Traveling for work gives me plenty of opportunities to meet colorful people from all over and experience a plethora of delightfully, eclectic experiences. In between gigs, I rest my weary head in the Midwest as it gives me a perspective on work and life experiences; I can get pretty introspective at times. The energy is refreshingly different and what I’m finding is a strong, queer community beyond what I encounter in major cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, etc. I was brought up as an army brat, so being in different cities is no big deal to me ; it groomed me to be pretty adaptable in fact and I look at it this way: there is something appealing in every city because at the end of the day, it’s really what you make of it, right?
When I touch down in Indianapolis to be with my boyfriend, we always find time to spend with JT and Paul, who are also recent transplants to the Midwest – there seems to be more of us every day. We often share stories of what our friends from either coasts will say, often from them just being naive (“Does Fedex go there?”) or “snarky” (“There are gay people there?”) . Sigh, we do hear it all.
One evening at dinner, JT mentioned about going to a steampunk event, which had me doing a double take. I’ve always been a self-proclaimed geek of many things but I didn’t know much about steampunk. Was it like “cosplay” or some form of role-playing similar to “Dungeons & Dragons?” After some serious “Googling” on the internet, I decided to pick JT’s brain about being involved in the steampunk movement.
Lewis: What is steampunk? What does it mean to you?
JT: Steampunk is a chance to let my creative side come out in costume, accessories and anything else I can think of. It’s a blend of genres that are influenced by historical costuming and science fiction. What if the technology that Jules Verne and H.G. Wells wrote about REALLY took off? You’d have turn-of-the century fashion sense (bustle dresses and high collars for women; top hats and spats for men) that has been integrated with the industrial revolution, powered by steam. The ‘punk’ side of it is left to your imagination where you can do what you want, how you want. It’s a world where airship pirates, aristocrats in gas masks, mad scientists and adventurers can co-exist!
Lewis: When did you get involved and become attracted to steampunk?
JT: I was first introduced to the steampunk world when a friend bought a role playing game titled “Unhallowed Metropolis,” written and created by Jason Soles and Nicole Vega. It takes place in a dark, alternate universe of Neo-Victorian-era London where gas masks are considered chic and humans are struggling to survive. A terrible plague has broken out wiping out most of society and the survivors, in an effort to keep the “bad stuff” out of the city, have constructed walls around their city . I was attending a gaming convention in Indianapolis, Gencon 2009, and although not necessarily a steampunk event, there is a stronger presence very year. I saw a few people walking around in costume and decided to buy a few pieces, to see what would happen. I purchased my first mask and goggles – both staples for steampunk attire, in my opinion; I was completely sucked in. After getting home from Gencon, I began researching anything I could find about steampunk and discovered a community of craftsmen, seamstresses, artists dedicated creating this incredible . Then I started seeing steampunk everywhere, and it seems like it hit the ‘mainstream’ when Time Magazine wrote an article about it: “Steampunk: Reclaiming Tech for the Masses.”
Lewis: What type of reactions do you get when you tell people about you being involved with the steampunk world?
JT: Generally, I just get a lot of “Oh, that’s nice” or “Uh huh…,” some chuckles. I’ve been asked “what is the point of steampunk?” and the only answer I can think of is that it’s a fun and creative outlet for me. When I go into detail about the steampunk world, some folks even think it sounds cool.
Lewis: Is there a large ‘queer’ presence in steampunk? Do you think it’s something that queer folks might gravitate towards?
JT: I don’t believe it has a loyal gay following, per se, but there is definite room to grow. There certainly is a ‘queer’ vibe to the world, where you have well-dressed men courting and sizing each other up, to find out who is better dressed; I mean who know what goes on up in those airships? (laughs) There certainly is a design element from fashion, props, character development – certain styles of costuming have titles attached to them “Lord” or “Lady” – and many people are in character when they are costumed. . With the Victorian influence you also have the potential for pageantry and flamboyant fashions with dandy men and “prudish” women. If you can think it up you can probably turn it into something in a steampunk setting.
Some have compared steampunk to L.A.R.P. (Live Action Role Play), a subset of gaming usually associated to “Vampire: The Masquerade” a game distributed by White World Publishing. I tend to disagree with this belief, as “L.A.R.P’ers” tend to have bad reputation
JT: I have quite a few friends that are very much into steampunk. But in general I go where everyone goes to meet people these days, THE INTERNET! There is a very large, constantly growing community on Facebook with over 98,000 members! In addition to that main group there are several smaller, regional group. I haven’t found a group here in Indiana yet, but recently the group admin had posted a ‘where are you from’ wall post and there were several from Indiana that posted back. If you’re out there, contact me here!
In addition to the internet there are conventions popping up all over the world specifically tied to steampunk. I am attending the “World Steam Expo” in Dearborn, MI over Memorial Day weekend, fully decked out in steampunk gear. Recently, the town of Waltham, MA turned part of its downtown area into a fully-functioning steampunk town! I would have loved have seen that! October will see “Steamcon” happening in Seattle, from what I’ve heard was a HUGE success last year. Events are happening everywhere these days, which is fantastic. I just found out that a friend of mine is doing a steampunk event in Dublin, Ireland!
Lewis: What is an experience at a steampunk event?
JT: My only experience has been at Gencon, Indianapolis which is not specifically a steampunk event but I notice more people in steampunk attire every year. “World Steam Expo” will be my very first, official steampunk event.
Lewis: Do you see steampunk’s influence on a cultural level? Other ways the aesthetic has been embraced?
JT: Music! There are more and more steampunk bands popping up all the time. The big main one that you find is called Abney Park. Another band that is definitely on the rise is Sunday Driver that goes for a more worldly sound, bringing the music of India into their songs. Unextraordinary Gentleman provide a somber tone to the steampunk music genre. There are many more bands that are out right now that are claiming the steampunk genre or are at least influenced by it. In the mainstream the band Panic at the Disco music video for the song “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” was brought to life by the League of S.T.E.A.M., a Southern California performance troupe their fantastic steampunk influenced, props and “weaponry.”
Steampunk can be found in literature too, with the best seller “Pride, Prejudice and Zombies” by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, being a strong candidate. In fact, new genre of rewritten fiction books or rewritten history has been created and dedicated to steampunk. Wlliam Gibson’s “The Difference Engine” and James Blaylock’s “Homunculus” are widely considered to have given “birth” to the steampunk movement.” As the movement gather momentum, or STEAM (laughs) I think you’ll find more steampunk influences in popular culture.
Curious about steampunk? Check out these resources:
Multiculturalism for Steampunk
Steampunk Facebook Page
World Steam Expo
League of S.T.E.A.M
Selection of gay steampunk fiction, Amazon