The queer remaking of a traditional gay medium
‘Flagging’ refers to the wearing of a colour-coded handkerchief, bandana, scarf or – as is becoming increasingly seen in queer femme circles – ribbon to indicate sexual interest/s. Most colours have standard meanings: black for SM, yellow for watersports to the more precise [an actual] teddy bear for cuddling. The location of a flag is also indicative: left for top, right for bottom; around the wrist for curious, around the upper arm for into it. Once you know the basics about flagging it’s generally easy to decipher the code; as in electric tape denotes electrical play and maroon signifies blood play. But there are some wild cards for experienced players; like gold – which indicates ménages à trois (on the left: two looking for one / right: one looking for two).
Hanky coding was originally a way of gay men identifying each other, thus traditional hanky codes assume all parties are male. But flagging culture is being remade by young queers today to actively work against the sex-gender assumptions of conventional gender binaries. That is:
“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.”
Whereas in traditional gay male flagging culture things were fairly clear cut: navy on the left (top) seeks navy on the right (bottom) to fuck (where everyone has a perspicuous idea of what that means) – the development of a flagging language that draws attention to the ambiguities of bodies and of sex challenges traditional (and gendered) stereotypes about sex and demands a comprehensive understanding (and practice) of specific and explicit consent. Without this, flagging makes no sense. Flagging is about inviting questions and initiating conversations about sex acts, bodies, affect and relation.
In the era of adultmatchmaker, grindr and okcupid our ways of communicating seem to be growing exponentially. But having immediate access to someone’s pictures, dimensions and sexual interests doesn’t necessarily make for the best interactions. Flagging hints. And while “keeping your desires unvoiced, unspecified or even unknown may protect you, and you might well get just as much play, that style is tepid. There’s something way hot about compelling a direct response, and opening yourself to explicit rejection.”
Get out your hankies and hit the town.