The Steampunk Exhibition Ball is in its second year. (If the term "steampunk" has somehow evaded your purview, the short version is that it's a newly reemergent subculture with an aesthetic that blends Victoriana with sci-fi. The style of dress is an integral part of the scene, and many steampunks dedicate countless hours to perfecting the look.) Showing up to a steampunk event in nondescript clothing is akin to your grandmother attending a Slayer concert—you stick out like a sore thumb with eight heads attached to it.
Thankfully, the steampunk crowd is selective about what they adopt from Victorian England. For example: They forgo the sexual repression. This event, in fact, is a fundraiser for the Center for Sex Positive Culture and features burlesque and fetish acts. One notable highlight is a presentation by La Petite Mort and Twisted Monk, combining bondage, suspension, and knife-play in a scintillating performance that would make Freud pop a posthumous boner.
With any emerging subculture, there's inevitably going to be a fickle throng of poseurs trying to hop on board, but the overwhelming majority of partygoers preach inclusiveness. Sarah Kate of belly dancing duo CopperClock comments that steampunk audiences are fixedly supportive despite the fact that she herself doesn't identify as a steampunk. Although the group is largely nonjudgmental, some of the more seasoned devotees can be elitist. One man approaches a woman with the condescending intonation of William F. Buckley: "Have you read Girl Genius?" "No." "Oh... it is the steampunk comic." He then mentions something about "scampering off with a paramour" before walking away.
Want to tell The Stranger that "steampunk is whatever you want it to be" at your party? E-mail the date, place, and party details to firstname.lastname@example.org.