Despite believing the personality isn’t a fixed entity but rather a random conglomeration of ever-shifting factors, I’ve always been obsessed with personality metrics. Before astrology, it was the Enneagram; before that, Myers Briggs. There is something comforting about turning people into puzzles that can be decoded, as opposed to inherently contradictory creatures that make literally no sense.

I resisted astrology for a long time because I was embarrassed to be a Virgo. My Sun sign is known for control issues and panic attacks. I suffer from both, and they’re traits I’ve always taken great care to hide. With astrology, I hated that people could see past my painstakingly-cultivated chill aesthetic and into my anxious soul simply by learning my birth date.

My sister is a Leo, and growing up I’d always wanted to be her. She was 5’11’’ with a thick blonde mane. When she entered a room, everyone gravitated towards her, like they were cold and wet and she was the Sun. Even teachers preferred her, even though I got better grades. No matter how much my Virgo discipline compelled me to achieve, my sister remained center stage. She was ever the magnetic, gorgeous lioness; me, the timid, prudish virgin shifting nervously in her shadow.

So until a few years ago, my interest in astrology was confined to occasionally perusing Zolar’s: It’s All In the Stars after a few bowl hits in a vain attempt to figure out why my crush wasn’t texting me back. But when astrology became inescapably trendy, I was compelled to learn my whole chart. And not to be dramatic, but it changed my entire self-perception.

The average person knows her Sun sign, and has a general idea of what characteristics that sign embodies. I.e. Virgos are clean. Aries are impulsive. Geminis are flaky. But fewer people know their full chart, and how the various aspects interact to create a more dynamic portrait. To put it simply: our Sun is our soul, our Moon is our emotional center, and the rising is how we present to the world. (If you want to go deeper: Venus is how we love, Mercury is how we communicate, and Mars is how we fight and fuck.) The rising sign became of particular interest to me after reading Jennifer Egan’s Look At Me, in which her main character frequently distinguishes between peoples’ apparent selves (how they appeared) and their shadow selves (“when they thought they couldn’t be seen.”) In astrological terms, the shadow self can be thought of as the Sun and Moon, operating in tandem, while the apparent self is the rising sign: what we project.

What I learned: I am Leo rising.

This meant that all this time, I, too, was a lioness. Looking back, my Leo rising was always there (I was a musical theatre kid, almost always in a tutu). The internet says Leo risings “radiate a special energy and magnetism” due to a “regal manner that simply demands interest from others.” My forever icon Mary Kate Olsen: Leo rising. Kate Moss: Leo rising. Meryl Streep. Kirsten Dunst. Marilyn Monroe. Rihanna’s rising sign is not known because her birth time is unavailable, but I’ve suspected she’s a Leo rising since reading a Vogue article in which Cate Blanchett describes her as “like the Sphinx.” (We are famously cat-like.)

Leo rising isn’t all good. We’re prone to “rash decisions” and “temper tantrums.” We can be obnoxious and provocative for no reason. (Lena Dunham, Donald Trump: Leo risings.) We go insane when people aren’t paying attention to us, which is probably why I couldn’t handle having a Leo sister, and also why I want to spend every second of my time writing personal essays.

The knowledge that I had some elusive magnetism determined exclusively by my birth time did wonders for my confidence. I started wearing crop tops and stopped wearing a bra. I enrolled in a dance class, during which I often become so transfixed by my own reflection that I zone out and miss the next step. Where I once felt nervous, I now think to myself: Anna, you have a ~presence~. You don’t have to do anything. Just sit there, and you’ll automatically look elegant. Like a cat.

Beyond leaning hard into my Leo rising, the mainstream popularity of astrology has helped me accept that maybe Virgos aren’t so bad. Amy Winehouse was a Virgo, a counterpoint to the prudish control freak that inhabits the popular imagination. Michael Jackson: Virgo. Same with Beyonce. We’re nothing if not dedicated to our craft.

Virgos are also good at Twitter. Ruled by Mercury (the planet of communication), we’re always ready to transform our free-floating nervous energy into a quip. Melissa Broder: Virgo. Cat Marnell: Virgo. Increasingly popular Twitter provocatrice Anna Khachiyan: Virgo. Actually, she’s a Virgo/Leo cusp, which makes her uniquely able to understand my struggle between Leo thirst and Virgo humility. Once, in a tweet nailing my essense, she wrote: “Story of my life is that I am forever vacillating between being a serious womyn theorist (Virgo) and a drunk meme slut (Leo).”

Twenty years ago, the New York Times reported that psychological research suggests that, in telling our life stories, “people invent a personal myth, a tale that, like the myths of old, explains the meaning and goals of their lives.” These psychologists — influenced by Jung — argued that understanding personal myths is important, because they “act as a sort of script that determines how that person is likely to act in the future.”

I know lots of people for whom astrology has provided a useful framework in learning to accept themselves and navigate their worlds. My girlfriend, a Cancer, told me it wasn’t until she learned of her Aries moon that she stopped internalizing her every emotion, and started being more assertive and expressive. A friend, a Leo sun AND moon, told me that learning her Taurus rising allowed her to see herself as less of a drama queen and more of a grounded presence. Another friend, a Scorpio — a sign known for being brooding and closed off — told me her Gemini rising has given her more confidence to navigate unfamiliar social situations.

That is, diving deep into various aspects of your chart can help you develop traits that seem desirable, in turn altering your self-perception for the better. Was I always a serious theorist with a thotty presence, or am I even now? Or did I just curate a series of descriptions and alter my style and behavior slightly in an effort to construct what I perceived to be my predestined personality? Does it even matter?

In an article on astrology’s trendiness among millenials, the Atlantic reported that “if you write a generic personality description and tell someone it applies to them, they’re likely to perceive it as accurate.” I’m always trying to guess people’s signs, and I’m almost always wrong. But once they tell me, I immediately see it. “Ahhh you’re a Sag,” I’ll say, “I see that because you get bored of your lovers with the quickness!”

My astrology fixation often invites eye rolls, especially when I leave my witchy Los Angeles bubble. But I’d rather be judged any day than listen to someone talk about their new diet or describe their job as if all jobs aren’t exactly the fucking same (“circling back,” “hopping on call,” “ping me!”). I mostly love astrology because it’s the universal language of cutting through the meaningless bullshit, and instead diving into the juicy stuff: our personality, our darkness, our soul.

I’ll admit I’ve struggled writing this, I think because my relationship to personality metrics at times feels poisonous. I’ve joked about getting hypnotized to stop talking about astrology, like a smoker would with cigarettes.

During my Enneagram phase, my best friend refused to take the test because he was convinced I would inevitably use it against him. He wasn’t wrong. I recently Tweeted: “tbh i love astrology bc it allows me to read ppl to their faces in public.”

When someone tells me they’re a water sign, I’ve been known to respond, dripping with condescension: “awwww, sensitive!” Upon learning someone has an Aries moon, I’ll recount when they were so hungover they couldn’t open their eyes, or a time they tried to steal something. My friend had to call me out for responding with, simply, “Scorpio,” whenever she acts suspicious in the face of a compliment, or recounts a fanatical quest for subtext. Another friend loves to remind me of when, while watching a high speed chase on the LA freeway, I blurted: “Aquarius.” When I learned my girlfriend’s Mercury was in Leo, I said it made sense because she “has trouble modulating the volume of her voice.”

It all goes back to the reason I got into astrology in the first place: Control. Astrology reminds me of the narcotic effect of Pinterest, the way your eyes glaze over as you categorize images. The world is no longer random, but finite and ordered. If you have an issue with someone, it’s not because either of you did anything wrong, or because your vibes are mysteriously mismatched. It’s because they’re a Taurus. People don’t die for no reason; Aquarians just occasionally get reckless on the freeway. Simple. No mystery. No one to blame.

In the 70s, Joan Didion famously wrote that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” For me, existing in the world of humans versus the world of ideas presents consistent challenge. I see astrology less as “real,” and more as a useful access point, a bridge between the abstract and the personal. A recent article on conspiracy theories announced that the “sense of comfort and clarity such stories bring can override the question of their truth value.” Like a conspiracy theory, which may seem irrational to many, astrology has its own internal logic. And it might have nothing to do with the stars. (Sorry Zolar.) Most importantly, astrology allows us to process ourselves and our world in a way that makes everything a little less scary.

So to the eye-rollers, the naysayers, the skeptics, I retort: CAN I LIVE?