What is Steampunk? I’ve been asked that question a lot in recent days, mostly by people in the street who saw me in my hat, and were curious. So the first answer is that Steampunk is something that enables people to connect with each other. If I go out looking like everyone else, no one stops me in the street to ask me the significance of what I’m wearing, or where I got it, or to compliment me on it, and at a Steampunk event, this is all normal.
I realised, over this last weekend that one of the many ways in which Steampunk is like Druidry, is that it is bloody difficult to define, and any definition I come up with will fail to embrace the full diversity and significance it has for other people. I cannot, therefore, define Steampunk. I can only talk about my experience of it, and what it means to me.
- It is a space to play. I can present as anyone or anything. My age, apparent gender, body shape, physical capabilities and limitations become less of an issue than how I wish to be seen, and the same is true for all participants. As a consequence it’s a very safe space for a lot of people who do not always get to feel as safe as they would like to.
- Like Druidry, Steampunk draws on history but is not history. It takes the best bits (kit, manners, sense of adventure) and does what it can with the complicated bits. Let’s face it, the Victorian era was also a time of poverty, gender inequality, colonialism, environmental degradation, exploitation, racism, and theft on a grand scale. I’m not celebrating that – no one does – but by alluding to it, flagging it up we can also start to look at how those things are still with us. We can laugh at, undermine, subvert and recreate the things that should have been a lot better first time round, and there is definite power in that.
- Like Druidry, Steampunk offers a space that nurtures creativity and creates opportunities for self expression. That happens through the display of amazing clothes, through the cunning creation of devices, art, literature, music, games, and entertainments. It’s a very creative space where everyone has the chance to shine and be recognised.
- Druidry and Steampunk alike create spaces that trust to their own processes. In neither space do we tell people what to think or how to feel. We create experiences and opportunities and trust people to do what they will with that and find what they need in it. This is in huge contrast to much of life where we are constantly being told, by advertising, and the media, what it is that we ought to think and feel, what things mean, and what we are to do as a consequence. To be free of that instruction, free to interpret your experience on your own terms, free to make your own meaning, is incredibly important. And so both spaces offer room to be yourself, and to be inspired, and I think this is tremendously important in terms of how we function the rest of the time, when we don’t have the hat, or the robes, or whatever it was that helped us define and make sense of the space we were in.