Tag Archives: femme


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.


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Filed under "Queer Culture", Fashion, Max Attitude, Re-post, What's Queer Here?

On Being Defended

A Femme Alliance

Probably the most obvious, and unfortunate, commonality between women and trans people is that we know what it’s like to be abused, and for the threat of abuse and [sexual] violence to be constant. But I do think the shared experience of brutality can be used to shape us into a wilful force of resistance; to defend each other and let ourselves be defended.

I used to be quick-witted when harassed on the streets or in bars. Two to seven words were usually enough; shouted out before an open car window could be wound back up. The men would just snigger in reply but there was something satisfying in fighting back. It took the edge off the humiliation of objectification. But somehow, somewhere, my ability (or desire) to defend myself was worn out.

I just want a break.

When you stand by and watch someone being abused – verbally, physically or (in a longer term sense) emotionally – I do think you’re complicit in it. I think we all have a responsibility to defend each other. And it’s not without risk. I’ve watched so many men and women get high and mighty about their feminist cred; thinking they have all the knowledge (and/or ontological right) to put other people in their place without interrogating the ways they themselves are fucking people over. There are political implications to acting as though someone can’t protect or defend themselves, or that you can do it better. [If you plan on doing it, ask first if that’s what someone wants].

For a long time I thought independence meant self-sufficiency. But the stockpiling of abuse I have taken taught me that having people around to stand up for me was not only a valid survival technique (and what a privilege it was to have ever thought I could persist alone), but a complete pleasure.

Watching my femme friends or lovers verbally rip apart the guys that hassle me is a freakin dream. It’s so unexpected. She’s sharp and witty and seethingly mad and he’s so taken aback and confused he’s stunned into a retreatful silence. Violence always escalates. When I push some guy off a friend, it’s not so unlikely he’ll turn around and punch me in the face. On the contrary, the political – gendered and subversive – (and practical) power of a femme offensive like that shows up the deficiencies of any other kind of recourse. But I do what I can. And this is something we can ask each other for.

It’s not that we can’t defend ourselves, but what a relief to (even occasionally) not have to.

  • On Being Defended is a part of the series against self-sufficiency – an investigation of what is left out when feminist theory/art/movement avoids or ignores the specificities of ftm trans lives, and the ways in which we can work/resist/persist together.


Filed under Feminist Politics, Max Attitude, What's Queer Here?

Fight or Flight?

Bird La Bird & Bird Club

Wearing frilly knickers should not be dependent on what’s in them. When I hear the word “real” before any category of person whether it’s woman, lesbian or femme I head for the hills. If you’ve ever been told you’re not “real” you’ll probably like Bird Club.Bird La Bird (on friction.org.uk)


‘Armageddon Fem’ Bird La Bird screeched onto the stage as a part of the Femme Programme at London’s 21st Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, performing at the screening of Campbell X (Inge Blackman)’s ‘Fem’, in which she also appears. At the following London Pride Bird organised a Femme Pride Bird float with the maxim ‘Femme Invisibility: So Last Year!‘ In 2008 Bird graced the cover of Ulrika Dahl and Del LaGrace Volcano’s ‘Femmes of Power: Exploding Queer Femininities’ and I met her for the first time at the book’s launch in London. When, there, Bird sang her song ‘Do you know what kind of club this is?’ (about gay clubs who can’t/don’t recognise a queer bird), I fell a little bit in love. And I was not the only one. So many cheers and thanks and acclaim and joy was bestowed upon her that she determined to turn the mythology of Bird Club into a reality – a real club, if only once a month – where Anyone Can Be A Bird.

I’m interested in post Butch/Femme and what happens when players themselves question and rewrite the roles. I find the hostile reaction many non-players have towards butch/femme enthusiasts fascinating. I can’t think of another consensual sexual activity that has so much scorn and derision poured on it. I’m fascinated why many people find it so threatening and I’d like to see if that anxiety can be played with. – Bird La Bird

When I started feeling good about the word ‘tranny‘ and dressing ‘as a boy‘ and ‘as a drag king‘ I never felt like one (a boy that is). I was stable (if slightly uncomfortable) as a dyke and (therefore) as a woman. But then I found a place that did to me what I do to so many people; made no assumptions about me. And it had a huge impact on me. Clearly. Because it happened. I started having moments where I didn’t feel so much like a lesbian anymore, like a dyke, like a woman.

I was lost. And it was sublime.

That is where Bird Club lies. When Bird La Bird says Anyone Can Be A Bird, that’s how it is. Everyone can be anyone they want, and maybe even someone they didn’t quite know they were.

Dear Bird, Thanks for opening my eyes and my wings, Love Max xx

The next Bird Club in London is March 12. Go to www.birdclub.org.uk for details.

Photograph by Sam Nightingale.

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