The Old, Secret Style Language Of The LGTBQ+ Community

Photo: Michael Smith/Newsmakers.

Have you ever heard of the hanky code? The banana code? What about flagging? It's okay if you haven't, but it's actually pretty cool. In the '70s, the handkerchief code gained popularity among gay men who were in search of casual sex. The handkerchiefs were placed in your back pocket, essentially, and depending on the color, symbolized a sexual fetish or a position. There was even a meaning behind which pocket you tucked it in. Codes like this were crucial to the early development of LGBTQ+ communities, but date back even further than the Gay Liberation movement, to the mid- to late-19th century (like, the Gold Rush), and are still used in cities across the globe today.

Though complex in theory, the origin of the secret language is varied, too. While some people believe it originated in San Francisco due to a shortage of women at square dances where men would end up dancing with each other — a blue bandana around one's neck meant they took the "female" part, while red symbolized the "male" role — others believe the system was modernized in New York City in the '80s, when a writer at the Village Voice joked that instead of wearing keys (another way to denote whether someone was a "top" or a "bottom"), they carried around hankies. There are several other theories, too, but we'll let you take a gender and sexuality class to read up on those.

The color scheme, which was rainbow, of course, carried with it 10 colors and 10 meanings. Alright, get your pens out — red: fisting; orange: anything goes; yellow: water sports (urine); green: escort work; light blue: oral sex; dark blue: anal sex; purple: piercing; grey: bondage; black: S&M; and brown: scat play. If you wore your hanky in your left pocket, you were deemed as more submissive, or a "bottom," whereas the right pocket meant that you were a "top" or more dominant. No verdict on what was code for "versatile," though.

Photo: Michael Nagle/Getty Images.

As we head into June, don't be surprised if you catch a few handkerchiefs walking around your local Pride parade and festivities. And hey, visit your local LGBTQ+ fetish-themed boutiques to pick up some for yourself; though predominantly used by gay men, handkerchiefs know no gender. The landscape of homosocialization may have been transformed by social media, but why not unplug from Grindr or Tinder and go at it old school for a change? (Safely, of course.) Happy hanky'ing!

Welcome to MyIdentity. The road to owning your identity is rarely easy. In this yearlong program, we will celebrate that journey and explore how the choices we make on the outside reflect what we’re feeling on the insideand the important role fashion and beauty play in helping people find and express who they are.

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