Bobby Abate
Artist and Esotericist Bobby Abate

I believe I became an outsider in first grade when I started bringing an inchworm doll named Little Louie to class with me.  Louis and I were inseparable and I chose to speak through him exclusively in his high pitched flamboyant voice, an ongoing distraction that angered my teachers made me into the class reject. 

Being at home with my Italian-American family was my safe space. Our house was witched out with saint statues, Italian charms and random knick-knacks arranged in magical groups of three. Every night my grandmother and I would watch reruns of Bewitched and I knew that somehow the same sort of magic was running through our veins. All I wanted was to twinkle my nose and erase the moniker of freak that had been stalking me through the years.

After puberty struck and my attraction to the girls never materialized I felt hopelessly broken. I started to identify with the super villains from cartoons and comic books, the gaudy outcasts in tight spandex who represented what society (and I) was terrified of most, EXUBERANT, UNAPOLOGETIC QUEERNESS.  

In high school, I filled hundreds of pages with drawings of baddies of my own design, dragged out in towering shoulder pads and racy bodysuits with fabulous masses of sculpted 80’s hair.  My portfolio full of swishy villains helped land me in a magnet school for the arts with a legion with real-life freaks my own age. I was introduced to artists like David Wojnarowicz, Truman Capote, Frida Kalho, Kenneth Anger, Karen Finley, Robert Maplethorpe and Basquiat, outsiders who broke all the rules to make their art. I dyed my hair bright orange, came out of the closet and started art school. My new friends spent their nights séancing on the ouija board and telling fortunes with a curious deck of cards filled with cryptic illustrations. This was my introduction to the Tarot.

The Lovers from my first tarot attempt in 1991

According my Roman catholic upbringing, using the Tarot was taboo and completely off limits which made me want to create my very own set of cards. I effortlessly channeled my angst into designs for the Hanged Man, the Lovers and the Devil but cards like the World, Temperance, and the Chariot made little sense, never mind the stoic Queens, Kings and Pages.  The project never materialized and I eventually moved on to filmmaking.

For the next 20 years, as I made films and videos my interest in the tarot never faded. I started to plan a video project centered around a tarot grandmaster named Rachel Pollack. I prepared for my meeting by reading Rachel’s book, 78 Degrees of Wisdom, considered by many to be the tarot reader’s bible. Incredibly, Rachel broke down the system behind the tarot in a way that made it crystal clear, giving me the exact kind of entry point I was looking for.  When I finally met Rachel I was impressed to learn of her stint developing the final story arc for DC’s Doom Patrol comic book series for which she created the first mainstream trans superhero. I found myself sitting across from my newest role model, a beautiful and striking outsider who actually transformed the kind of queer super-villains I identified with as a kid into superheroes fighting the oppressive forces of the mainstream.

The ideas for creating my own tarot deck began to develop.  It would have to pay homage to all the artists, queers and freaks that inspired me, channel the magic that kept me feeling safe, and be a tool for all the people who feel like I do, somehow different, an OUTSIDER.

Bobby Abate