Gay Tarot by Lee Bursten; Art by Antonella Platano
Review by K. Frank Jensen

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

The first time I heard about Lo Scarabeo’s Gay Tarot was when I visited them about 1½ years ago. The deck has now reached the market. In the accompanying booklet, Lee Bursten states that "as an oppressed minority, often in danger of losing our jobs, our homes, our freedom, or even our lives because of our sexual identity, I believe gay men deserve a tarot deck, which can provide a non-threatening venue in which to explore issues of relationship and how to deal with a society whose attitudes toward homosexuality ranges from indifference to hostility". I have wondered about this statement, since, in my part of the world, like in many other Western countries, male homosexuality is no longer suppressed. On the contrary, gay people promote themselves and their lifestyle limitlessly through parades and in many other visible ways.

"Gay Tarot" is kept in subdued tones with a very low color intensity that almost makes it appear as was it made in grey tones only, in a drawing style similar to certain comic book stories. It is absolutely desexualized; those who expect to find sex scenes between males will be quite disappointed. At most, you will see two guys kissing and that on one card only out of 78, The Moon. The characters are of all ages and from different areas of life (they range from the older, White well-to-do politician type to a young Black guy with a skateboard) through the entire deck. There is also the "caring person", whose mark is a turned around cap. Females are - almost - quite left out of the deck, except that the caring person (a main character in one of the stories told) is seen with the same small girl on several cards - could be his daughter - and, on one card, the Three of Wands, he is waving goodbye to a group which includes a grown-up woman and a boy (his former family, perhaps). While the small girl is rendered in soft colors, as all the other characters are, the woman and boy are transparent, as if they were figments of his imagination. This detail can, of course be interpreted in several ways, like much of the scenery can.

My general impression of the deck is one of sadness and loneliness and an eternal longing after a different life. That is probably not what it is meant to express, but that is how I see it anyway. When I first looked through the cards, I found them rather boring, but a closer look revealed many interesting stories. It is a more profound deck than it immediately appears to be. A contrast to the general, everyday life situations depicted on most cards are the traditional queens, which here are substituted by "guides" in form of winged angels.

There is one detail I find annoying, not only with this deck but in many others. What used to be a standard for tarot number cards, the appropriate number of suit marks incorporated in the design, has more or less disappeared. At best, the suitmarks are so intricately incorporated that you have to look closely to find them. We have to depend on the title to see what card it actually is. Often, the illustrated situation does not respond to the actual card’s traditional meaning either. From time to time I get the feeling that the illustrations were originally created for another purpose and just edited loosely for the deck.

Gay Tarot by Lee Bursten and Antonella Platano
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

Images © 2004 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page © 2005 K. Frank Jensen