’s pressing challenges. Will I see you on the gray mats at the gym??
Everyone deserves the space to declare their truth to a receptive and supportive audience. How else can we expect to break the societal molds that suffocate our RAINBOW TRAPPED WITHIN? My god, how the world would transform if it were one continuous coming out party…
Now, will someone PLEASE take these tarot cards away from me before this gets too deep….