Sunday, October 23, 2011

SteamCon III: Starts with a mugging, ends with dog poop

OK, these things did not happen to ME, but I think that's kind of indicative of the mixed bag that was my first SteamCon experience.

The mugging actually happened to Pablo Vasquez, a con-chair of Aetherfest, also known as Mr. Saturday. You should ask him about this story sometime, as it involves himself being a Panamanian and getting lost in Bellevue, and the mugging didn't actually follow through, ending with Pablo receiving a free bowl of chili. This was Thursday night, while I was out having dinner with Airship Ambassador Kevin Steil, Steampunk Workshop owner Jake von Slatt, Out From Behind the Curtain founder Phineas Von Stitch, and Seattle-based writer and Steam-Powered 2 contributor Nisi Shawl.

From left: Kevin, Nisi, Jake, Phineas, all in civvies

It's on this weird note that my SteamCon experience began, with several ups and downs, meeting new people and getting re-acquainted with folks I'd met before, and gnashing my teeth at not having had enough time with others.


The first official day of SteamCon began with herding cats organizing my roommates, Pablo, and Jake for breakfast and figuring out the setup of the convention. Joining us were James Carrott, the steampunk of the steampunk-futurist duo producing Vintage Tomorrows, and his adorable little daughter, Mimi.

Mimi and a festive balloon companion

We wandered around the convention spaces to check out the layout, so we knew where we were going for later. Towards the end of the hallway of the 2nd floor where the Regency rooms were, there was this photoshoot setup:

Mr. Saturday laughs at Jake von Slatt's troubles
Afterwards, we went down to the Artists' Alley, outside the dealers' room, and guess who I ran into? Mikel Sauve from the Vulcania Volunteers! I met him at GearCon, and here he was, providing ambience to a nautical-themed SteamCon. He and Stephen McConell had a full display this time:

Serious men with serious business 
Papa Smurf captains a sub

Mikel said he'd let me ride this bicycle steampunk'd by Stephen
Sometime after all this wandering, I headed to nap, and then to the Vintage Tomorrows screening, where I arrived late, and found it difficult to get a seat in the darkness. The screening went well, and I cringed about as much as I expected to. For a first cut, I think it went well, although it'll be nice to see more diversity in there besides myself and Tony Hicks of Tinplate Studios. Pictures of Ay-Leen showed up, in different outfits, and that just doesn't count! I hope Byrd will get a chance to interview more fabulous steampunks out East too. There was a Q&A afterwards, to critique the documentary, and I think some of the comments rather missed the focus of the documentary, which is about the interaction between humanity and technology in steampunk. It's not meant to be another overall general documentary talking about the different ways steampunk manifests. That's what the Steampunk Bible is for, folks.

After the screening and Q&A, I scootched out and wandered the dealers' room before my next panel. In the dealers' room, I renewed acquaintances with familiar faces from GearCon, such as Tony Hicks, and Thom Becker of Last Wear.

Dapper gentlemen selling dapper gear
Ay-Leen the Peacemaker had been nominated for an Airship Award, and she wanted me to accept her award in her place, so we also spent time coordinating that. (Sometime before the cat-herding breakfast, I was writing down the speech, since I didn't think I could find a printer anywhere.) This means that although I had a ticket to the Airship Awards, I wouldn't be able to sit down for the entire dinner, since it started at 6pm, and I had a panel at 6pm.

(And then Unwoman's performance in Sepiachord's Tiki Lounge at 8, at the same time as the Artists' Reception, followed by Steam Federation's absinthe party and Out From Behind the Curtain's social mixer. Ready?)

At 6pm, I moderated a panel on Cheng I Sao, a fab and cruel lady pirate who ruled the South China Seas for about three years before she retired rich. I think the panel went well, with my panelists Margo Loes and Beth Wade sharing all their knowledge at hand.

Right after, I hustled to the Airship Awards! And hung around while K.W. Jeter made his keynote speech, in which he said some very nice things about steampunk. I stayed until they announced the winners and when they announced the Community category (congratulations, Jordan Bodewell!), I applauded the winners, and went to decompress a bit before Unwoman's show.

Unwoman's first show was CROWDED! I have no idea how many people can fit inside the lounge, but there were only maybe 10% of rows left to sit in, and those filled up pretty quickly. And it was good, because she's a very talented singer. And a fabulous person in general, but anyway. When I saw Mike Perschon leaving surreptiously, I stepped out to meet him too, and we walked down to the gallery together for the Artists' Reception. You know, where the Famous People hang out (well, the artists and panelists and guests of honour).

The Artists' Reception was a simple little affair, and I don't do wine, so I helped myself to much toast, crackers, and cheese. I was there mostly to get a hold of the literary Guest of Honour, K.W. Jeter, with whom I had a panel Sunday, and was a bit worried that I hadn't had a chance to discuss what he wanted from the panel ahead of time.

But Jeter slipped out while I wasn't looking! Oh, why wasn't I looking? Diana Vicks and I fell into conversation, that's why, and she wanted to clear right up with me my criticism of her definition of steampunk. Now, there are very different conversations in steampunk, and sometimes two people can be having two different conversations, because they just aren't using the term in the same way. When Diana talks about steampunk, she talks about the genre as it manifests currently and in the past; when I talk about steampunk, I take my cue from Mike Perschon and talk about it as an aesthetic, and how it can be reflexively used for more possibilities than what we currently see.

It's not that we disagree fundamentally on these definitions of steampunk, but we use the terms differently. She needs to delineate (for her stress levels' sake) boundaries on what it is to decide how to put her convention together the way that fits her expectations best. I need an understanding of the term that allows me to explore the aesthetic with my approach. So we talked about this, and while I still don't find her definition useful, it works for her, and it's her con. We all need to use what works best for us.

Kevin, Mike and I skipped out to the absinthe party Unwoman was hosting with Steam Federation in one of the party suites, but it got really overwhelming, really quickly, so after a drink for everybody, we headed on up to Phineas von Stitch's social mixer.

My gay dads Kevin Steil and Mike Perschon, with my gay brother Phineas von Stitch
and then they sent me to bed
I went to bed at the reasonable hour of midnight, for my 9am presentation.


Saturday morning, I discovered that thirty minutes before panels start is way too early to be looking for the tech folks. But I found 'em! And got my presentation ready and rolling and underway by the time people started coming in too. I started off by asking POC to identify themselves (even ya'll white-looking ones). It's a difficult question for me to ask, because I have totally been the person who didn't want to be marked by race (having grown up marked and marginalized and wanting to get away from that), so I didn't want to similarly alienate people by asking that question. Plus, how does one go about identifying folks who don't look but feel racialized? "Hello perfect stranger, may I ask if you consider yourself a person of colour?"

I like to think it was a pretty decent presentation. We had a spirited discussion on racism and how people with culturally specific heritages are erased. There was no fail this time, which was great, and some audience members had great advice and book recommendations. I'd like to thank Mrs. Mary Lou Sullivan, of the Rose City Steampunks, specifically, for her input on white-appearing people who have a Native American ancestor and are trying to find their roots (which I hope folks took to heart!) and to Tom and Jason for sharing their experiences on how having a non-white (or, as Tom put it, a "vaguely ethnic") face creates different dynamics as different communities identify certain kinds of faces differently--you may be Asian in one neighbourhood, Hispanic in another, for example, and pass as white elsewhere. It's always a different conversation every time, and I hope people got a lot out of it.

I got the POC-identified folks who stayed 'til the end to pose for a picture:

From left: Tessara, Tom, myself, Mrs. Sullivan
Then it was lunch with Jake von Slatt and I messed around waiting for the Annual Tea. Among the things I did was FINALLY meet K.W. Jeter, our literary Guest of Honor, while he was at the signing table, to introduce myself and talk about the Evolution of Steampunk panel (only to discover he likes talking off the cuff, so my anxiety was wasted).

I asked my cousin Andrea if she'd like a picture with K.W. Jeter, because, she's walking in the Artist's Alley with a fucking boat on her head, and we can't seem to go anywhere anyway, and K.W., bless him, comes all the way around the tables to stand beside her:

Holy ship!
I also got his autograph, and because I don't have any of his books, I did the next best thing:

Hey, the ribbons have gotta be more than just decorative!
The Amphitrite Society Annual Tea was a fun time, although, I didn't take pictures, so I can't show you the contestants, who included a fishman stomping around on flippers, a jellyfish family (from the Rose City Steampunks! they were really cute), a deep sea diver underwear model, and much gratuitous eye-candy of the two main sexes.

I had the good fortune to be sitting with many distinguished ladies (including my cousin in her Marie Antoinette costume), among them Geri Jeter, wife of our guest of honour! Which I did not know until much later when she approached me to plug Mr. Jeter's latest series of books, the Kim Oh series. They talked about the job market these days, the difficulty of finding a job once laid off, due to age discrimination against people who are much older, and with much more experience.

Spending my after drinking tea isn't exactly my, uh, cup of tea (I hear your groans) but as I said in an earlier post, I didn't get to see Unwoman perform at all during GearCon, so was determined to get to all her performances this time. And of course, she didn't disappoint. In the middle of all this, I went looking for Diana, because I had this brilliant idea of co-opting the group photo shoot towards the end for a POC-only shoot, and wanted her permission to do so. When Diana Vicks announced the group photo shoot, she surprised me by also announcing that any "non-caucasian" people could stay back for a shoot.... which was a bit awkward. The term "Person of Colour" exists for a reason, and some people who identify with the term are also Caucasian! Oh well.

After the tea, I hung around for the group photoshoot, and to be honest, I found it more fun to watch the coordinators and camerapeople:


When the shoot was over, I yelled: "Asians! Black! Latin! Native American! Please stay behind!" over and over, trying to organize this terribly impromptu shoot.

As I mentioned earlier, I really hate asking people if they identify as POC. Much less showing that I'm singling them out due to their appearance. I really, really did not enjoy this part at all, because not only were people approaching me in response, but I had to figure out, very quickly! where to pose them, and gather more people before they lost interest. I was also really tired (it was naptime! I'd been awake since 7.30!) so I was sort of losing it. I asked them to pose on one of the staircases, and went back to yelling again.

In the midst of this, a white dude walked past me and said, casually, over his shoulder, "that's racist!"

I will have to expand on this. But suffice to say, this was an off-hand comment that really fucking upset me. I couldn't respond to it adequately, and went back to what I was doing, and folks were introducing themselves. Someone asked me, "excuse me, but, I'm half-Latina and look white, do I count?"

"Do you identify with that?" I asked.

"Yes." She looked so timid about it.

"Get right in there!"

Here is the result:

Please don't ask me to catalogue these people
(The next morning, I would look at this picture and ask my cousin, "where the fuck were all the Asians I saw?" Because I know at least 10 other Asians were in the crowd; I counted. "They were there!" she told me. "They were behind you, taking pictures." I facepalmed so many times. I mean, seriously.)

So after this? I was SO EXHAUSTED. I went up to my room to try to get the fuck to sleep! But! Housekeeping had been trying to get in all day, and at those times, my cousin was still asleep, or changing, so my roomies told them to come back later. When was later? An hour into my nap. Oh well! But that was okay; I organized a dinner with VIRTUOSO writer Jon Munger (I'd been trying to get hold of this mofo ALL DAY!!! I was hoping he'd come to Steam Around the World and save me the trouble of introducing his comic to the audience, but nooooo...) and folks from Last Wear. It was good to catch up with Brad Russell, a half-Pinoy I met at GearCon, and he introduced me to Gabino Mabalay (another Pinoy!) who does all of Last Wear's promotional pictures. While hanging out in the lobby to gather, we struck up conversation with an artist still hanging around, who also turned out to be a Pinoy! I was flush with Pinoys that day, I tell ya.

Brad Russell's badass Pinoy self; phear the mofo's straw hat, all 
As a troup, Last Wear crew and all, we tromped down to get sushi, all fifteen of us. Good times. We got back in time to polish off a bottle of wine before my roomies and I went to the Nautilus concert.

Unwoman's set was awesome, as expected. And it was good to catch up with Erica, too.

I also had a conversation with this lovely lady who'd attended my SATW presentation earlier, wearing a Chinese-inspired blouse with super-large sleeves that reached down to the ground.

Epic sleeves that do a period HK drama proud
This is what I would consider a walking-away dress
'Cos you'll love to admire it while she walks away, it's that epic
"I was really nervous wearing this around you after this morning," she admitted.

"Well good," I said. "You should be. But you look lovely anyway." And I proceeded to dissect how it wasn't that problematic. I really shouldn't have to do this, but eh.

I hadn't seen the Clockwork Dolls before, for some reason (even though they're an East Coast band) and I was surprised! It's so metal! It's like Nightwish before Tarja left! Except steampunk! And there was an Asian chick on stage! (This shouldn't surprise me, because Genevieve Pang of Psyche Corporation is also Asian, but shit, guys, look, it was an Asian chick on stage at the keyboards and on guitar and rocking right the fuck out! Model Minority Myth, game over, go the fuck home! If I had role models like this growing up, I might have stuck to my piano lessons.)

Here we have a powerful vocalist and badass keyboardist
rocking the fuck outta the stage
After their show, I went to get a CD, and introduce myself to Allison Curval, who'd attended #steampunkchat just the week before for the session on Steampunk Music (it was like a Gilded Age Records Twitter Extravaganza). And because I am very bad at researching people before I introduce myself, I did not realize Azn rocker chick was her! WTF! Well, that'll teach me! She totally greeted me like an old friend though, and here's a picture of all three of these cool and totally fucking hot people:

Allison Curval, Helene de Fer, and their handsome guitarist, Christopher Bass
(Helene De Fer, by the way, has a delicious accent.)

My roomies abandoned me at this point to go to bed, because they were pretty tired. So was I, but I really wanted to see Vagabond Opera. I especially wanted to know if Eric Stern would actually hold that long note in "Transformation into Marlene" because that shit is impressive, ya'll.

What happened was somehow the crowd move around to clear for what appeared to be a kind of steampunk mosh pit, where instead of knocking each other around, moshers linked arms and spun about each other, eventually creating very large dancing circle (grabbing other people into it), and then there was another circle inside this dance circle. I'm not sure how it happened:

I'm not sure I adequately describe what the fuck just happened
I caught two songs performed by Robin Jackson, a song sung by Ashia Grzesik, and a couple by Eric Stern, and a cello solo. Unfortunately, I had to go to bed, which I did right after "Marlene" (in which Eric Stern DID hold that long note, and I felt deeply, deeply, deeply satisfied).

SUNDAY! (almost done!)

Sunday began early too! I headed down to Regency B early to rearrange chairs, and run into the IT guys who thought I'd need a projector for this roundtable, for some reason. It was pretty informal, as formal as I tried to get it. I really wanted to be able to talk about both queerness and race in steampunk, but for some reason never quite stuck to it. A lady brought up the issue of the elderly in but that didn't last long. It was a lively discussion about slavery, and how slavery remains prevalent today. Thanks, everybody!

And one of the people who came to the roundtable, Russ, gave me a bottle of wine! As a gift! I never got a gift at a con before! That was pretty fantastic. I got all warm and glowy and probably sounded crazy when I said, "well, no, I don't want to carry that back across the border, but, let's drink it right now!" and I invited anybody who wasn't going to another panel to come join us at the hotel food court for alcohol and food. Thus was a pleasant time achieved. Thank you, Russ!! It was very sweet of you!

Sometime around now, I was meant to hang out with Unwoman, so she could interrogate me on my very uninformed opinion of steampunk music. If any of you have noticed, I don't deal with music very much, because although the rules of applying the steampunk aesthetic are very much the same, I don't have the knowledge about music to know exactly how it's done. That is why I leave it to actual musicians to talk about it.

But we hung out long enough for me to be a bit late to my panel with Guest of Honour K.W. Jeter. Oopsie! He was already on a roll talking to audience members, which made my job a little easier. A moderator's job is to make the panelists comfortable, which he certainly was already, leaving me to do domestic chores like get water.

The panel went well enough. K.W. Jeter really knows how to hold forth, so we didn't really even get into the latest stages of steampunk, where a lot of cool academic work has been produced (what's up, steam-scholars mailing list?) and there's been a movement to really push the boundaries of what's commonly thought of as steampunk. I did manage to interject long enough to plug Steampunk Magazine and Beyond Victoriana. Folks were cool with my draconian control over the room.

There was a question I almost wish I didn't let through, because it was a general writing question directly at Jeter, and nothing to do at all with the panel; "how do you do your research" is more suited for the Meet Jeter panel than this panel, but I let it through, and Jeter told us about how tanners would judge the quality of leather by chewing on it to taste the amount of dog shit in it, because that's what they used.

Which I thought was a pretty cool way to end the day. Afterwards, I got a picture with K.W. Jeter, because Ay-Leen told me, pics or it didn't happen.

A pic, to prove it totally happened
And that was it! My SteamCon was pretty much over after that! My cousin Andrea and roomie Jaime had to leave for Portland right after. I took a while to say my goodbyes. I went to say goodbye to Mikel, and told Jake and Pablo to nail Mike Perschon at Kevin's booth, only to run into Mike as he was leaving the vendor room, and what the fuck was up with that? And Pablo and Jake babbled, "we don't know what happened! He was there! And then he disappeared!" Pfft, whatevers.

So, all in all, Steamcon: way too many people for me to deal with after some time of travel (did I mention there was a bit of me getting lost in San Francisco before this? I almost fell sick from that trip) but I'm hoping that renewing acquaintance, and making new ones, has been good for me. I'm hoping that people found my panels and programming worthwhile waking up at 9am for. I'm hoping I opened the conversation more for some Seattlelite steampunks to question ideals of multiculturalism.

It's not SteamCon's fault entirely that I'm exhausted (except you, racist asshole, I still got my eye on you). I'm naturally an introvert, so a large con doesn't suit me. If I get invited to pitch programming next year, I'll certainly do so, but it's not the kind of con I would just only attend.

I do happen to have more pictures, which I'll post when my internet connection isn't so goddamn flaky, as well as videos, so check back =) There were so many awesome people, I just didn't have time to fit them all into this report (like, I ran into Kaja Foglio of Girl Genius on the way to sushi, and she recognized me, and it was awesome, even though she said she was sick; I hope you're feeling better, Kaja!) and there were some faces I knew from the Internet, and of course, more pictures of awesome POC representin' and colouring up steampunk!

See ya'll next con!


  1. It was great to spend some time with you at Steamcon! There was so much going on, it's definitely a multifaceted experience.

  2. So if I remember correctly, that dog-poop leather bit came from K.W. talking about Henry Mayhew's "London Labour and the London Poor" right? My intention was to ask if he though the way they had nitpicked details from Victorian society had changed the steampunk perception of actual Victorian society. However, his explanation of that book was waaay to entertaining (and long) so I figured I would drop the point. I had to run to my Hollow Earth panel shortly after anyways! >.<!

  3. Hahaha, YES! Well, I wish you hadn't dropped the point, because that actually sounds like a really good question!! I hope someone writes a post about that someday ^_^

  4. I fear its a side effect of a good convention. Complete exhaustion. Your cousin Andrea was a show stopper. Looking at various photo collections she is in most of them on flickr. It was a beautiful watteau back gown. People were wondering why I took a photo of her back.

  5. Just saw this and had to tell you how much K. W. and I both enjoyed meeting you. This was our first official Steampunk event, and we had a blast! The organizers and the fans were so welcoming and enthusiastic. Plus the art and costumes were amazing. BTW -- I loved Andrea's boat hat.