Tuesday, February 26, 2013

LGBT Tuesday: Homosexuality in Steampunk. Guest Post from Charlie Cochrane

I haven't been as up to date on LGBT Tuesday as I would have liked in the past, but I really wanted to include at least one post during Let's Get Steamy. Homosexuality is still a shaky issue in modern genres. As we struggle as a nation to accept LGBT rights, our literature shows off that struggle. One genre that tends to ignore homosexuality is Steampunk. Why? Well, perhaps it's because during Victorian England, homosexuality was considered a sin and you could be killed if caught during the act. Either way, I wanted to feature a writer that specialized in LGBT Steampunk, just to get a different take on the genre. Please welcome, Charlie Cochrane, co-author of the Lords of Aether website.

Steampunk...just the word gets you excited. Visions of gorgeous clothes, ruffles, leather and taffeta galore – and that’s just the blokes! Add machines, flying machines with acres of polished wood and brass or half men, half metal creations and you have the recipe for fantastic storylines. And the era, the cusp of the century, is a favourite of mine, having always been a devotee of writers like Conan Doyle and Jerome K Jerome.

So why did it take me so long to succumb to writing steampunk? And why isn’t gay romance (which is what I usually write) so under-represented in the genre?

Maybe it’s because of the era. If we ignore the alternative world of accelerated scientific and mechanical progress, we’re still within a broadly late Victorian setting (or at least we are for the Lords of Aether project). This is a time of clamping down on homosexual activity, of scandals involving male brothels and rent boys, of Oscar Wilde standing trial and falling from grace. Gay characters within steampunk will have to remain closeted.

There is one definite advantage, however, of setting a gay romance in this sort of setting; you don't have to go far to find tension and new threats. Blackmail, disgrace, keeping love behind locked doors, that wonderfully understated unresolved sexual tension that crackles in the air but can’t be allowed to crackle into flame in public...such fun for an author to work with.

I’ve been involved – so far – with two steampunk stories. There’s my short tale “What you Will”, where I first dabbled with playing in the genre and where I gave my take on the relationship in “Twelfth Night” between the captain and Sebastian. I made my Antonio the captain of an airship rather than a sailing ship, although those elements played second fiddle to the love story.

So, when I got asked to be involved with Lords of Aether, I already had some knowledge of steampunk, although the main character I write is neither gay nor does he get involved with the adventure elements. Savage Beare (whose name comes from a genuine Victorian gentleman) is the Lords of Aether club steward and his main role is to provide light relief. Allegedly he’s supposed to be writing the history of the club but really he mainly indulges in bad jokes and insulting the other characters, whom he appears to detest but is really devoted to.

It’s marvellous fun having someone who can act as a sort of “chorus”, commenting on the action and almost looking at the genre in a detached way. He also acts as a way for society in general to comment on both the science and the sexuality:

The walnut veneers, the polished metalwork, the hammocks. (I don’t want to think about what might go on in those hammocks. And what might hang out while it’s going on.)

He’s scathing and sarcastic and a joy to write and I leave the last word to him.

For one thing, they’ve actually got that overinflated pig’s bladder of a craft off the ground, defying both the laws of physics and good taste. I’ve never seen so much brass, gold leaf and gingerbread work on what’s supposed to be a fighting vessel. More like a tart’s four poster bed.
Thanks Charlie! You've got some interesting points and a definite love for Steampunk that I can get behind :) I will have to make it a point to try to expand my horizon and attempt to delve into some Steampunk with homosexual main characters :) Have you had a chance to read any gay steampunk? Would you even want to or is it so far out of your comfort zone you wouldn't begin to know how to start? Let me know in the comments! (And if you have any recommendations I would appreciate it!)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for hosting me, Andra! You really made me think.