I was at Steam on Queen in Toronto yesterday, and while there, ran into Theresa Breaux, with whom I've had good coffee and museum meanderings, and Priscilla Dixon, a local Ghanian-Canadian whom I met at Fan Expo 2010, and immediately lost touch it. She looked familiar, so I approached her for a picture, and asked her name, and re-acquainted myself.
Some of you may know her as Steampunk Storm; it's a pretty bitchin' cosplay.
Anyways, while we three congregated, we began counting POC, as one does as POC in a pretty white-saturated crowd. Theresa had gotten up to 8.
"Damn, girl," I said. "I think ya'll hit your quota, especially for a space this small." (I have no official numbers on how many attendees there were, especially steampunk attendees.)
Priscilla told me about a store selling "African fabrics" aka Dutch wax prints in Toronto. Theresa Breaux talked about her new split skirt, the pattern of which she borrowed from me. I pranced in my new dress, newly-finished the night before after a week of drafting and sewing.
We scoped the garden of Campbell House, looking for steampunk POC.
We found quite a few. Not by any means a critical mass, but a few, and it was enough. Mostly Black folk. There were a lot of Asians, but most of them weren't there as steampunk, just part of the general public that stopped in to check things out. I stopped to talk to two Asians dressed steampunk; one isn't really into it, she just makes theatre props. The other shied away when I mentioned how few Asians there were ("actually, I'm half." "That's okay." "Just kidding"). There were also quite a few people whom we felt were possibly POC... Indigenous and Latin peoples are incredibly hard to identify for those of us not in the know.
"Where are the steampunk POC?" I get asked.
So I looked and there they were.
I don't understand how anybody could ask this question. Do you simply not just look? Do you stop and see? Or are you too caught up in the whiteness of steampunk, where not-white is usually people playing dress-up in other cultures' costumes to be off-white for a while, that whiteness of steampunk so caught up in its desire for brilliance it cannot see the shadows of racism underlying its surface, that whiteness of steampunk so invested in Victoriana it fails not only to encourage, but also to simply even recognize the presence of other peoples, not just in form but also in humanity?
There is a hued way of steampunk. It is a subtle rainbow running along the edges of the stark white light. It seeks out prisms and scintillating gems. It understands light goes everywhere, and bounces back with colour.
A while back, LeeAnn Farruga, aka Countessa Lenora, founder of Steampunk Canada, put me on the front page of Steampunk Canada.
"But I'm not even Canadian," I protested. Malaysian, born and bred. Did you know I've only lived here since 2003? I don't even have permanent residency.
"Doesn't matter," she replied. "You've been here long enough to count as one!"
The price of acceptance, even of mere acknowledgement, is often high; it comes with a bargain, an expectation of undeserved adulation and adoration in exchange for a brief spotlight. LeeAnn, and many others, have never asked this price of me.
And so steampunks like me bounce back, with colour.