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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] ISGD Should transness be incorporated into flagging culture?

Should transness be incorporated into flagging culture?

transflagThere are a number of hanky codes indicating preferences for various types of sexual activity, but should trans identity have its own ‘flag’? Social commentators Gauche Sinister and Max Attitude debate the politics of gender, biology and body fetish in flagging culture.

13 February 2011

Flagging is the act of wearing coloured handkerchiefs, ribbons, armbands or other objects on the body to indicate (and attract) sexual interest. Originally a medium of gay men, opinicus rampant is a re-writing of the traditional hanky code into a comprehensive queer guide that is accessible and legible to all genders and sexualities.

Gauche Sinister: I understand you want there to be a flag to indicate transness?

Max Attitude: Yes. I’ve been working with a friend on a new trans male zine (DUDE!) with the objective of educating nontrans folk about transness with the specific aim of getting people laid; that is, it’s a kind of trans sex ed “manual” of things to be aware of when trying to fuck a transdude. And I think flagging could be a really easy way to start that conversation.

But I’m concerned about the political implications of an identity flag, or potentially body-fetishising flag. What do you think?

Generally I’m not into flagging gender or genitals – but on the other hand I also want to put getting people laid ahead of abstract values, and it’s disingenuous to pretend that being trans is irrelevant here. I’ve said elsewhere on The Scavenger: “It doesn’t matter how politically astute or logically consistent your sexual orientation is if you feel like you can’t change it” — but I also don’t want to support either transphobic or body-fetishising flags.

What’s your problem with body-fetishising flags?

I guess I’m okay with fetishisation when there’s consent, but I don’t think it’s possible to ensure a body fetish flag doesn’t objectify or exoticise against someone’s will.

Like with apricot (fat fetish) for example, gaycityusa.com has flagging apricot on the left as “two tons of fun” and flagging on the right as “chubby chaser”. Even if flagging on the left is changed to “consents to being fetishised for fat” rather than the (redundant) “is fat”, flagging on the right remains “fetishising” without regard to consent.

The same goes for the race”-fetishising flags which were previously along the lines of “Asian” on the left and “likes Asians” on the right, just recently they’ve changed it to “likes Asian bottoms” (left) and “likes Asian tops” (right) which makes a bit more sense.

I also don’t think it’s possible for marginalised groups to differentiate inclusive desire and fetish desire. “Seeking” just merges with “chasing” and “fetishising”. Like, I want to imagine that if someone flags navy on the right (“bottom” or “seeking tops”), that would include all tops -- Black, Asian, Latinx, trans, fat etc. But I also know that if you have a marginalised body, often it’s wrong to assume you’re included, so you don’t know if someone who specifies desire for your body type (whether that’s with a hanky or having “fat women” or “Black men” listed on their interests on Fetlife or whatever) is trying to be inclusive, be fat-positive or trans-positive, or indicating a fetish, until they explicate that.

Well, rather than having “trans” and “seeks trans”, we just need to make both left and right positions an indication of trans status (whatever that might mean to the flagger). This type of flagging is used in other cases, such as the red cross flag (which indicates HIV positivity): the point of all these flags is to bring attention to certain sex/body related issues that may otherwise be invisible or misread.

But isn’t flagging supposed to represent actions rather than identities?

Sure, but it’s more complicated than that; flagging is always symbolic of at least various aspects of our identity – how we see ourselves and want others to see us like uptight tops who only flag on the left.

Trans flagging presents an occasion in which identity flagging makes even more sense, because one’s transness can be unwantedly invisible, as well as highly stigmatised and marginalised, even within queer communities.

I guess I’m torn between hoping that all flags are automatically trans-inclusive and acknowledging that there is a practical and political need to explicitly show trans pride, support and desire.

I think this is the same dilemma we argued over regarding female ejaculation –whether we want to promote specific uses or assume an inclusive base. And I do think the latter is more radical, more transformative, than inventing new flags for affirmation and consciousness-raising, but of course when you’re looking at a single hanky hanging out of someone’s pocket rather than reading our entire commentary, you don’t see how we’ve reimagined the whole system, so in that case affirmation is actually more meaningful and political.

Absolutely. I think all flags – as they are written in opinicus rampant – are trans-inclusive, but that doesn’t make them trans specific. And sex can be. Opinicus rampant is about extending and improving conversations about sex and bodies.

In the case of transness, I think it’s more important to have trans visibility than avoid identity flags. There are many (especially sexual) contexts in which one’s transness can be unwantedly invisible or come into question in ways we’d rather it didn’t.

You know, trans people have such a rough time in being received, it can be awkward — knowing which pronouns to use or how someone thinks about their body – and something incredibly exhausting (and constant) for trans people to bring up verbally.

And while you can’t assume someone’s junk from a trans flag (trans people can have all kinds of junk [as can anyone else] and want to fuck in all kinds of ways), trans flagging can allow for the assumption of transfemininity,  transmasculinity, or genderqueerness.

I think it makes more sense to use “trans woman” and “trans dude” rather than “transfeminine” and “transmasculine”. Specificity is rather the point: opening it up to a broad spectrum such as transmasculine which can include butches and drag kings seems to dilute this purpose.
Totally. Ok. Well, purple tends to be used as a trans colour and can be found in genderqueer circles as well. Probably for the unfortunate equation of blue + pink = purple, but nevertheless, it makes sense to build on the lavender flag.

So, use:

Purple gingham = transgrrrl
Purple flannel = transdude
Purple sequins = genderqueer.

Awesome. Remember as well that purple on its own is piercing, so make sure your flannel is plaid.

Max Attitude and Gauche Sinister are critics. They co-created the hanky code guide flagging opinicus rampant, where this article first appeared. They are both Associate Editors at The Scavenger.

Image: Jo Latham, 2011, courtesy of the artist.

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