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FLAGGING

 

Queer Flagging 101: How to Use the Hanky

Hankerchief Code

Flagging: Fierce Way to Tell the World You're Queer

What is the Hanky Code?

Ladies Who Are Into Ladies: Finger Flagging Manicure

Color Codes: Flagging in the Queer Community

Secret Style Language of the LGBTQ Community

How to Queer Any Outfit

Gay Hanky Code Chart

Nail Polish: Life and Death of Femme Flagging

Hanky Code: Is It An Actual Thing?

 

Queer Coding
 

"Flagging has long been a part of gay subculture — a way of subtly and safely saying I’m here and I’m queer without having to out yourself to the straights. This tactic was especially employed in the old days (not so old days, it was really only like 30 years ago) when it wasn’t as safe to be outwardly queer. While our existence is still othered and persecuted in so many ways, we do have more ability to be freely ourselves in public. And thus, flagging has sort of fallen to the wayside."
-Corinne Werder, April 2018

 

 

Before Grindr, queers wore their preferences on their sleeves (and back pockets). By using bandanas, hankies, keyrings, or fingernail polish, the queer community has a way of sending a subtle signal or secret code to other members.

In a time where a discreet means of finding other queers and a means of quickly identifying interests was needed, bandanas or hankies were readily available in a variety of colors and prints. Worn wrapped around biceps, necks and wrists or tucked into the back pockets of pants and, with their colors and placement, left side or right, they became the key in a system of coded messages signaling an individual’s sexual proclivities, tastes and kinks, referred to as the "the hanky code."

 



More than just the gay equivalent of a pocket square, flagging is a way of communicating basic information without needing to speak. It can be described as a secret sex language. Bandanas are soft introductions or subtle invitations. They are facilitators of further interaction. They are self-labeling devices, material imbued with meaning, intended to provide enough information for cruising parties to determine the likelihood of an erotic match. In many cases, they provide a way of starting a conversation and making an initial connection.

When worn on the left side you were recognized as a "top," and right side, a "bottom." This was a universal recognition signal or code. While it initially started with only a few colors, an expanded array of specialty colors (and coded objects) were developed to convey, what are in many cases equally obscure sexual practices.

 

Queer Flagging 101: How to Use the Hanky

Hankerchief Code

Tutorial: Hanky Code

Flagging: Fierce Way to Tell the World You're Queer

What is the Hanky Code?

Ladies Who Are Into Ladies: Finger Flagging Manicure

Queer Fashion and Language: Hanky Code

Color Codes: Flagging in the Queer Community

Info: Queer Fashion

Secret Style Language of the LGBTQ Community

How to Queer Any Outfit

Gay Hanky Code Chart

Nail Polish: Life and Death of Femme Flagging

BDSM Hanky Code: Signaling Your Kinks to Others

Hanky Code: Is It An Actual Thing?

Info: Queer Symbols and Flags

Gay Hanky Code Discussed

 

 

Hanky Code

 

Flagging, or the hanky code, has been around for some time, some say since the gold rush. It became popular in the 1970s when gay men used handkerchiefs in certain pockets to signify sexual acts they were interested in giving/receiving — often in public parks or bathrooms or around the town.

The handkerchief code (also known as the hanky code, the bandana code, and flagging) is a color-coded system, employed usually among the gay male casual-sex seekers or BDSM practitioners in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe, to indicate preferred sexual fetishes, what kind of sex they are seeking, and whether they are a top/dominant or bottom/submissive.

Wearing a handkerchief on the left side of the body typically indicates one is an active "giver," while wearing it on the right side of the body would indicate one is a passive "receiver." Hanky placement was combined with hanky color to further indicate the referred activity. The hanky code was widely used in the 1970s by gay and bisexual men.

 

Traditionally (and in general), hankerchief colors have the following meanings: grey for bondage, black for S&M, blue for oral, purple for trans or non-binary, gold for threesomes, brown for scat, yellow for watersports, green for hustler, pink for dildo play, red for fisting, orange for adventurous, and so on.
 

Queer Flagging 101: How to Use the Hanky

Hankerchief Code

Tutorial: Hanky Code

Flagging: Fierce Way to Tell the World You're Queer

What is the Hanky Code?

Ladies Who Are Into Ladies: Finger Flagging Manicure

Queer Fashion and Language: Hanky Code

Color Codes: Flagging in the Queer Community

Secret Style Language of the LGBTQ Community

Info: Queer Symbols and Flags

How to Queer Any Outfit

Gay Hanky Code Chart

Nail Polish: Life and Death of Femme Flagging

Hanky Code: Is It An Actual Thing?

 

 

Flagging Yesterday and Today

The hanky code (flagging) was a 60s and 70s era way for gay men and BDSM fetishists to covertly signal their sexual interests in an age when seeking and having gay sex could get you arrested, beaten up or fired. Different colored handkerchiefs signified what sex acts you prefer and the pocket position indicated whether you were a dominant/top (left pocket) or submissive/bottom (right pocket).  Though it has largely fallen into disuse, it still serves as a handy conversation starter in some gay and lesbian clubs.
 

The origin of the hanky code is unclear. One legend claims it may date back to the mid-19th century when San Francisco’s population began to explode and was made up of a large majority of men who had traveled to the city looking for work. As a result, men were forced to dance together at socials, with some men wearing a blue bandanna to show that they were assuming the male leading parts in the dance while others wearing red bandannas to show they were taking the female following role in the dance. Another theory suggests that in the 1970’s a journalist from the Village Voice wrote that instead of wearing keys to indicate if someone was a ‘top’ or ‘bottom,’ gays should be more subtle and just wear different colored hankies.

As the hanky code became better known, marketers began creating meanings for every bandana color imaginable, but it’s likely that few people actually knew the entire spectrum because who could possibly remember all 65 variations or tell the difference between orange and coral in a dark bar?

 

Recently, sexually active high school students (gay and straight) have sometimes converted the bandana/hanky system into a bracelet/hair scrunchy system.  Trying to emulate a similar coding system as their club-going adult counterparts, teenagers might elect to wear colored plastic bracelets of colored hair scrunchies on their wrist to indicate to others their interest in exploring certain sexual acts.
 

 

Key Codes and Lesbians

In addition to gay and bi men, lesbians would also wear their keys hanging on a chain from their pockets to indicate top or bottom. This code followed the hanky code rules with keys hanging on the left indicating top, or keys on the right, bottom.

People involved in the leather scene used to (and sometimes still do) wear their keys clipped to their belt loops based on their sexual preferences: on the right side to indicate that the wearer is a bottom, and left if she’s a top. One oft-repeated theory says a Village Voice writer once jokingly suggested that gay men should dispense with this binary key system and develop a more complex system to reflect a broader taxonomy of sexual desire, thus sparking the creation of the hanky code.

The beltside key ring is one of the most enduring sartorial symbols of lesbian culture, one of the few stereotypes of our kind that’s both inoffensive and true. Baby gays searching the internet for ways to find their people and send out lesbian vibes will learn that the universal key chain signal for lesbians is the carabiner clip and even straight people know it.
 

Queer Flagging 101: How to Use the Hanky

Hankerchief Code

Tutorial: Hanky Code

Flagging: Fierce Way to Tell the World You're Queer

What is the Hanky Code?

Ladies Who Are Into Ladies: Finger Flagging Manicure

Info: Queer Fashion

Queer Fashion and Language: Hanky Code

Color Codes: Flagging in the Queer Community

Secret Style Language of the LGBTQ Community

How to Queer Any Outfit

BDSM Hanky Code: Signaling Your Kinks to Others

Gay Hanky Code Chart

Nail Polish: Life and Death of Femme Flagging

Hanky Code: Is It An Actual Thing?

Gay Hanky Code Discussed

 

 

Femmes and Flagging

"Well, it turns out flagging is having a resurgence in the world of femme lesbianism. Sweet, huh? The way it works is this: you paint all your nails one color, and then paint one solitary finger (usually the ring and/or middle finger) a different color."
-Jeremy Feist, Sept 2012

 

The hanky code has most often been associated with gay and bisexual men, though it doesn’t belong to just them. In more recent years, femmes in the queer community have developed their own form of flagging in response to femme invisibility. Femme invisibility is the term for what feminine-looking queer women experience when they try to convince other lesbians that they are, in fact, queer. It’s the utter lack of being seen as lesbians. For most femmes, bandanas or keys hanging from pockets would stand out rather than be discreet.

The idea behind femme-flagging manicures is that they’ll signal to nearby queers that you’re a woman who is attracted to other women. Primarily, most femmes will paint all their nails one color, and then paint their ring fingernails, or ring and middle fingernails, a different color (their “flagging” color). A pink manicure with a glitter ring finger, for example, could mean “femme for femme” (I am a femme lesbian who prefers to date other femme lesbians). Meanings traditionally parallel the traditional hanky code colors –- grey for bondage, black for S&M, blue for oral, purple for trans or non-binary, brown for scat, yellow for watersports, green for hustler, pink for dildo play, red for fisting, orange for adventurous, and so on.

The one potentially fatal flaw of the finger-flagging system is the two-toned approach to nails has become a larger, mainstream trend among straight women as well. Just like some straight dudes just put handkerchiefs in their pockets because it’s convenient, some women paint their nails different colors because it’s pretty.

[Source: Queer Events, Feb 2018]

 

 

Queer Flagging 101: How to Use the Hanky

Hankerchief Code

Tutorial: Hanky Code

Flagging: Fierce Way to Tell the World You're Queer

What is the Hanky Code?

Ladies Who Are Into Ladies: Finger Flagging Manicure

Queer Fashion and Language: Hanky Code

Color Codes: Flagging in the Queer Community

Secret Style Language of the LGBTQ Community

Info: Queer Symbols and Flags

How to Queer Any Outfit

Gay Hanky Code Chart

Nail Polish: Life and Death of Femme Flagging

Hanky Code: Is It An Actual Thing?

 

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