Protected: The Unicorn Horn

7 07 2010

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Tie Me Up – Ribbon Flagging

7 06 2010

[special guestblog by n.]

One of the (admittedly few) problems I have with flagging is how to utilize it and retain my femme integrity, which is heavily bound up in a conscious and considered personal aesthetic. One of the purposes of flagging is the possibility of conveying complex messages about sexual interest through code. Code is, by its nature, a thing comprised in part of secrecy and knowledge – it is both a protective mechanism (only the initiated have the possibility of deciphering, and thus those outside of the culture pass it by unawares, an important consideration for any significant gathering of those who operate outside normative culture) and a binding agent (codes rely on the presence of both ‘writers’ and ‘readers’. Sharing knowledge creates social bonds). Therefore, in order for coding to be truly effective, it must be implemented in a manner which can be rendered undetectable by any but the initiated.

femme flagging aesthetics

In the case of flagging –  a visual and, most importantly, wearable form of code – this possibility of slipping below the radar of normative sexual culture is intricately bound up in the fashion decisions of individuals. Flagging or hankie culture was born in a social space where the wearing of kerchiefs was normal enough to go unnoticed by (possibly threatening) heterosexual parties, thus enabling the creation of a language that was both intelligible to those versed in it and safe from those who weren’t. This seamless blending of code and ordinary dress is a vital component of flagging’s success; it allows individual queers to flag whenever, wherever, without fear of harassment because flags do not look – to the casual (outside) observer – to be out of place.

The problem, then, with flagging and being femme, is that scarves and handkerchiefs do not always ‘fit’. Despite the prevalence of 50s-style Tattooed Pinups and Ironic (white) American Housewives in queer femme fashion culture (both aesthetic choices that lend themselves beautifully to the wearing of scarves) there are many other femme visual identities and not all of them are conducive to hankies. We may be harder to spot – in other words, no space has (yet) been carved out for femmes who choose to move beyond the accepted visuals of the 50s – but not all femmes buy into that particular area of popular reclamation, and we’d like to flag sometimes too. It’s clear that flagging options, like any language with a steadily broadening reach, must expand to include those new users who exist outside of the original scope. The trick is to find an alternate article of cloth/ing that can be utilized in the same manner as scarves: it must come in all manner of patterns, colours, textures; must be readily available and accessible; must have the capacity to be located to left or right, around the neck or head; must possess the potential to be integrated into a wide variety of femme aesthetics.

I considered stockings but, as max pointed out, the problem is that they go on both feet and thus both sides. Most jewellery, though coloured, does not come in patterns and is, besides, perhaps too obscure or easily mistaken for, well, nothing more than innocent adornment (which, of course, it isn’t always – but sex toys and jewels are another story, and besides, perhaps ought to be left to their own glory, rather than being appropriated by flagging culture. Plus, as previously discussed, rings already have their place as the ultimate anti-flag, and we wouldn’t want to impose on the heteronorm, now, would we?).  Brooches, pins, or badges are a possibility – for example, they can be patterned, or even covered in fabric – but they’re also (generally) rather small. You’d have to get fairly close to somebody to ‘read’ the flag in question, which aside from being a bit iffy on the maintenance of personal space front (something with which femmes deal all the time as it is), also cancels out one of the other fundamental elements of flagging: the capacity to find those people whose interests might coincide with yours, even from afar.

And then it came to me. Ribbons.

Daphne Guinness - ribbon flagging

They come in every colour, many fabrics, can be DIY-ed to the hilt (which is, I feel, rather important when trying to achieve a good double-flag or, say, a more unusual pattern like houndstooth), and are highly wearable and very versatile. You can style a ribbon much like a scarf – around the neck, head, wrist, arm – or you can branch out into, say, rosettes, bows, flowers, hat-bands, etc. Also, I really enjoy the process of subverting an ultra-pretty feminine article of innocent haberdashery into something actively sexual and, perhaps more pertinently for the femme identity – often read as straight and, thus, without sexual agency or desire – initiatory. Plus, the possibility of using ribbons as a flagging device extends the reach of female and femme flagging history, which can only be good. There are a bizarre number of scenes in the western literary cannon about women purchasing or wearing ribbons – keep it in mind when reading, say, Pride and Prejudice and you’ll find that white, middle-class women have been ribbon flagging for years. Admittedly their choice is usually limited to the paler tones, but hey, in the cloakroom at a country ball you’d take what you could get.

Is demisexual anti-queer?

2 06 2010


Sometimes I support the idea that proliferation of identities approximates deconstruction, but demisexual is the dumbest thing ever, right down to its etymology. Fair enough if you take an extended hibernation, limiting your sexual activity to summer and spring, but any non-temporal reading suggests that demisexual is halfway on “the asexual spectrum”, between the poles of asexuality and “full” sexuality.

According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network wiki, a demisexual is

a person who does not experience primary sexual attraction but yet still experiences secondary sexual attraction. Primary sexual attraction being sexual attraction based on outward qualities such as a person’s looks, clothes, or personality. Secondary sexual attraction being attraction to another stemming from emotional connection (usually romantic) or status or how closely the person is in relationship to the other.

Other definitions give primary attraction as based only on that which is immediately perceptible (looks, smell, clothes, etc), not personality. For some demisexual implies panromantic inclinations, while others use it with gendered orientations (eg a “heteroromantic demisexual” would be someone who only wants to fuck within the context of heterosexual romance).

It would be silly enough for a sexual identity to not only accept but reinforce a notion of normative sexuality, but the normative sexuality implied by demisexual isn’t even correct. For women at least, normative sexuality presupposes “deep emotional connection” as a requisite condition for sex — if it didn’t, we wouldn’t have concepts like “nymphomania”. Isn’t there enough slut-shaming in society as it is?

I don’t buy the argument that demisexual can exist without denigrating promiscuity. Even if individual demisexuals don’t use their identities as a value judgement on other people’s sexuality, demisexual already assumes a normative centre, and elaborates the sex of that centre as being based on “primary characteristics”. Never mind that the primacy of those characteristics (such as gender) might be something we actively resist. Never mind how we might understand our own motivations or attractions and the ebb and flow of desire. How does a demisexual differ from me (sexual, pan, poly, fussy)? Presumably I’ll want sex earlier in a relationship than they will, or with people I don’t know as well as they’d need to — but if I haven’t fucked someone by the third date I assume they just like to pay for meals and lose arguments. I hear that most girls work slower — apparently there’s even rules about it. So how is a demisexual different from your run-of-the-mill, sex-after-love romantic? And doesn’t demisexual deny the fluidity of sexual(ity)?

Even if all this is true, it may yet be insufficient grounds on which to deny anyone’s self-identification (though I don’t accept that it’s never justified to do so). And I realise that many other sexual identities involve similar value judgements: eg, when people talk about bisexual or pansexual as being attracted “to a person, not a gender”, when I think that describes people of all sexual identities, even if gender might be a factor (which it is for many bi and pan people anyway). Or how poly people talk about monogamy sometimes. I think it’s always rude to pretend your tastes are more profound and less superficial than others. Nevertheless, I feel that demisexual is especially problematic and I’d like to hear the rebuttal.

What does all this have to do with flagging? I think flagging is about communicating something that usually isn’t immediately perceptible, which destabilises the distinction between primary and secondary attraction. More than that, hanky code creates a sexual lexicography that enables a level of specificity and intentionality that I think is inherently queer, regardless of who practices it, while demisexual seems to me anti-queer in reinforcing fixed and stable sexual identities. This isn’t about sex positivity necessarily — I think dominant culture is both relentlessly sexual and particularly anxious about sex; I wouldn’t call it repressive or oversexualised  — but a critical relation to normative sex.


In response to Pico the Great’s post:

[gauche 18/6/10]

I think your point that demisexual comes at sex and love “from an asexual, rather than sexual, perspective”, is pretty useful. This makes sense to me — that the resulting position might look the same to another person (in terms of stated desires and concrete action) but is coming from a different direction.

You said:

If there is a bell curve of human sexuality, zero to ten, then there will be folks all from one end to the other, from -1 to 11, expressing themselves and realizing themselves in a myriad of ways. […] Promiscuity is simply on the 10 or 11 end of the bell curve, just as demi is on the 1 or 2 end.

As I said to Emma Rainbow below, I reject all views of sexuality as a spectrum or scale — I think this forces complex subjectivities into a binary opposition. But accepting this spectrum for the moment, I would have said asexual is all numbers ≤0, and everything above 0 is just sexual — a 1 or 2 isn’t “demisexual” any more than 10 or 11 is “hypersexual” (though “hyposexual” would seem more apt to me than “demi-“). I can accept though that someone who thinks of themselves as a 0 but sometimes ventures into positive integers will retain an asexual identity despite their actions, just as dykes can retain lesbian identity despite having sexual relationships with men. The “demi” etymology still bothers me but that’s just my pedantry at work. (To be fair, you used the words “anthypophora” and “apodioxis”.)

By the way, you used male pronouns for me: I’m a woman, which is why I’m positioning my sexuality in relation to norms of female sexuality. As a cis woman whose femaleness is rarely questioned, and whose preference for gender-inclusive pronouns is inessential, misgendering me isn’t a big deal, but I do think it says something about the way you read (ie, androcentrically). This criticism is valid regardless of your gender.


Protected: Doilies and toilets

13 04 2010

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penchant in its place

22 03 2010

[lc 21/03/10]
I want to write in defence of scarves. Yes I’m into flagging culture and the things that it represents but I’m worried that flagging culture is going to inhibit femme fashion and limit one’s ability to accessorise. I think that flagging needs to be context specific, like at gay clubs, sex on premise venues and at erotic parties. I want to be able to go down to my local coffee shop and wear my scarves and not worry about being misread as to my sexual proclivities or worry that that kind of information is available to the general public. There has been talk about having a specific knot or the usage of a brooch to symbolise a scarf not being a flag. I’ve also been told I just need to ‘suck it up’ and that if I want to wear a scarf that’s what I have to take on board. I disagree, I think that there are other reasons for wearing a scarf than just flagging and that these need to be accounted and accommodated for (todays bad hair day was a good example).

[gauche 16/08/10]
I think I’m with Max on the strict “no anti-flags” position — for me because flagging never implies consent — but also when it comes to sex acts, I’m suspicious of the fear of being misread. Like the heterosexual anxiety at being misread as queer (An aside: have you noticed straight cis men in dresses are often especially misogynistic? Think The Footy Show.), I think that worrying about whether people think I’m into scat, when if I’m not, is more about some aversion to that which I am (mis)taken for than a concern about any real communication failure.

This is coming from a queer femme who is often read as straight, who has decided I’d rather suck it up than suggest people should be able to read my sexuality from the way I look. (I think Max is writing more on identity and appearances later.) Which isn’t to say that being misread or misunderstood is never a big deal — it can be lethal — but that particular misunderstanding, of phantom flags, of the flag unintended, that’s one I want to embrace.

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