Queer youth love tarot. I'm sure all youth love tarot, actually, but LGBTQ youth are my main audience. Here's the story:
For the past seven years I've worked at an LGBTQ youth center in downtown Philadelphia. Most of the youth who come here are black and brown gay boys and girls, trans youth and genderqueers. They have all sorts of family stories, some supportive, others not. Some (not all, but some) grew up in the foster care system and/or have been in and out of the juvenile justice system. Most have dealt with the rotten school system, and have the emotional scars to show for it. I, on the other hand, am a white “hipster” type from a middle class, midwestern background. It’s a laughably stereotypical set up.
For the first year or so, I tried to keep my white girl witchy ways under cover. But the youth sniffed me out, found out that I read tarot, and started asking for readings.
See, I’m a teacher by training. But I never went into the traditional classroom. Instead, I have always found myself in non-traditional, youth-development settings. The role that I’ve played typically straddles educator and social worker. One thing I’ve learned, regardless of the setting or the youth demographics, is that a few things are always true for youth:
Part I: Solo sessions with Youth, kind of like therapy/coaching:
Once I started doing tarot with youth, I discovered something wonderful.
Tarot looks at the holistic picture, and really reflects the ways that crushes, talents, struggles and circumstances collide and shape our experiences.
When I shuffle the cards before a reading, there's an air of nervous anticipation. There's often some giggling. Then we look at the images, and I ask some questions. As the reading progresses, youth open up and spill the beans on the stuff that matters most to them. And, as a reader, I’m able to offer my perspective from a place of collaborative interpretation. This means I can shed the advice-giving, finger-wagging hierarchy of the person who knows the answers (even though I’ve lived none of their experiences). It’s a relief to both of us.
Part II: Teaching youth to read tarot:
Eventually, I started teaching tarot classes. They are always packed, which somehow always surprises me. And, just like the complicated, intersecting components of life, our classes tend to tangent into other areas. Like, “What do you believe happens after death?” or “Can we talk about Greek Gods?” Tarot became a way to engage groups of young people about all kinds of out-of-the-box spiritual questions and longings. As LGBTQ youth in particular, the desire for new archetypes, mythology and magic answers a need to see the self somehow reflected in an exploration of faith, imagination and intuition.
One youth who was particularly passionate about the tarot classes decided to make his own deck of cards. There were 16 images, drawn in colored pencil on index cards with descriptions on the back. They were “archetypes of urban life” and included things like “That fresh pack of McDonald’s Fries,” “Your Friendly Neighborhood Hooker” and “White Social Worker in the Hood.” It was brilliant. And he gave really great readings with them.
Reflections, Conclusions, Advice:
My greatest hope in working with young people (all people really) is to be useful, and to reflect back their resilience, brilliance and beauty. Tarot has allowed me to do this with youth, bridging big differences in our life experiences, and opening the gate to genuine, meaningful sharing.
If you have teens in your life, and either of you have an interest in tarot, I highly recommend breaking out the deck, grabbing some snacks, and diving in. You don’t have to be an expert. Figuring out the reading together will inevitably bring up insights and opportunities to share. The most important thing is not to have an agenda. Young people need a safe space to explore the messy feelings and the uncharted path. And tarot invites the reader(s) to approach the conversation with curiosity and open-mindedness. You will be amazed at what unfolds. I promise.