First question is why do you think a queer tarot deck is important?
I think there’s been this resurgence in the past 10 years or so of this reawakening around magic and witchcraft, and it becoming a lot more mainstream. But I feel like queer people have kind of been pioneering that. And I think it’s because many years ago when witches were believed to be evil, I feel like a lot of the time those people were queer, and they were isolated and they were ostracized. And their queerness and their sexuality was labelled as witchcraft, and that they had to be removed from society. So I feel like it’s important that queer people now kind of get back in touch with that. I know there’s this whole astrology becoming super popular in queer culture – and it’s funny on one end, but actually I feel like that’s really important. I know there’s so many astrology meme instagrams and facebooks now. And I think it’s really important that we get back in touch with that sort of spirituality, especially if being queer at one point meant that you were not valid because you practised witchcraft. Now if you do it, you can do it from an empowering standpoint.
What card did you choose to shoot?
I chose the Nine of Swords. Yeah, so originally I wanted to choose a really uplifting card – a hopeful card – which is typically the type of energy I like to bring to a space. I like to be cheerful and bright. And the more I sat with myself and the more I became honest with myself, I felt like the Nine of Swords – the message in the Nine of Swords – aligned with my personal experience more: of someone who has struggled with depression their entire life. I wanted to kind of reimagine it. The actual card as you know is really dark. I wanted to reimagine it a lot more bright and dreamy. I have a very femme girly vibe. And so I just wanted to remind people that depression doesn’t always look the way you want it to look, or the way that it’s often portrayed (as rain clouds). I mean yeah, it definitely does not feel fun. But I feel like we demonize it to the point where it often looks very dark and vicious and like a monster. And I feel like in order to reframe our thinking about mental health we need to stop demonizing it, you know? So I wanted to remind people that depression looks different for everyone, and for me it looks like taking a depression nap in a nice sunny bedroom. Sometimes it looks like not leaving this bed for days and weeks – and this bed, which is often a safe haven, can become a prison. The card having a bed in it and someone glued to their bed is really real to me. Because yes, I come here. I feel like a lot of queer people have anxiety about leaving their house. And sometimes not leaving their house means not leaving their bed, because existing in this world as a queer person can be exhausting. I feel that, and I felt that really hard. So I wanted to reimagine it.”
Can you tell me how you resonate with the archetype of the Nine of Swords?
The Nine of Swords card is anxiety, depression, nightmares, sleeplessness, and overthinking and kind of manifesting your fears. My experience as someone who’s a very depressive person – I really resonated with that. The fact that just being queer, being fat, feeling like being in social circles was very frightening for me. I didn’t want to take up too much space as a fat person. I felt like I was just taking too much space up. Or that my fatness would be the butt of the joke all the time. I’ve definitely worked on myself to the point where I have a very healthy social life, and my anxiety is not a problem so much. But my depression – I just have learned to accept that depression doesn’t own me and doesn’t define me. But it’s definitely a part of my experience, and something that I’ve learned to hold close and honour, and not be afraid to talk about. And I feel like queer people have been at the forefront of destigmatizing mental health struggles. Another reason why I chose this card is ‘cause it’s easy to choose a card that’s happy and cute and has a really uplifting message – which is important, especially when a lot of people feel hopeless right now – but also I want to remind people that depression is real, and it does not make you less than, you know?
What would you tell your younger self about the Nine of Swords?
I would first give them a hug, ‘cause they need it. And I would tell them that it’s OK to be scared. And that a lot of the times we run away from fear, when in fact if we just talked to our fear it usually has a message for us. And I like to thank my fear. This card at first glance just looks like just hopelessness, and just overcome with fear, overburdened with anxiety and stress. But I feel like if you look deeper this could be someone who is talking to their demons and thanking them for existing. And then I feel like that allows your fear to pass quickly. And also I would tell her that depression works in the same way: that if you’re gentle with yourself, and if you’re patient with yourself, and understanding with yourself, those depressive episodes are not going to stop, but they’re going to wash over you in a much more gentler, quicker way.
If you were talking to a queer person pulling your card in a tarot reading… what would you want them to know about the Nine of Swords?
I would want them to know that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. And that a lot of – in our struggle that we have, especially around being queer – is often about not being queer enough, which doesn’t exist. I feel like I would tell them that if they’re not feeling secure in their queerness, that that’s natural and normal, but that ultimately it’s a lie that they have to prove themselves in any way, or that they have to compete to prove their queerness. Because I’ve felt that way as someone who is cis, as someone who often has straight-passing romantic relationships where I felt like oh my god, am I not living my most queer life? Just by existing I would say that they’re queer enough. And that the card – it’s an anxious card, and I would tell them that their anxiety doesn’t have to rule their life. And that social anxiety around, especially when I first kind of entered the queer scene I felt terrified that I wouldn’t fit in. So I would just let them know that this card – ultimately there’s hope behind it, even though at first glance it looks very scary, and very isolating. And to remind them that it’s always OK to ask for help. And that their existence alone is valid and will always be valid.
I’m a very codependent person, and I’ve been in codependent relationships where I’ve completely isolated myself, and felt like I wasn’t worthy of – because I was fat, because I was brown, because I was depressed – that I wasn’t worthy of attention, and that I wasn’t worthy of love and respect. And so I didn’t have a social circle or a support circle. And then a couple years ago I met a group of women and femmes that became my coven. And we have a group chat. And every time I was struggling with a depressive episode or my relationship was stressful for me, they were there. And I honestly don’t know how I survived without them. If I try to look back a few years at a time where they didn’t exist in my life, I didn’t know how I was making it. And so it’s really beautiful to have sort of this telepathic connection to this power source of knowledge and wisdom and care. And I know that right now if I were feeling anxious or stressed or depressed, I can just type a little message and a few of them are going to get back to me within minutes. And knowing that I have them in my life is amazing. They’re my angels. But I didn’t always have that, and I was afraid to ask for help and I thought it was a sign of weakness. And it’s not. It’s actually a lot braver to ask for help.
Yes. If you’re having a hard time and you feel alone, I just want to remind you that you’re not alone. And that there’s always someone out there that’s going to be ready to help you if you just ask.
This card is the fear and depression card, and manifesting your fear. And I feel like queer people have been deemed weaker and more fragile and less valid for so long that a lot of queer people feel like they have to project strength and power and courage at all times, which is not realistic, especially when society is literally working against you at all times. And so I feel like this card is a reminder that when fear takes over – talk about it, be vocal about it. And that can be empowering, to speak your anxieties. I’m really loud about my depression. When I’m feeling depressed I’m very loud about it. Because the more I talk about it, the less scary it becomes to me, and also the more people come to me ready to talk about their experiences. And that’s extremely affirming and validating, and helps me feel less isolated.
What does queer mean to you?
It’s meant many different things throughout my life for me. And I think that’s important to acknowledge that’s it’s a fluid thing for everyone. And my brand of queerness is going to be different than your brand of queerness. It’s like a fingerprint. Queerness to me right now in this moment – it means completely owning my sexuality, whatever that means at the time. There were times in my life where I identified as bisexual, there were times in my life where I identified as pansexual – and I love that nothing is set in stone, and I can be what I want to be from day to day. So sex positivity, and awareness and exploration of my own sexuality is the biggest part of my queerness. But queerness for me means I’m a witch, it means that I’m fat, it means that I’m slutty. It’s like a halo around my head of all these different words, and some days I identify with one word more than another, or one label more than another. But I think queerness for me is just owning my humanity and my identity. And that often looks like sometimes I’m a sad queer, and sometimes I’m a happy queer, or sometimes I’m confused. Or sometimes I think when it comes down to it, it’s just self-awareness and self-acceptance and self-love.
If anything this is a reminder that queerness doesn’t have just one face, it has many faces. Anyone is going to find someone in your deck that they can relate to or resonate with. I think that’s important that you’re doing that. Because I feel like queerness is often white and thin, when it’s aggressively portrayed I mean. When in reality it’s not: it’s brown, it’s black, it’s fat, it’s disabled, it’s depression – it’s all these things, because we’re still humans, you know?*
*Transcription of Audio Interview
Nine of Swords – Yema, She / They, agender, pansexual