The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 12 Apr 2017, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Steampunk and life in general: an apology

A while ago I took a pop at steampunk and the people who like it. The blog is still somewhere in the archive if people choose to find it, as to take it down now would be slightly cowardly and would also make an absolute nonsense of what I’m about to say. Which is that I was wrong to take exception with the people who enjoy it and, moreover, that I was being insanely mean-spirited when I took keyboard in hand. The reason why this matters is that when people are being similarly mean-spirited to you, for whatever reason, you need to close your eyes and remember that what they’re yelling at is something within themselves.

There are things in society which are self-evidently bad, of which steampunk is not one. Things like paedophilia, incest, rape, murder and heavens knows what else are vile and deserving of lasting if not eternal public opprobrium. Something which is engaged with the individual’s full consent and cognisance whose only purpose is to gladden the heart is nowhere near this end of the spectrum. Public dressing up can be fun, mildly transgressive and shows nothing other than a cheerful and hedonistic embrace of life coupled with a complete and utter indifference to what other people think that strikes me as a public good which should be encouraged as widely as possible.

My original hostility to it, and this is the kicker, sprang entirely from the fact that I would lack the courage to do something similar. It was, in short, the mean-spirited carping of someone sat on the sidelines who secretly wishes he could join in and, in a feeble substitute for it, moans about those who do. Truth is, I love the wild and creative imagination that comes with steampunk, and the fact that it knows no boundaries, only what the wearer wants to imagine, twined around the vaguest of ideas. Leather, crushed velvet and a nice, thick cotton: these are all textures that I love and it seems rather odd and full of self-loathing that I would rebuke others for liking them, too.

Considered in isolation, my decision to publicly revise my opinion of steampunk means next to nothing, but it does show up a simple and horrible truth. Criticism can sometimes come from ignorance, but it can also come from fear. And that is, I think where things like homophobia and other, cheap and shabby hatreds are located. If you see two men or two women holding hands, kissing or heaven knows what, and get angry about it, it’s possible, just possible, that when you get angry, you’re doing so with your own desires and your own fantasies. Those two people over there, holding hands? They aren’t hurting you, they aren’t taking anything from you. It’s very much you who is bringing something darker to the party.

When I say ‘you,’ I do actually mean me, because until about 18 or 19 I was also a fairly vigorous homophobe. As I went to a fairly vigorously homophobic school where people had seemingly drunk down a whole boatload of prejudices for breakfast, that may not be surprising, but I was motivated by the straightforward fear that I was gay. And the truth is that I am, a bit. I’ve kissed boys, I’ve found other boys wildly attractive and I’ve fantasised about Doing It with them. The truth, though, boring as it is, is that I like girls more, but at school, where anything gay was mocked and, on occasion, beaten up, I persecuted this side of my personality. And it was very, very costly.

More than anything else I wanted to be a shoe designer. I couldn’t admit this to myself, of course, let alone anyone else, because I wanted to design women’s shoes, which I found a baffling mix of sensual, erotic and beautiful. I still do what to design women’s shoes, for pretty much the same reason but, at the age of 44, I’ve pretty much missed that particular boat and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to admit it to myself, let alone anyone else. The sad irony of this is that at least two of the people I went to school with have since come out as gay, so I have no idea how utterly and hopelessly miserable the whole experience must have been for them, acting out some crap, shabby parody of a sexuality that was never theirs.

My motive in writing all of this, is a vague and probably redundant desire to say to the people who are coming after me, not to repeat my mistakes. Or, in the words of ‘House of the Rising Sun,’ which is now my ear worm, ‘not to do what I have done.’ We are here for a very, very short time and to deny your true nature, whether it’s wearing a velvet waistcoat and a top hat with goggles, or designing shoes or being gay, is a recipe for utterly solitary misery that is of a very particular and definite kind. Stay away from that.

Were I able to travel back in time, I’d tell me to shove the steampunk blog up my bitter arse and, were I able to travel even further back in time, I’d find the teenage me, give him a hug and then give him a fairly robust talking to about what he wanted to do with his life and telling anyone who didn’t think it was acceptable to sod off. And then I’d give him a hug again, because if there was anything he needed, it was love and acceptance of what he was and who he was. Love yourselves people and love and celebrate your foibles. Life is sweeter that way.

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