VODKA O’CLOCK 1521
TRANSGENDER IN STEAMPUNK
RECORDED LIVE AT STEAMPUNK WORLD’S FAIR
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This episode is a recording of the discussion panel from Steampunk World’s Fair where the panelists spoke about their own experiences and answered some audience questions. The panelists were: Luna Skye, Mazz, Gail Carriger, Isabelle “Bunny” Bennett, and Sangii.
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All the panelists identify their genders differently and are public figures in diverse ways. Gail Carriger and Bunny Bennett are the most well-known. Carriger was is a best selling author who includes various non-binary characters in her work. Bennett is a member of Steampunk Giraffe, an extraordinary band, where her character Rabbit had to go through gender transitioning too. Mazz is a grassroots advocate who goes door to door in San Diego to help the LGBTQIA movement and they’re also an actor. Sangii is a cosplayer and artist. Luna Skye is a musician also known as The Wandering Cellist.
Discussions on gender identity are popular at the Steampunk World’s Fair. This panel was definitely the largest and brought the main stage in the Embassy Suites hotel to half the maximum capacity. By my estimate, there were about 200-225 people in the audience. When it came time for the Q&A, the line to the microphone was substantially long, around 12-15 people, but due to the time it takes for people to give their comments, some were never able to get the chance.
At Steampunk World’s Fair there are other opportunities in smaller, more intimate settings for anyone who is looking for a conversation on queer identity to have them. There were daily gathering of the Green Carnation Society and even a midnight transgender figure drawing session which was run by Sangii, one of the panelists at the Transgender in Steampunk panel.
PERCEPTIONS IN STEAMPUNK LIFE
The panel didn’t have a specific moderator, but since Luna organized it originally, she and Mazz shared the moderator role. Without a dedicated and prepared moderator, the discussion was less formal, but the lack of preparation in questions was evident compared to last year’s panel.
Regarding the subject matter, the only tie into the genre is about acceptance by the steampunk community to be non-binary; it is a welcome and safe place to explore identity. Examples like Bennett’s band, Steampowered Giraffe, and Carriger’s novels which are written in the genre, were the only specific steampunk references. Otherwise, the talk addressed real life issues.
Bennett’s story is unique because she not only had to go through decisions about her own presentation and transition, but also her character’s transition. Perhaps if Steampowered Giraffe was something else, The Giraffe Jazz Trio, the public process would have been even more difficult. Bennett said there was some feedback that she was destroying the band, but there was a tremendous outpouring of support too. And the band never lost a contract because her gender presentation’s change. Privately, getting through life, she has had more harsh stories such as passersby talking about her while she’s only a few feet away.
“I had to strip everything and be a guy after it. It was awful.” ~Isabelle Bennett
Before presenting as a woman full-time, Bennett lived by presenting herself only on stage and at conventions, but not in every day life. She described it as feeling like a drag queen.
“Being a man was causing me severe depression.” ~Isabelle Bennett
One negative experience Bennett shared was about attending a Renaissance Faire and running into rude people. The experience is common. Her advice is rather than gawking, at least have the decency to know people are close enough to hear the comments.
Carriger has a life partner, AB, who is only referred to in ways avoiding pronouns. She said that her partner isn’t the public figure in the relationship and didn’t ask for that attention.
VISIBILITY & REPRESENTATION
Bennett opened the topic to visibility. Because of celebrity figures like Laverne Cox, Miley Cyrus, and Caitlyn Jenner, the general public has new reasons to explore the subject. The public, who can perhaps be isolated from the LGBTQIA community by choice or tradition, needs the visibility in order to become educated.
“It’s really not a complex agenda. Just treat me like anyone else.” ~Isabelle Bennett
The abuse and hate crimes of transwomen of color was discussed. That part of the community is by far, the most oppressed and faces violence often ignored and socially erased.
Media coverage is doing better, but still has a long way to go in acknowledging the violence against the transgender community and how it’s reported when they do pick up on a story.
Carriger explained that creating fiction is one way people who don’t want to be outspoken public advocates can show support, express themselves, and be an ally.
“I have LGBT characters and I have genderfluid characters and they’re presented in a positive light.” ~Gail Carriger
The panelists discussed other fictional characters that they love like Thor (who isn’t genderfluid but was recast as a woman in the comics), and characters from WELCOME TO NIGHTVALE, TORCHWOOD and various games.
Carriger explained that the Victorian era (where Steampunk is birthed) had a queer community, the Toms and the Pinks, but when Oscar Wilde was prosecuted for gross indecency in 1895, that was when people went into the closet. His life ended in shame and bankruptcy and he was driven out of town.
The panelists often emphasized some key points to bear in mind such as asking someone their preferred pronouns. They shared openly about their own lives, but when it came to the Q&A, I don’t think it was appropriate for the audience members to be asked their names and where they’re from – and another panelist quickly interjected, “if you’re comfortable doing so.” Names at conventions are almost always aliases anyway; and while where you’re from can explain some of a person’s experiences, the conventions are safe spaces and people like to keep their personal information to themselves. The topics by the audience included sensitive issues from the process of accepting people in their own lives/fandoms to facing abuse and being afraid to speak up because the abusive person is transgender.
Transgender – is an adjective, not a noun.
Transgendered is typically not a word although this is debatable within the community.
*Correct way* – “I met a transgender woman.” Or “I met a transwoman.”
*Incorrect* – “I met a transgender.”
*Incorrect* – “He’s transgendered.”
*Incorrect* – “I knew you when you were a boy.”
“I’m a transwoman. At no point in my life have I been a guy.” ~Luna Skye
Cisgender or “cis” – is not an insult. It means a person’s gender identity matches what they were assigned at birth.
How to course correct someone who is referring to a transperson the wrong way:
Don’t use ‘you’ statements and try to give them resources like pointing out websites that they can read to educate themselves.
*Non-confrontational* – “This is information that may help explain this subject.”
*Confrontational* – “You’re wrong!”
Amber’s SPWF hub of coverage!