The northern saw-whet owl is one of North America’s smallest owls, and they are often heard but rarely seen in the woods where I live. Being so tiny, they’re difficult to spot, but their mating call is unmistakable, like something between a one-note mechanical alarm and a creaky gate hinge. It’s come to be one of the sounds I associate with the idea of “home,” so it’s no surprise I started sketching them and fell in love with this little oddball character who emerged. Stígandr has gone on many journeys in my personal journals and sketchbooks; you can find a few of them in my Instagram feed if you search carefully.
The distinctive sound of these diminutive owls calling out to each other across the width of the wilderness reminds me of the queer community in this rural area, separated by sheer geographical distance but finding ways to send up signals of solidarity: here I am, you’re not alone. In the wild, the owls shelter where they can - yes, including under mushrooms. Like them, we do what we must; some of us keep our heads down and our identities concealed, afraid of repercussions. Some live loudly because nothing we have ever tried was quiet enough to keep us out of trouble with the conformity police.
Some of us have places to go, support from our families and friends, and safe community spaces, but those are all the things being threatened by the current wave of hateful legislation driven by religious zealotry. Many of the LGBTQ+ community are already more vulnerable than our peers, especially as youth, and it is heartbreaking to see those who ought to be caretakers of the heart of a society and its legal representatives working together to stoke the flames of intrasocietal fear among us for their own greater gain.
[Image 2: Storm Shelter WIP - close-up on owl linework]
This illustration is true-to-life: saw-whet owls really are tiny enough (around 20 cm long when full-grown) to be able to take shelter under mushrooms when the spring rains break over the woods. The tawny colour of this one’s breast feathers marks them as an adolescent, just beginning to explore life beyond the nest. Montana is a beautiful place, but not always a safe one, and sometimes the storms are severe.
My whole world has felt like a rainstorm, recently. We protect ourselves as best we can, but even when we do everything possible, the water still seems to seep in at the edges, and sometimes someone else makes a big, cold splash that drenches everyone in range. That’s a lot like how it feels to be transgender, right now, and every time someone suggests I “take a break from politics,” I find myself wondering what it’s like to have the privilege to do that.
(*On content - I’m going to discuss some serious issues for a moment, including references to violence and self-harm. If you’re not in the space for that, please skip to the photo of the sky clearing below.)
[Image 3: Julian & Runi picking up litter for Earth Day 2023]🌱
During 2023’s almost-concluded legislative session, the ruling political party in power in my state (and everywhere else in the country they hold power) has relentlessly attacked civil rights, democratic discourse, and the separation of church from state. People in the queer community - my community - have been talking about it every single day, because we can’t escape it even for a second.
Every aspect of our existence is being targeted - access to public spaces, the ability to make our own health care decisions and plan our own families, our contributions to culture and society, the right to marry freely, any claim to basic dignity and civil treatment from our neighbours.
As I am writing this, people around the state have been protesting in support of the principles of democratic representation, which were blatantly violated by the silencing and banning recently of Rep. Zooey Zephyr, Montana’s first openly transgender legislator. The so-called “Montana Freedom Caucus” of far-right legislators subsequently issued a number of statements defending the decision by talking about the need for “civility” in our political discourse while intentionally deadnaming and misgendering Rep. Zephyr. The House Speaker who issued the ruling against her is so afraid of transparency during the remainder of the legislative session that he has banned not only Rep. Zephyr but all members of the press and public from viewing the session’s remaining proceedings from the gallery in the Capitol building. One of the GOP representatives spoke in favour of one of their many anti-trans bills by saying she would rather see her ten-year-old die by suicide than be transgender; Rep. Zephyr was censured for saying in opposition to a prior bill targeting the trans community, “I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads, you see the blood on your hands.”
[Image 4: storm breaking skyscape] 🌥
Wait, I hear you saying. I thought this was a blog about art!
Well, my friends, that’s mostly true. It’s a newsletter written by an artist. And most of what I talk about here is art-adjacent. But all of that art is made by a human being, and this human being is transgender. I don’t have the luxury of turning off the politics or leaving them to the legislators - it’s my life on the line. My marriage. My rights.
“When those communities who see the repercussions of those bills have the audacity to stand up and say, ‘This legislation gets us killed,’ those in power aren’t content with just passing those hateful harmful bills," Rep. Zephyr said last week. “What they are demanding is silence. We will not be complicit in our eradication.”
[Image Card: Water Works #6: Welcome to the Precipice] ⛵️
"Here we are gathered together with purpose. Bring everything you are. Welcome to the precipice. The chasm waits below. These are the nights when the stars shine forth in force, each one bearing galaxies of their own. When darkness covers the world, it takes only the tiniest pinprick of illumination to create a beacon that draws a thousand sleepless eyes. Every person has the right to not participate in the rituals of their own oppression. If this is the ending of the world as we have known it, then by definition it is the beginning of something new, and all of us now alive are the coauthors of humanity's next chapter."
“Storm Shelter” is my Spring piece for 2023, and it’s dedicated to everyone who’s feeling battered and windblown by the forces of bigotry, everyone ready for a break in the clouds of disinformation, everyone who’s uncertain about where they belong or if anyone else feels this way - you aren’t alone, and never have been. Our voices can seem as small as we are in a big, noisy world, so easily overwhelmed, but the power of a chorus in unison can wash away the illusion that principles of injustice are set in stone. May this storm be the cleansing we’ve been waiting for, and may the rainbow that comes after be a dazzling flag of freedom for every single one of us.
Trans and gender-diverse kids especially need to hear that they are loved, and wanted, and that there are places for them to be safe and alive and seen. We exist in every community, and we need allies. We need you to make those places, to be those people, to set those examples in your communities and social circles.
[Image 7: Storm Shelter detail - close-up on finished owl]
I love you all. If you know of someone else who needs this message or this art, please feel free to share this blog or send them my way on social media (@foxspiritdesign) - and of course, my shop is live as well, along with lots of art, more blogs, time-lapse videos, and more. Thanks for all your support this far - every one of you has played a part in getting me here, and I’m looking forward to so many more exciting things in 2023!
[Image 8: Julian & Madeline selfie Earth Day 2023] 🍃