the owl in me

“But I didn’t know about thousands of acres of big old trees. Nor did I know about animals, like the northern spotted owl, that live in old growth forests. No one told us, and the logging industry had quite a stake in the silence.” (23, exile & pride) 

The first thing that struck me about the language here was the use of repetition throughout the passage, the phrase “I didn’t know” is used multiple times and the paragraph opens and ends with “no one told us”. I believe this is intentional to retell the evolution of emotion Clare feels, from curiosity to anger about his miseducation, which he learns is due to lobbying from the logging industry. The paragraph ends with the powerful word “silence”, which is then followed by a line break (or a dinkus, which I just learned is the technical term), where I paused and had a few seconds of silence in my head before continuing to read. This linguistic effect creates emphasis on the last sentence and gives it an ominous tone. 

I believe the implications of this passage extend beyond the literal example of the owl and the forrest which are under threat. Clare writes from an intersectional perspective, and he is able to empathize with vulnerable species such as the owl because his own body has been threatened as a genderqueer and disabled person. The intimate relationship he describes with nature exemplifies his sensitivity, which is a great strength to his writing and allows for him to be careful and deliberate with words and description. 

We need more authors like Clare who are able to speak about queerness from an intersectional perspective, who can identify the common oppressor. Clare can empathize with trans folks, disabled folks, and queer folks separately and together, who occupy different spaces and protest in different ways. He can see the weakness in the splintering off of marginalized identities and even the ways that each movement works against others. Clare focuses on how normative culture is harmful and creates different expectations through the paradox of cure, assumption of straightness, and even the harm of metronormativity for the queer community. These cultural norms he suggests are not separate, and work together under common oppressors – capitalism, white supremacy, and a society focused solely on production. 

4 thoughts on “the owl in me”

  1. I really appreciate your perspective on this passage. While reading this part of the text, I had a bit of trouble figuring out how it related to the book’s overall theme—his identity as a queer and disabled person, but I think your interpretation makes a lot of sense. I also wonder if the owl could be a symbol for the lack of queer and disabled representation that Clare was exposed to as a child and the way that his self-worth might have been entirely different if queerness and disability were framed more positively. I also think about what Clare writes on page 7 when he says “In large part, disability oppression is about access.” On this page, he is talking about the same idea—the idea that his struggle as a disabled person comes not from being disabled but from ablism itself. But his education of disability was never framed in this way—he was only ever taught that disability was something to overcome (the idea of the “super crip” or finding a cure) or to be pitied without considering the option of liberation. The connection here is education and the way it frames our perspective not only on the world around us but on our sense of self as well.

  2. The owl and forest as a metaphor for Clare’s own queer identity was a perspective that I did not consider. However, the comparison reminds me of Saeed Jones’s difficulty in overcoming his own internalized homophobia. Both Clare and Jones have a close relationship with nature in their writings. It especially reminds me of Jones’s poem Kudzu, where Jones compares his queerness to the invasive species. Their writing has a deep emotional connection to the nature that surrounds them, influencing their writing and making it that much more impactful.

  3. I really enjoyed your comparison between the owl and Clare’s experience in the world with his disability and queer identity. I think the comparison pairs well with his definition of exile. The owl is a representation of himself being threatened by his environment because he is queer and disabled, and he describes himself leaving his home as a type of exile for those same reasons. I think his use of the owl comparison and his talk of missing mostly the nature of his hometown in his description of exile also seems to further his emphasis on the importance of nature to his experiences growing up queer and disabled in his hometown.

  4. Your analysis of Clare’s writing helped me to understand the themes of the passage a lot better. When I initially read this section of the book I was confused as to how nature, specifically the owl, connected in any way to queer or disabled identity. However, after seeing your post I can now see the connection between Clare’s observation on the wilderness he grew up in and his intersectional identity.

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