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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] GLB Queers re-fashion ‘flagging’ codes

Queers re-fashion ‘flagging’ codes

FlaggingThe conventions of a gay male medium are being remade by young queers to offer a way of thinking and talking about sex and power that is easily accessible, writes Jo Latham.

‘Flagging’ refers to the wearing of a colour-coded handkerchief, bandana, scarf or – as is becoming increasingly seen in femme circles – ribbon to indicate sexual interest/s.

Traditionally, flagging referred to a bandana code utilised by gay men to identify each other and pinpoint compatible sexual interests.

But young queers, especially queer women and trans men, are getting together to rewrite flagging language to reflect (and construct) their ideas about sex and sexuality. The brief of the queer hanky guide flagging opinicus rampant spells this out:

“It’s better not to assume the sex-gender of who’s flagging or who that flagger is seeking […] It’s important that female flagging complements and extends traditional gay male flagging, without becoming incompatible, so you can accurately decode any hanky on any body. I’d like hanky code to be a complete language for how you want to fuck that overrides what might be assumed from how your body is gendered.”

As hanky coding originates from gay male culture, the traditional system assumes all parties have male bodies.

Many colours have standard meanings which are easily translatable regardless of the bodies involved, such as black for sadomasochism or aqua for sex in water.

The location of a flag is also indicative: worn on the left side means ‘top’ or right, ‘bottom.’

However these terms are loaded and complex; debate abounds about which position in various sex acts is topping or bottoming and how male and female bodily differences can be accounted for.

Of course there are also many sex acts between women and people with female bodies that present gaps in the traditional code which are now being written in.

Thus, flagging offers a way of thinking and talking about sex and power which is easily accessible, and in heteronormative sex-saturated and sexist cultures, desperately needed.

Once you know the basics about flagging it’s generally easy to decipher the code; as in maroon signifies blood play and puce indicates bruising. 

But there are some wild cards for experienced players, like dark purple for piercing or rope for suspension. 

The point of flagging is to invite questions, to initiate conversations about the specifics of sex and of desire and to acknowledge the complexities involved in sexual interaction.

Flagging does not tell you everything (indeed even a good double or triple flag can only tell you so much), and clubs are dark: maybe what you thought was red was actually dark pink. 

Flagging, then, demands an explicit and specific understanding (and practice) of consent. Without it, flagging makes no sense. 

A flag is an indication, a reference to interest in certain activities and a way of non-verbal initiation. In this way, flagging provides a radical resistance to the kind of “hands on” harassment and abuse many of us endure. 

As it says at flagging opinicus rampant: “We take on board the feminist call that the personal is political and we’re into politically astute fucking.”

Flagging also resists mononormativity (the ways societies work to render monogamy as ‘normal’ and polygamy, polyamory, swinging or singleness as ‘deviant’). 

A part of mononormativity can be seen in the ways that people are punished or rewarded according to their adhesion to social expectations of sexuality: married and heterosexual de facto couples receive legal and cultural privileges such as tax concessions and parenting rights while the rest of us must negotiate often tricky bureaucratic barriers to the same end.

To women especially, sexuality is regulated institutionally and socially: women continue to be paid lower wages for the same work as men, and this acts as a financial incentive for women to be heterosexually attached. 

Socially, women are punished for having any sexuality outside marriage through insults like ‘slut’ – a word which has been reclaimed in protest to such gender policing. 

Women’s and female flagging promotes slut pride and references non-monogamy, as flagging indicates availability without assuming relationship status. 

The queerness of contemporary flagging culture is less about ‘homosexuality’ and more about drawing attention to the ambiguities of desire, of gender and of bodies. 

Flagging in this way takes into account the realities of transexuality, transvestism, bisexuality, heterosexuality, and indeed female bodies, in ways that the traditional system failed to do so. 

Thus, flagging resists conventional (and sexist) assumptions about who wants what and how, as well as emphasising that talking about the specifics of sex is a necessary part of practising safer sex (that is, sexually interacting with anyone).

Jo Latham is an associate editor at The Scavenger and currently flagging argyle. 

Image by Nyx Mathews & Jo Latham. Courtesy of the artists, 2010

 

 

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