Bossy Babe: Meet Carly Boyce

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When I created the Bossy List I wanted it to be a directory for folks looking to support feminist/queer women-identified, gender queer, and trans folks. But I also wanted to get to know more about this boss babes and hear their stories. Each month I’ll be sharing a Q&A that I had with one of the bossy babes on the list. This month I got to hear from Carly Boyce, a tarot reader and community builder who calls themselves the “Feelings Witch.” I once had the pleasure of having Carly read my cards. It was such a supportive, illuminating, and cathartic experience. Hope you enjoying reading their responses to my questions as much as I did!

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FM: Tell me a bit about how you got into tarot.

CB: I blame facebook! Sometime in 2012 one of my friends posted about a femme healer and writer (the inimitable Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha) who was offering tarot readings in Toronto. I booked an appointment out of curiosity, and because I wanted to connect with this badass queer femme. Shortly before my reading, some really big stuff went down in my family, and I found myself at a total loss of how to deal.

I met Leah at the Common on Bloor and we spent two hours talking about family and safety and violence and support and boundaries. I cried a lot. It was a really powerful experience, and it opened me up to the idea that there were lots of ways to connect with wisdom and intuition. Trying to think my way through the situation I was in wasn’t helping; Leah and her cards helped me figure out some ways to feel my way through instead. I got my first deck a month later, and have been working with it ever since.

FM: At what point did you decide that you wanted to start Tiny Lantern Tarot? How did you go about making that a reality? And what were some challenges that you faced along the way?

CB: I was coming to the end of a contract at Planned Parenthood, and trying to figure out what was next for me, workwise. I had been working contract-to-contract for years in community organizations, and there is a lot I love and appreciate about that life. But I wondered if something else was possible.

The first few times I said out loud that I might like to read tarot as a job, I expected people around me to react like I was kidding. I think I maybe thought I *was* kidding; but my friends and colleagues didn’t react that way. My folks weren’t just theoretically supportive: they offered an unbelievable amount of material and emotional support to help me make this idea into a real actionable thing. My friend Cee drew me a logo, and the illustration of me as the Hermit that is on my business card.

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My friend AK helped me build a website and learn how to use it. My friend Shannon talked me through the nuts and bolts of being a small business owner (her online course Sole Prop School has also been immensely helpful). My friend Kathryn was an incredible cheerleader. All of my close humans talked me up on days when I felt like an imposter (which was – and still is – a lot of days). I feel wildly lucky to be part of several intersecting communities of women and genderqueer humans who support each other’s work and share skills. Women and femmes have been teaching me about collaboration and skillsharing and generosity forever, and without those lessons and those humans, this would not have felt possible for me.

Aside from ongoing self-doubt and worries about stability, my biggest challenge is the constant hustle for new clients. Unlike something like a counselling practice, where you fill a roster of folks, and see them on a regular basis, even my regulars come to see me once every few months. I need three or four new clients a week to have my business feel sturdy, and that means constantly connecting to new networks and communities. As an introvert, I sometimes struggle with the need to be reaching out so consistently. The great news is that I get to be creative and try out different stuff, like workshops on whatever I want, and writing an advice column.

FM: Why the title “Feelings Witch”?

CB: I wish I remember how and when this phrase came into my life. I don’t think I made it up, but I love it as a description of how I am in the world. I hope that it makes people laugh, and also conveys some information about how I use tarot.

I’ve had a lot of different kinds of jobs, but the thread that connects all of them is emotional labour. Even in jobs that seem like they live outside that realm (like being a juice-bar-ista), I end up spending a lot of my time and energy with  my colleagues and clients talking about their feelings, secrets, and fears. I have a lot of capacity for those conversations, and I love connecting with people’s private worlds. It’s been really powerful for me to value that skillset, and to be directly paid for it.

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                          Cross-stitch that I made for Carly

FM: What are some of the benefits to going to a community healer or occult practitioner versus going to traditional therapy? And how does your training in social work inform your tarot practice?

CB: Oh gosh. There are so many ways to approach healing and guidance, and I want all of them to be available, affordable, accessible, and inclusive… and that’s not the world we live in. So my investment is trying to make the skills that I have available to the folks who might benefit from them. Some folks want to access tarot who would never go to a therapist. Whether it’s because it doesn’t fit into their worldview, or they can’t afford to see someone regularly, or they don’t trust people in formal systems to understand the intricacies of their lives. Some folks access both at different times for different reasons! I think I occupy a place of less authority and formal power than a therapist, and so folks feel more free to ignore ideas or suggestions that don’t feel like the right fit for them. There is also less pressure on folks to share what brought them to a place of needing guidance; I welcome folks to say as much or as little as they like about their question, and about their reflections on the cards as they emerge.

I have always really struggled with working inside of institutions, especially ones that are as broken and fucked up as the social service industry. I think we need people doing rad work inside and outside of those structures, and for the moment, I feel super lucky to be able to make a living outside the NPIC life. I sometimes describe myself as a social worker who doesn’t totally believe in social work.  I’m privileged to have the training and education I had access to, but there are some glaring mismatches with my values.

“Women and femmes have been teaching me about collaboration and skillsharing and generosity forever…”

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FM: On your website, you say that everything you know “about tarot and magic, I learned from queer and trans folks, mostly femmes.” Can you elaborate on this and tell me more about the connections you see between tarot and the queer community?

CB: I could write a million love letters to femme magic, mentorship, and community. In every organization, committee, group, and social scene I’ve been in, it has consistently been femmes (and most especially femmes of colour and femmes with disabilities) who have challenged folks and norms and processes to be more inclusive, more complex, more nuanced, more accessible, and more awesome. So much of femme identity for me is about holding complexity, seeing strength in vulnerability, and valuing reciprocity in relationships. These are values I hold in my life and in my work.

Tarot itself isn’t necessarily queer, although the deck I primarily use was made by a queer artist collective. Me, I think that queerness itself is a kind of magic, a way of disrupting and rewiring narratives and structures that were never built with us in mind. Tarot has been a route for me to queer my understanding of myself, of intuition and wisdom and explaining myself to myself.

People access healing, safe relating, and permissive space in a lot of different ways. I described my work once to a friend who does domination work; I told her that my job was awesome because people come over, they talk to me about their secrets and fears and dilemmas, sometimes they cry, we work on it together, they hand me money, and then they go away. She said that sounded a lot like her job. I feel like I’m part of a network of genius babes who carve out little pockets of safety and magic in the world, and invite other people into those for a time. It’s a huge privilege, and I try to carry that with a lot of care.

FM: Can you tell me more about why you’ve chosen the Collective Tarot as your go-to deck?

CB: The Collective Tarot was my first deck, so part of my allegiance to it is just that I have a long relationship and deep familiarity with it. Some of the things that drew me to it are that when human bodies are represented on cards, they include trans and genderqueer bodies, fat bodies, hairy bodies, brown and black bodies, disabled bodies- the people on the cards look like the people in my life. A lot of of my clients are queer or trans or racialized or disabled or some combination of those things, and this deck seems more likely than some to be recognizable to folks. I would like to develop relationships with other decks over time, but for the moment, this one has the most direct connection to my intuition.

“I think that queerness itself is a kind of magic…”

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FM: What role does feminism play in your work as a Feelings Witch or in your Suicide Prevention workshops?

CB: I mean, it’s everything! I do the work I do because accessing resources that acknowledge the existence and oppression of marginalized folks is hard, and I have the capacity to provide supportive space with those values. I work on a sliding scale because wealth is distributed inequitably and I want my services to be accessible to folks who don’t have a lot of access to cash. I mostly work out of my home, but will travel to meet folks where they’re at if there are barriers to them travelling or getting into my place (physical or otherwise). These days I’m thinking a lot about how my work can respond to anti-blackness and colonization in more coherent ways, because those are systems of oppression that I’m complicit with as a white settler. I have work to do there.

The reason I started facilitating workshops on suicide intervention (for weirdos, freaks, and queers) is because none the formal training I received about suicide talked about the role that oppression plays not only in folks’ risk of wanting or trying to end their lives, but also their ability to access help about it! People get told to call 911 when someone is at serious risk of ending their life, but I know what can happen when cops show up on a scene with someone who is in an escalated state when that person might also be trans, or Black, or genderqueer, or poor, or someone who does sex work, or someone without legal status.

“I’m thinking a lot about how my work can respond to anti-blackness & colonization in more coherent ways…”

I want  to build the capacity of our communities to care for folks who are having a hard time, rather than counting on the formal systems, which tend towards incarceration and coercive treatment, especially for folks who are marginalized. That means more folks having more skills to do direct care work, and also for all the folks doing care work to also access their own care! Keeping our people around is a long game, so we need lots of folks on the teams so everyone can also take breaks.

FM: What does being a boss/bossy mean to you? How do you define being a boss?

CB: I spent a long time in the last few years deliberately single, learning how to treat myself with the love and care I desire from romantic partners. This time of being my own dreamdate was really powerful, and really hard. It’s also what prepared me to be my own boss. Before going through a process of trying hard to be kind to myself, I would have been a terrible boss. I would have expected myself to move mountains, and been constantly disappointed by obstacles and my reactions to them.

I still have a lot to learn about running a business, and about finding the right balance between pushing myself while also being gentle and loving, but I’ve come a long way. What rules about running my own biz is that I get to make all the decisions, and what’s awful about running my own biz is that I have to make all the decisions, you know?

Right now, being a boss means stepping into my power; seeing and owning the skills and abilities I have, and using them in ways that align with my values. I had no idea I was capable of this, and it’s really fun to learn that I kinda am! It also means being an earnest and enthusiastic hype-man for other women and femme bosses. I promote the fuck out of my friends’ work, because I believe SO HARD in the amazing things my people are up to.

FM: And because this is also a fashion blog, are there any outfits that make you feel in your bossy power? 

CB: Hells yes. Getting dressed every day (or several times a day) is a ritual for me. I choose the clothing and jewelry that corresponds with how protected I need to feel for the day I am anticipating. What feels powerful to me has changed a lot over the years, and I’m sure it will continue to shift around. These days, I feel tough and ready when I’m wearing leather, black mesh, dark lipstick, a heavy ring, buffalo plaid, or stompy boots – usually not all at the same time. Other items that have felt deeply magical and important include snapbacks, fancy underpants, ripped denim, handknit sweaters, sparkly nail polish, hoop earrings, sequins, and crystals tucked into my bra. Being in my thirties has really been about not being afraid of my own body (anymore), and wearing clothes that actually show the shape of me has been a big part of that.

“being a boss means stepping into my power…”

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This post was written by Margeaux

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