Flagging day

(Well yes, holiday time, but it quicky turns to man-on-man sex in street language, so not suitable for kids or the sexually modest.)

Yesterday, June 14th, was Flag Day in my country: “It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777, by resolution of the Second Continental Congress.” (from Wikipedia). I am not in the habit of flying the American flag, not out of a lack of love for the country, but out of a desire not to be seen as a yahoo flying the flag as an aggressive symbol of exclusion for those who aren’t “real Americans” — people of color, lgbt folk, liberals in coastal big cities, artists and scholars, and all the rest of us scum. If I flew an American flag yesterday, it would have had to be in conjunction with at least a Rainbow Pride Flag. But I don’t have the flagpoles, or any place to put them. I do have a rainbow flag draped over the fencing in my entryway, and that’s already up against the tolerance of the condo Homeowners Association. And I display the rainbow flag — and also the Swiss flag — on gym shorts and t-shirts.

I think of these displays on my body as flagging gay and flagging Swiss, with a use of the verb flag — to convey (in my rough definition) something like ‘(U.S. gay) display, on one’s body or in one’s attire, a symbol of identity or taste, with the intention of communicating those to potentially interested others’ — that appears not to be covered in standard general or slang dictionaries (up to and including OED2, though that’s in sore need of updating).

I think Flag Day should be left as it is, but today, June 15th, midway through Gay Pride Month, would be a good moment for (Gay) Flagging Day, using conventions that grew up in the mid-20th century.

The conventions use side of the body to convey your role in sexual acts — flagging left  for top / insertive / dominant or right  for bottom / receptive / submissive — and colors to convey the sexual acts more specifically — for instance, light blue for cocksucking, dark or navy blue for ass-fucking: when flagging light blue, left wants head, right is a cocksucker; and when flagging dark blue, left is for a fucker, right for a fuckee / (fuck)hole.

It might be that the conventions began with using keys (or a bandan(n)a) dangling from a back pocket to convey role, and then that colors were added, to create the (eventually elaborate) “hanky code”; see the discussion in my 12/25/15 posting “Pockets in his trunks”. The choice of sides, and sometimes the colors as well, were then extended to other things, in particular armbands and wristbands.

And now a Guardian article, “Sex symbols: what does a blue hankie in your left back pocket mean?” by Hettie Judah on 3/1/17, takes us back to the Gay 1970s:

In one of the first photographs Hal Fischer composed for Gay Semiotics, we see two sets of male buttocks, each clad in high-cut, form-fitting Levi’s. One sports a blue bandana in the left back pocket, which, according to the overlaid text, “indicates that the wearer will assume the active or traditional male role during sexual contact [shades of bue for the canonical forms of male-male sex: light blue for cocksucking, dark blue / navy for ass-fucking], the other has a red bandana in the right back pocket, indicating that “the wearer takes the passive role in anal/hand insertion [that is, fisting]”. But, the text cautions dryly, “red handkerchiefs are also employed in the treatment of nasal discharge and in some cases may have no significance in regard to sexual contact”.

Made in 1977, when Fischer was in his 20s, the Gay Semiotics series is a wonderfully poker-faced portrait of queer male culture in San Francisco’s Castro and Haight-Ashbury neighbourhoods at their carefree apogee. As well as deciphering the codes of hankies, key chains and earrings, Gay Semiotics guides us through archetypes, street fashions and various BDSM practices. Forty years on, the images can now [back in 2017] be seen at Project Native Informant in London, along with other Fischer works from the 1970s.

“The work was very subversive, and I still get a kick out of that,” says Fischer, in London for the show’s opening. “I wanted people to see the photographs first, then get up close. I wanted there to be a certain innocence when they started reading, then of course there’s a little shock, and some punchlines, then people start laughing.”


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