Using the Tarot for Creativity and Empowerment

Deck Review: Gay Tarot

Gay Tarot box image

Deck Author: Lee Bursten
Deck Illustrator: Antonella Platano
ISBN #: 0-7387-0597-7
Number of Cards: 78 Major Arcana: 22 Minor Arcana: 56
Card Size: 2.60 x 4.72 inches
Publisher: Lo Scarbeo
Year Published: 2004
Deck Tradition: Rider-Waite-Smith
Suits: Cups, Swords, Wands, Coins
Court Cards: Youth, Man, Guide, Sage
Major Titles: The Fool, The Magician, The Intuitive, The Protector, The Emperor, The Priest, The Lovers, The Chariot, Justice, The Hermit, The Wheel of Life, Strength, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, Self-Hatred, Revelation, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Beyond Judgement, The World.

The Fool is 0, Strength is 11, Justice is 8
Card Back: Reversible
Companion Material: 64-page multi-language little white book
Languages: Spanish, Italian, German, French, English, Dutch

I had awaited Lee Bursten’s Gay Tarot for quite some time so was quite excited the day it appeared in my mailbox. Now this was several years ago, mind you, but I still recall it like it was yesterday. The deck was everything that I had hoped it would be and was not at all disappointed. Over the years, this has been one of my go-to decks to offer for my gay clientele or for open-minded clients preferring a more modern-themed deck

The Gay Tarot is a deck of modern imagery focusing on the experience, identity, and sensibility of the gay lifestyle in contemporary society. The deck is devoted to the lives and sensibilities of gay men and depicts societal acceptance, self-reliance, inclusiveness, self-esteem and a positive self-image. What is interesting, is that it displays men from a wide spectrum of everyday life – there are young men, older men, firemen, hockey players, father, scientists, actors, politicians, construction workers, retired men, gardeners, athletes, judges, chefs and more. This is one of the few gay-themed decks that I have seen which I can actually relate to in my everyday life and feel that it is representative of our times.

The cards themselves are of good quality card stock and measure 2.9 x 4.8 inches, making them easy to shuffle even for smaller hands. Each image is surrounded by a thin blue border, about 1/4 thick which is not at all distracting. The Major Arcana cards display the numbers in Roman Numerals in yellow on the top center of the card while the Minors display regular numbers. Typical of many Lo Scarabeo decks, each card title is displayed in English and Spanish on the upper left, Italian and French on the upper right, German on the lower left and Dutch in the lower right. The deck is in RWS style, with Strength as number 8 and Justice as 11.

The card back has a beautiful reversible image of a man’s head and torso between two pillars. A crescent moon and stars shine in the green background behind the man. A bright star glitters from the man’s 3rd eye.

Card back gay tarot

Back of Cards

The companion LWB (Little White Book) is typical of Lo Scarabeo decks, with card information provided in English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German. Each card is given a key phrase along with a couple of sentences for the card meaning. Information is provided for cards in the upright position only. The introduction is written by Lee Bursten himself in which he states “..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 range from indifference to hostility.” Lee included one spread in the LWB – The Self-Image Spread. The spread has you draw 3 cards from the deck (Past Self-Image, Present Self-Image, and Effects of others). The fourth and last card position, the Future Self Image, is selected by you from the deck and represents the self-image that you choose for yourself. A very powerful spread indeed!

The suit of the Minors are Cups, Coins, Wands and Swords. The images themselves are contemporary – depicting computers, airplanes, spaceships, tennis matches, subway cars, skateboarders, Semi trucks, hitchhikers, etc. but anyone familiar with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck should have no difficulty working with the Gay Tarot. I personally find the imagery of the cards relevant and obvious to the card meanings. With the Minors however, you need to rely on the inscribed number on the top center of the card as most of the Minors do not display the corresponding number of images in the illustration like a traditional RWS deck. For instance, the 5 of Swords depicts a man standing in a tennis court, hold two tennis racquets while his opponent walks away. No swords are depicted in the illustration. Here you would rely on the corresponding symbolism as well as your own personal meanings of the card.

The scenes in the cards are familiar to most of us and I find the symbolism easy to discern. For instance, The Hermit depicts a man all alone in a spaceship, outside of the planet earth. The 6 of Wands depicts the Gay Pride celebration, complete with banners and horses. The 9 of Swords depicts a man tormented in the middle of the night by the vision of 9 fighter jets.

Gay Tarot 9 of Swords

9 of Swords

The artwork was done by Antonella Platano is beautiful. It is done in a comic book style but is clean, clear and crisp. I find that the imagery the cards draws us right into the modern world, allowing us to see ourselves or our loved ones in many of the cards. I will say that I find the mix of people of different ages, races and lifestyles most refreshing.

The traditional Court Cards personalities have been renamed to Youth (Page or Princess), Man (Knight), Guide (the Queen or higher self) and the Sage (the King).

Youth of Swords Gay Tarot image

Youth of Swords

Several of the Major have been renamed, many (such as the Empress) incorporating the male equivalent. The following Majors have been renamed:

The Intuitive (High Priestess)
The Protector (The Empress)
The Priest (The Hierophant)
The Wheel of Life (The Wheel of Fortune)
Self-Hatred (The Devil)
Revelation (The Tower)
Beyond Judgement (Judgement)

One of my favorite cards in the deck is the Revelation Card XVI (traditionally The Tower). The image depicts a young man coming out to his parents. The parents appear anguished, distressed if not disgusted. Lightening flashes downward through the open window. I find this a heart-wrenching card that many of us can relate to only too well.

Revelation card gay tarot


Another powerful card is the Self-Hatred (the Devil in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition). In this card, a young mans stares intently at a painting depicting a happy family, the man’s fists are clenched. In the companion book, Lee gives the following meaning, “Self-Hated. The trap to avoid for all minorities. Unconsciously accepting societal norms. Low self-esteem”. Like the traditional Devil card which signifies being trapped in an unhealthy negative situation, this card suggests being trapped in an unhealthy attitude or mind set.

Self-Hatred card gay tarot image

Self-Hatred card

The Lovers Card depicts a male couple, one Caucasian and one African American. Night covers half the image while day covers the other half. The meaning from the LWB is: A relationship is always a mingling of differences. A powerful relationship. Seeing both sides of an issue. Flexibility.

Lovers card gay tarot image

The Lovers

I find this deck relevant and easy to use and would make a nice choice for your gay clientele. I recommend this deck for anyone looking for a gay-positive deck with modern imagery. It would also be a welcome addition to anyone’s Tarot collection.

Buy the Gay Tarot HERE

Additional Card images below:

The Intuitive card from the Gay Tarot image

The Intuitive

2 of Wands from the Gay Tarot image

2 of Wands

The World card from the Gay Tarot image

The World

The Fool card from the Gay Tarot image

The Fool

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