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A Flag for Unity
How the M/s and D/s Flag was Created
By Dusk Peterson
Above: Master Tallen and slave andrew display the Master/slave and Dom/sub Flag at the Master/slave Conference 2005.
Further down this page: girl Nancy Thompson with the flag she sewed.
Both photographs by Lance, courtesy of the Master/slave Conference.
"One philosophy in My life that I learned way back, was that if you see a problem or need, and you voice it, you damned well better have a suggestion for a solution, or it's just bitching."
These words, spoken by Master Tallen at the Master/slave Conference 2005 in Washington, D.C., on July 29, recall the beginning of his work, seventh months before, to create a symbol of unity for the master/slave and dominant/submissive communities.
"Active, dynamic principle." —J. E. Cirlot in the second edition of A Dictionary of Symbols (1970), explaining the meaning of a vertical line.
"We don't have a hanky code, we don't have anything that marks us," says Master Tallen, who lives in Washington, D.C., with his slave. "You can see a leather flag on someone's car and not know whether their interest includes dominance and submission."
His desire for "self-recognition" has been paired with a desire to unite the varied genders and orientations of the dominant and submissive communities. After the male chapter of D.C.'s Masters And slaves Together (MAsT) began holding joint meetings with the pansexual chapter, he realized that "we have so many similarities. I thought, 'What can we do to be united?'"
He started with the idea of producing a variation on the Leather Pride Flag that was designed by Tony DeBlase in consultation with anonymous staff members of Drummer magazine's art department in 1989. Master Tallen began researching the origins of that flag; he read the editorial by DeBlase that first suggested the flag, and then DeBlase's comments on the flag ten years later.
The more research that Master Tallen did, though, the more certain he was that he wanted to create a flag that was different from the Leather Pride Flag. Creating a variation on the Leather Pride Flag, he believed, would alienate dominant and submissive folk whose roots weren't in the leather community, and such an overlap would not create any special benefit for leatherfolk. "If someone is a leatherperson and is into M/s, they can use both" the leather flag and his own flag, he concluded.
He also discarded the idea of using a familiar M/s symbol, such as a collar or a biker hat. "I don't wear a biker hat, and I'm a master," he says. "A collar is just like leather: it doesn't represent us all. Not everyone uses collars, whips, chains, and shackles."
Just as importantly, a collar on a flag could draw the wrong kind of attention from vanilla folk. "If a collar or chain is on a bumper sticker, it draws attention. If you believe in the theory that the Old Guard existed, ambiguity and not drawing unwanted attention was important to them. Some of us still believe in that."
The best solution, he decided, was to use an abstract symbol, an ideogram. "We can still recognize each other once we learn what this is."
He began doing research on the various types of symbols used in flags. Many symbols, he discovered, had no special meaning. He was determined to choose symbols that did.
"I look at the Leather Pride Flag, and it has no meaning except what we gave it," he says. "The creator of it did not wish to share what he had going through his mind when he created it. I wanted to be different with this flag: I wanted it to have meaning."
He tried design after design; he'd work a week on one design, and then discard it. Months passed.
Among the Websites he visited was Symbols.com. There, under the keyword "power," he found a straight vertical line, which has been used for centuries to represent authority. He found many other symbols for dominance too, but locating a symbol for submissiveness was difficult. "There was so much to choose from the power and dominance and control side, but just one symbol from the submissive side."
After much digging, he discovered a symbol at Symbols.com that represented "passive intellect" in a system of psychology: three horizontal lines on top of one another. (Although Master Tallen does not comment on this, "passive intellect" was a term coined by the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It was used in psychological writings by philosophers for centuries before it passed into the hands of modern psychologists.) Master Tallen double-checked and found references to this symbol at other Websites. Since his flag has been unveiled, he says, he has heard from leatherfolk and BDSM folk who have worked or studied in psychology, and who are familiar with this symbol.
The simplicity of the two symbols appealed to Master Tallen. So did the fact that the design could be typed, using a computer keyboard (where the vertical line can be found) and the Windows character map (where the horizontal lines can be found, as a mathematical symbol).
"When I found these and put them together, it clicked," he says."Once those two got together, that was pretty much it within an hour."
GRAPHIC DESIGN AND SEWING
"The next five [signs] symbolize the nature of the human intellect: passive intellect . . ." —Rudolph Koch in The Book of Signs (1930), explaining the meaning of three horizontal lines.
At four o'clock in the morning, following his usual schedule, slave andrew rose from bed. Taking the symbols that Master Tallen had located the previous day, he shifted them around in different patterns. When his master awoke, slave andrew said, "Oh, Master, I played with this. What do you think?"
He and his master experimented with various positions for the dominant and submissive symbols Master Tallen had found. Finally they settled on the order in which people read the English language: left to right. "We put the master first," says slave andrew, "followed by the slave."
They also played with colors, every combination they could think of. Following in the tradition of Tony DeBlase, Master Tallen refuses to reveal his symbolic reasons for selecting black, red, and white. "My color selections were primarily for artistic reasons, to make the flag stand out. I do have my own symbolic representation of the colors, but I don't usually share that, because I want the community members to make their own interpretations."
Translating the design idea into an actual flag required slave andrew to graph the design. Using an Excel program sheet, he proposed the exact dimensions for the lines and created a to-scale model of the flag that Master Tallen approved.
By the time slave andrew had finished all the various designs, he was clean out of ideas for what to call the file name for the final design. He says with a laugh that the final design's file was called "thingy."
The task of translating the design into a flag was left to girl Nancy Thompson of Lifestyle Sewing, who specializes in such products as boy pride quilts and yellow hanky pillows.
She was charged with the task of creating, not one flag, but several flags to be distributed at the opening ceremony of the Master/slave Conference 2005. The commission couldn't have come at a worse time for her. Triple bypass surgery last summer left her with multiple health difficulties, ranging from back problems to breathlessness to arthritis in her hands.
"I can only work a few hours [at a time] because
Despite this, she remained determined to produce at least one of the flags in time for the ceremony. "I love the lifestyle and want to give something back. I do not have a lot of money to hand out, so this is my way of giving back to the community."
A GIFT TO THE COMMUNITY
"I decided that calling a committee meeting to design it would be counterproductive, so I just did it." —Tony DeBlase in Drummer #131, July 1989, speaking of his creation of the Leather Pride Flag.
Master Tallen received a surprise when it came time to unveil his new flag at the Master/slave Conference 2005 on July 29. He had announced in his speech that five flags would be awarded that night: one to Master Taino for the Master/slave Conference, one to Master Jim Glass and slave marsha for the International Master/slave Contest, one to Master Alex Keppeler for MAsT Incorporated, one to Rick Storer for the Leather Archives & Museum, and one to a bidder in the conference's auction. (The latter flag was eventually sold for three hundred dollars to the leather family of Master Travis, who lives in D.C.)
Master Tallen was wrong in his count, though. A sixth flag was awarded, to Master Tallen himself.
The flag design is intended by Master Tallen to be a gift to the community, for all those who identify as dominant or submissive, such as masters, slaves, doms, subs, sirs, daddies, boys, girls, trainers, and pups. "This is our proposal, our gift," he said at the ceremony. "It is the community that will decide whether the flag will fly."
Although Master Tallen has applied for a copyright on the design in order to protect it against businesses that might take the rights to the flag and deny others use of the design, Master Tallen emphasizes that anyone is free to use the design in any manner they wish.
"I hereby declare that it is public domain," he said in his speech to the conference. "No licensing fees or further permission is needed for its reproduction, sale, or usage. I applied for the copyright so that no one else could control our community's symbol. I have not, nor do I plan on making profit by creating this symbol. It is for all of us."
Speaking after the conference, he comments, "I just wanted the symbol protected. My leather family will protect the copyright of the flag, even after I'm gone."
In the meantime, Master Tallen and slave andrew have started the hard work of getting the word out about the flag. "Master Taino's acceptance and support of the design certainly helped," slave andrew says, referring to the producer of the Master/slave Conference. He adds, "It is a proposed design. We are definitely trying not to shove it down the community's throat."
Master Tallen echoes those exact words, adding, "It's up to the community to provide acceptance or denial, and that's the way I want it."
Initial interest in the flag has proved strong. The Master/slave Conference ran out of bumper stickers of the flag that it offered to conference attendees. The stickers were paid for by Master Wes of Washington, D.C., and were accompanied by envelopes designed by slave andrew, with a text describing the purpose of the design:
"This symbol is offered as a representation of the Dominant/submissive or Master/slave Lifestyle. This simplistic design was created by combining established ideogrammic symbols. The vertical stripe is a universal symbol meaning power or dominance. The set of three horizontal stripes is a universal symbol meaning passive or submissive. The flag is a basic black with a white border. The Dom/sub symbols are in red and in the center. The intent was to create a symbol that represents the foundation of the Master/slave dynamic which is Dominance and submissiveness.
"The Master/slave Community has its roots in the Leather Community, and it can be said that many in the M/s community are content identifying with only the Leather Flag. There is no intent to denounce our roots, and the Leather Flag will continue to fly proudly in the hearts of those in the Master/slave community. However, the time has come for this community to have its own universal symbol of pride and unity. With the community's acceptance, it is hoped that this proposed design will be adopted as that symbol."
Sir Larry, director of MAsT Metro New York, reports that many members of his pansexual chapter who were present at the conference made an effort to obtain stickers. He says he will spread word of the flag back home.
"The Master/slave community is sometimes looked down upon by other parts of the leather community," he says. He believes that, for this reason, it's important for people with dominant and submissive lives to possess a flag of their own.
At the same time, he likes the fact that the colors of the new flag are compatible with the colors of the Leather Pride Flag. It "makes for a unity and flow," he says. "This is a prime example of the flags working in conjunction with each other."
As a bisexual, he especially appreciates the fact that the flag spans all orientations, genders, and forms of dominance and submission. He says, "It's nice that the flag covers dominance and submission from A to Z."
On the long-standing e-mail list gl-asb (gay/lesbian-alt.sex.bondage), list members offered a variety of comments upon hearing news of the flag. Some leatherfolk had negative reactions to the choice of an abstract design; others were encouraged by the fact that such a flag had been proposed.
Rick Storer of the Leather Archives reports that one master provided his own interpretation of the flag, just minutes after it was unveiled at the conference:
"Three submissives for each one dominant. Yep, that ratio sounds about right to me."
As slave andrew notes, the mere proposal of an M/s and D/s Flag does not indicate whether such a flag will be successful.
"I really do believe it's the grass roots that will make the design work," he says. "It's going to be the so-called little people like us accepting it, embracing it, that will make this a flag for the community."
Portions of this article originally appeared in an article prepared for Master Taino; they are used here with his permission.
RELATED ARTICLES AND LINKS
The Master/slave and Dom/sub Flag. By Master Tallen. [True Tales]
American Flags and Paddles: A Flea Market with a Difference. A news article mentioning Master Tallen and slave andrew. [True Tales]
Lifestyle Sewing. Girl Nancy Thompson's site.
Who Designed the Leather Flag? An article by Robert Davolt.
History of the Bear Flag. An article on the International Bear Brotherhood Flag, designed by Craig Byrnes. Further down that page is more information on the history of the Leather Pride Flag. Image of the flag.
The BDSM Emblem. A site by the emblem's designer, Quagmyr, with an image of the emblem on its home page.
Text copyright © 2005 Dusk Peterson. All rights reserved.
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