PAWS FOR ART: Fighting in silence. | #students | #parents


Still from “Traitor” courtesy of Julia Blurton-Jones.

Not all battles are visible. Julia Blurton-Jones, senior animation, print media and entrepreneurship student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has a bright, cheerful nature and upbeat personality. Those aspects of her personality juxtapose the emotional intensity and nuanced symbolism in her works “Traitor” and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” In these respective pieces, Blurton-Jones shares her experiences of being LGBTQ+ in Catholic school and living with chronic illness. 

Blurton-Jones’s inspiration for “Traitor” came from a variety of homophobic experiences she endured in grade school. In conservative Christian schooling, the definition of marriage forbids homosexuality.  Blurton-Jones felt torn between speaking her truth and keeping herself safe from danger. She shared that “when you have to lie about yourself in that way, you feel like you’re personally betraying yourself.”

The plot of “Traitor” mirrors her youth, as the main character, a young girl, learns about traditional marriage in class. Her fear that her classmates will see her true self is mirrored in their disfigurement. One girl’s face distorts into multiple eyes and wings, representing a Biblically accurate angel. The teacher, bearing a large golden halo and a shepherd’s staff, speaks in the ringing of church bells. A snake, from the story of Adam and Eve, wraps around the main character’s arm and whispers fearful words in her ears.

“I wanted to cover this … this specific thing that comes with being LGBTQ+ that not everyone might understand that coming out of the closet is not a single experience…what times do you fight for yourself and your identity and what times do you hide it for your protection.” Her sentiment reflects the ambiguous ending where the young girl looks at her textbook and sighs, unclear whether she fought or protected herself this time.

Now that Blurton-Jones has left the conservative teachings behind her, she feels hopeful for the future and is still fighting for herself. The further away from Catholic school she gets, the less anxious and fearful of the danger she is. For individuals torn between safety and truth, it does get better, she said. More information on mental health support for LGTBQ+ individuals and allies can be found at the Trevor Project.

“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” is a screen-printed booklet that chronicles Blurton-Jones’s diagnosis of chronic illness through the metaphor of lycanthropy. “It’s not something you’re expecting, you suddenly get it … and you have all these things that you’re now dealing with.” In the scene of her diagnosis, the doctor’s long, pointed nails are dark black and their arms are covered with fur.

The comparison between chronic illness and werewolves reflects the lack of control people diagnosed with chronic illness can feel. Upon receiving a diagnosis, individuals may have to completely alter their daily routines to create a new normal tailored to managing their illness. 

Chronic illnesses by definition are incurable and long-lasting. Flare-ups can vary in intensity and can occur unpredictably. 

While many attribute the transformation into a wolf to a full moon, the first occurrences of werewolves in the written form held no such belief. Instead, “at certain times of the year [certain men] are transformed into enraged and hungry wolves.” This is not to compare chronically ill individuals to enraged wolves, but instead to compare the illness and its symptoms to the difficult transformation. Particularly bad flare-ups can feel like one’s body is possessed by pain, interrupting their life during the return cycle.

People living with chronic, invisible illnesses go through their everyday lives without others realizing how much energy it takes for them to do daily activities. “The Spoon Theory” is an important concept for people living with chronic illnesses. The utensil represents a unit of energy. Because their body is constantly battling their illness, “Spoonies” have fewer spoons (or units of energy) than healthier individuals to spend on regular activities.

She encourages the loved ones of “spoonies” to “just be thoughtful about it and be aware of it … maybe your friend can not hang out today, and that is okay.” 

The vulnerable art of Blurton-Jones reveals the complex challenges individuals face in their life. It is important to treat one another with kindness and love, as pain is a natural part of life and many struggles are invisible to the naked eye. More of Julia Blurton-Jones’s work can be found at https://juliablurtonjones.com/ and her Instagram @ailujart.


Brianna Harper




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