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Steampunk Hands Around the World image by El Investigador

Steampunk Hands Around the World image by El Investigador

February this year is time Steampunk Hands Around the World a project that aims to celebrate global steampunk community. So many people have helped and supported me since I first got involved with steampunk back in 2009. Many of them have quite literally changed my life. This feels like the perfect opportunity to honour some of them.

 


Margaret ‘Magpie’ Killjoy

If it wasn’t for Magpie, then steampunk and I would likely have been little more than ships that passed in the night.

 

I met Magpie a few days after finding out that steampunk was a thing. At the time, I was editing a tiny Doctor Who fanzine called YANA–mostly just as an excuse to draw stupid comics and write silly stories. I’d happened upon some pretty cool pictures of a Steampunk TARDIS, which in turn led me to SteamPunk Magazine and messaging Magpie to tell him how much I’d enjoyed his “Yena of Angeline” stories. At the time, I didn’t even realise that he was also the editor.

 

About a week later, he messaged me to say he was actually about to wrap the magazine up, and before I knew what I was doing I was messaging him back to say “I’ll take over!”. I knew almost nothing about steampunk, literally nothing about the politics that SPM was built on, and even less about how to edit, layout, and run a magazine. In Magpie’s place, I’m pretty sure I would have responded with: “Thanks, but I have no idea who you are”. Magpie, being the incredible human being that he is, came back with: “Sure, why not”.

 

The next couple of years editing SteamPunk Magazine honestly changed my life. Not only has the experience given me confidence in my abilities, it’s influenced my politics, the skills I possess, and the whole way that I see the world. And I owe so much of that to Magpie–who was always there to recommend the right books on anarchist politics, walk me through how the hell to deal with InDesign, advise me on how to find printers and get the magazine into physical form, and offer encouragement and support.

 

I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it wasn’t for him, and I almost certainly wouldn’t be involved with steampunk. I don’t think I’ve ever really thanked him for everything he did for me, so I guess that this is my chance :)

 


John Reppion

I have a terrible admission to make. Despite living less than two dozen miles apart, John Reppion and I have never actually met. We have, however, exchanged a bunch of emails over the last few years.

 

I got in touch with John not long after taking over at SPM, because at the time he was writing an ongoing story for the magazine. At the time, the whole editing thing was damned new to me, so I was glad to meet another writer–since I at least had some idea of what was involved in that. John and I also shared a love for the occult, the esoteric, and the downright supernatural, so we got on famously almost right away.

 

To talk about the biggest way that John has helped me out, I have to talk about ‘Journeys‘. This started out as a vague idea to create a steampunk shared world anthology with some of the many awesome writers that I met while working at SteamPunk Magazine. Sadly, we could never quite get the collection to gel together as a whole. The energy eventually ran out, Magpie released a couple of the stories that came out of it as ‘White is the Color of Death‘ through his new project (with one of the other writers involved) over at Combustion Books, and I consigned my own contribution to the cutting room floor.

 

A lot of time passed after that. My life went through some tectonic changes. To some extent, it fell to pieces. And right then, out of nowhere, John dropped me a little email to say hey, why didn’t we pair our stories up with the one that Dylan Fox had written and publish them ourselves? To this day, I think that John feels like he kind of put me to a lot of effort with that, but he’s dead wrong. The truth is that when his email dropped onto my screen, I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I felt directionless, and increasingly depressed. That one little email from him gave me something to focus on. Not just stories to edit and layout to do, but a whole micropublisher to re-found. On top of that, he gave me the opportunity to put a collection of stories together that I am damned proud of.

 


Jaymee Goh

Jaymee needs a special mention on this list for being more patient with me than I had any right to expect anyone to be. I’m not sure how we first got talking, but I do know that post-colonialism and anti-racism was still a complete bewilderment to me when it happened, and that Jaymee is pretty much responsible for me getting at least a tenuous handle on my own privilege.

 

There were several long (doubtless incredibly frustrating) conversations over IM about white privilege, post-colonialism, cultural imperialism and exotification. More than that, when I had the (in retrospect, utterly stupid) idea of organising a huge online debate for every steampunk on the internet to scream at each other about politics, Jaymee was the only person to stand up and tell me it was a really bad idea. She was right, and I ignored her, but when everything went to hell she didn’t slam the door in my face.

 

I owe her a hundred thousand thanks for that, and for continuing to pour her blood and sweat into her post-colonial steampunk blog at Silver Goggles, where I read and read slowly learned exactly where I’d gone so badly wrong. Jaymee, along with fellow post-colonial steampunk Ay-leen (who she introduced me to) have done wonders to diversify steampunk–to make it something other than an echo chamber of white, Imperial wet dreams. For that, I think that we can all be bloody grateful.

 


Carolyn Dougherty

Carolyn was the first ‘real’ steampunk that I ever met in the flesh. I think I’d been editing the magazine for a couple of months at that point, and was still feeling out of my depth. All of a sudden I was stumbling across strange new ideas like feminism and anti-racism that shook me out of my quiet, self-obsessed little world. Then I went to Whitby Goth Weekend to see Abney Park play, and found myself face-to-face with this fierce, independent, vintage-motorcycle-riding, Californian civil engineer who’d written a couple of articles for the magazine that I didn’t really understand yet. Needless to say, I was kind of terrified of this lady, and of her finding out that I didn’t actually have a clue what I was doing.

 

Carolyn and I have kept in touch ever since, and she doesn’t scare me any more (at least, not quite so much ;) ). She’s taught me how to waltz, to polka, and how to do at least two different Regency set dances. She helped me put on the first ‘Steampunk Magazine Spectacular’ weekend in Oxford, let me ride her 1940s Royal Enfield J2 (his name is Henry), fed me from her allotment, introduced me to Ursula LeGuin, and blew my mind wide open with everything she knows about the process of Progress and gender politics.

 

I still think of her as fierce, independent, and as one of the most terrifyingly intelligent people that I’ve ever met, but she’s also a damned good friend, a hero, and has left me a hell of a lot smarter than she found me.

 


 

There are dozens and dozens of other people who have helped me out, taught me things, or just been there to offer support over the past few years. That’s part of what makes steampunk so great. Sure, we have our fair share of trolls, bigots, and assholes. Every group and subculture does. What makes steampunk different is the incredible spirit of invention amongst its communities, and how eager so many of these people are to share their skills, knowledge, and inspiration with others.

 

I haven’t always had the most straightforward relationship with steampunk, but it’s immensely valuable to look back from time to time and realise the things that you have. And steampunk? Steampunk has introduced me to a whole panoply of wonderful, funny, intelligent, caring people. That is an awesome, awesome thing.



Over the last few days, feminist-and-popular-culture website Jezebel has found itself in a lot in hot water after publishing a piece titled ‘American Guy In Paris Freed From The Idea Of “Consent”’. In this travesty of an article, American writer ‘Edward Pasteck’ (not his real name) talks at great length about how ‘liberated’ French women are from the restrictive, puritanical concept of ‘consent’, and how French women don’t feel the need to consent “if a decision will suffice.”

Not surprisingly, the piece was met by a torrent of comments from people questioning the difference is between ‘consent’ and ‘a decision’, and plenty more people angrily pointing out that the topic of consent shouldn’t be up for debate.

While I was reading the article, I did find myself wondering why a website like Jezebel (that has traditionally been a safe space for women and feminists to discuss the intersection of feminism and pop culture) would decide to publish a piece by an male American writer that not only exotifies and sexualises French women, but that also read suspiciously like rape apology.

Since then, Jezebel have published a response by an anonymous French woman discussing the realities of living in a city like Paris, and also an editorial by Editor-in-Chief Jessica Coen in which she talks a little bit about why the article was published without sufficient warning of it’s content. However, as many of Jezebel’s readers have quite rightly pointed out, none of this does much to address the question of why a feminist website appears to believe that the subject of consent is up for discussion.

Reading these articles, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar incident that occurred a few months ago, when Feministe chose to publish an article called ‘Fat and Health’.

The problem with this piece is that it reinforces a system of body-shaming where women (and men) are told that they should be ashamed of their own bodies, and supports a society in which the Focus on Fat is placed way, way ahead of a focus on health. Or, for that matter, a focus on people’s rights to do what they please with their own bodies, regardless of whether they’re taking risks with their physical health or not (a privilege that’s happily awarded to, as an example, young men who drive dangerously or practice extreme sports that are likely to place them in hospital, draining public services).

Monica’s article caused a similar amount of outrage on Feministe as Edward Pasteck’s piece is currently stoking up over at Jezebel, and in fact caused Feministe to publish a very similar sort of response/counterpoint article by Zuzu.

The problem here is that, once again, we are left clueless as to why a feminist website would choose to publish something that is so obviously a part of the system that continues to oppress and shame women all around the world. In short: websites like Jezebel and Feministe really should know better. However, the more that I think about it, the more I realise that the issue is more complicated than that. Because, while articles like Monica’s ‘Fat and Health’ and Pasteck’s ‘American Guy in Paris’ have compromised these previously safe spaces, and upset and enraged a good proportion of the websites’ readership, they have also provided heated and articulate responses in the comments section that have exponentially increased my understanding of issues like fat acceptance and street harassment.

And I doubt that I’m the only one.

I found myself in a similar sort of situation in the wake of RaceFail 09 which pretty much served as my introduction to issues of equality activism generally, and did an awful lot to educate me about anti-racism. Just like with the debacle over at Jezebel/Feministe, we’re left in a situation where a lot of harm and damage has been done, and yet as a result of that harm, there has been an increase in people’s awareness of these issues.

The only way forwards, then, must be to accept that these things have happened—and both the good and bad that occurs as a result—without getting bogged down in an argument about whether the trade-off is ‘worth it’ or not. As with all things, the worth of any consciousness-raising vs. damage done is something that is going to be different for every individual, and we must be sure not to fall into a trap where harm needs to be caused to the minority in order for the dominant majority to be educated.

I guess that no one ever said that the path to total equality would be paved with gold. However I, for one, am grateful to all the readers and commenters over at Feministe and Jezebel for the lengths that they’ve gone to in order call these websites out on their bullshit, and for the amount that I have learned as a result—even though my level of respect for the websites concerned may take some time to recover.