I regularly read the blog of Ay-leen the Peacemaker who often has an interesting and challenging slant on Steampunk.

One of the articles talks about communities such as steampunk accepting transgender but not always encouraging it.  In the UK steampunk community we have worked to actively accept and promote transgender. This may be through having transgender individuals join us as the face of the VSS at promotional events for example.  One way which has met a fair amount of success has been through the adoption of a little bit of etiquette…

When meeting someone who is transgender or indeed someone who cross dresses there can be that moment of confusion and misunderstanding about how precisely to relate to them.  Unfortunately we have gender sensitive pronouns in English that can get in the way for example.  Steampunks however habitually shake hands when being introduced or meeting.

In the 19th century a chap extended his hand with the thumb on top, palm facing to the left.  A woman offered hers with the palm down towards the floor and the fingers slightly relaxed.  By using this convention it is possible to signal very learly and unequivocally which gender you wish to be treated as.  This is not to try and force someone into a gender role or stereotype, quite the opposite, but the intent is to make that first meeting easier and more comfortable for both parties.  It allows someone to take charge of their identity and ensure that others are clear on it and accept the persons personal freedom, assertions and value as a human being.

When you are met with a man who looks amazing as a woman but still prefers to be identified as a he it works perfectly.  For someone of transgender it removes all concerns that they may be “read” and mistreated but they can relax knowing they will be treated as they would wish.   The ownership and control of the situation is firmly in the hand(shake) of the individual.

This works well in the UK and could work in the wider community.  It is a small thing, a simple thing but in promoting simple acceptance and removing potential barriers we work to encourage transgender involvement in steampunk as a place where one can feel comfortable, at home and a member of a community.

Now someone may challenge this and claim we are trying to pigeonhole, reshape people, compel them to fit a role etc.  The answer is that these ideas are part of the critics’ prejudices not the prejudices of the people who use this method.  The aim is purely to facilitate comfortable social interaction – that is fundamental to steampunk and indeed what etiquette is all about.  It is fine to criticise on an academic level but don’t demand we change what we do unless you offer something which is practical and is trying to do something in the real world (albeit our little part of it) rather than in an academic cocoon or ivory tower.

Perhaps it will suffice to help in the short term until we can have a truly equal, non sexist, non judgemental community but that will need massive changes in language if nothing else.  Until something better comes along then…?