** I should preface this article by saying that I am self-published and have never submitted to Tor. Yet I continue to direct fellow authors and readers to this article because it both highlights the LGBTQ inclusiveness of Steampunk AND is hosted by the aforementioned large publisher. That fact alone sends one of steampunk’s primary messages: there’s hope for humanity. -Vance **
Queer Cogs: Steampunk, Gender Identity, and Sexuality
Given that speculative fiction questions our most basic assumptions about life, from what is the nature of consciousness to our knowledge of history, it also regularly challenges our accepted ideas about gender and sexuality. As heated debates around these subjects across the globe suggest, how we define gender identity and sexual orientation are particularly thorny issues because they are at once deeply private and personal as well as intensely public and cultural. Because speculative fiction takes us to imaginative worlds that may be in another galaxy or, closer to home, an alternative version of our world, it has more freedom to explore such issues. Indeed, some classics of genre, like Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand Darkness, can go so far as to wonder how we might interact with a world of people who have no gender and whose sexuality is fluid and changeable.
And, it is in this arena, dear readers, where steampunk does such delightfully interesting things. Since steampunk takes as its “raw materials” nineteenth century literature and culture, it has the ability to offer alternative ideas about a number cultural concepts that we may take for granted, including sexuality and gender. In the nineteenth century, we find the beginnings of so many parts of our Western culture’s ways of talking about these issues.
Consequently, when steampunk turns its clockwork hand to reimagining the nineteenth century, it can create a deliciously flexible space for sexual and gender identities that still trouble our society today. Much like a seamstress ripping out stitches on a garment and putting it all back together again with a few key additions that entirely alter the effect of the item, steampunk takes apart the nineteenth century to see what makes it tick and then, turning it just so, gives us a transformed and newly unfamiliar past and present.