Monday, March 21, 2011

What is Flagging?

So you’re out at the bar and you see a hot guy. He’s alone and clearly cruising. He’s wearing an armband above his right bicep and a sexy, high-peaked Muir Cap. He’s got a red hanky in his left pocket. He’s also wearing a big, shiny padlocked chain around his neck. How many things are wrong with this picture? Do you know what they are?

In the leather and fetish community, our gear isn’t just for show. It also has meaning. The accessories that we wear are a way for us to tell others about who we are and what we’re into. This week I’m going to explain some of these signs so that when you have a chance to gear up, you broadcast the message that you want to send!

Wearing gear to signal our preferred sexual proclivities is called flagging. I’m often asked if the color of a piece of gear means something. Very much so! When you are at a leather bar or fetish event, the color of your accessories (and often even your t-shirt!) can be a shorthand way of telling others what you’re into. Plus, where you place these items can tell others whether you are a top, a bottom or versatile.

Let’s start with placement. Your wrist, arm and back pocket are all common areas for flagging, but you don’t have to flag everywhere (or all at once!) to get your point across. A dominant would flag on the left. A simple wrist cuff on your left arm or a thick, masculine armband worn just above the cleft of your left bicep sends a very strong message that you’re a top. The opposite is also true. A hanky worn in your right back pocket tells others that you’re a bottom. If you are versatile (or a “switch”) you might wear a cuff on each wrist or an armband on each side.

Now for the colors. If you’ve ever Googled “gay hanky code,” you’ve already seen that there is a huge (and sometimes downright silly) list of colors associated with various fetishes. Lucky for us, there are really only a few colors that most people use. They’re Red, which stands for fisting; Yellow, for water sports; Grey, for bondage; Navy Blue, for fucking; and Black, for heavy SM. My personal favorite is Hunter Green, which means that you are a Daddy when you wear it on the left, or a boy seeking a Daddy when you wear it on the right.

Often guys who are buying their first leather are drawn to clothes featuring big, flashy colored panels or stripes, but I think that this is a mistake. Just because I like fisting doesn’t mean that I want to do it all the time! If my only pair of pants has red stripes down the sides, then my only opportunity to wear them (at least not without disappointing someone) is when I want to get into that sort of play. I prefer to buy my major leathers in black and then accessorize them with colors. That way my favorite pants will always be appropriate, whether I am looking for a boy one day or a bottom to tie up the next!

A Muir Cap is a high-peaked biker (or uniform) cap commonly worn by a Master or Dominant. It is meant to signify skill and experience. Originally a Master earned his cap by completing training and demonstrating his abilities in at least three major skill areas (such as bondage, fisting, electrical play, flogging, and the like). Once he mastered three skills, he would be given his cap by the person who had mentored him. Although today many people wear Muir Caps just because they think they look sexy, it is really not appropriate for a submissive bottom to be wearing what is considered to be a Master’s cap. There are other types of caps for you!

Similarly, padlocked chain collars are often worn by many who like their edgy, masculine look, but they too have meaning. Those in the know understand that collar is a symbol of ownership. It is usually presented to someone as a means of formalizing a relationship. A collar is an outward sign that its wearer is off the market or needs permission before he can play with someone else. Bottoms often mistake wearing collars as a way of flagging that they are submissive. This can lead to serious disappointment when they find themselves ignored instead! It’s best not to wear a collar at all if you are available and want to play.

So remember, your gear has meaning and it doesn’t take a lot to flag your interests. Showing up at the bar in jeans, boots, a Master’s cap and an armband on your left side could be very hot and appropriate if you’re a skilled, experienced Top. It could be a huge letdown for whoever you pick up if you’re not and you wore it just because you liked the look! Send the right message to get the outcome that you are hoping for. I promise that you and your partner will all be a lot happier at the end of the day!

Until next time, Play Hard!

Every other week, Gear's owner John McBain publishes his Generation Fetish column in Pulp Magazine. This article originally appeared on March 17, 2011.

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