The Hanky Code: Sexual signaling

gay boston

This post is a republishing of Hanky Panky: An Abridged History of the Hanky Code, initially published in April 2019 by J. Raúl Cornier on Boston’s History Project website. I thought some might find this nostalgic while others born after the heyday of public cruising might find it interesting. In some ways, the hanky code could be considered a very early precursor to online “dating” apps like Grindr and Scruff which essentially moved people’s sexual predilictions online.

***** ***** *****

The hanky code was a covert sartorial code used predominately by queer men in the 1970s and into the 1980s. Simply put, a bandana is worn in one’s back pocket for the purposes of sexual signaling. The color of the bandana was associated with a specific sexual practice or fetish, and the wearer’s sexual role was indicated by which back pocket the bandana resided in (tops wore bandanas in their left pocket; bottoms wore bandanas in their right pocket). The hanky code initially began with the use of red bandanas to discreetly identify practitioners of fisting. A decoder list was created as other color/fetish associations were added. (In many early hanky codes, red typically appears as the first color.) Queer businesses printed the hanky code decoder lists for distribution. Erotica shops, bookstores, and catalogs provided decoder lists with the purchase of bandanas, while gay bars printed the lists with location information as a form of marketing. The origin of the hanky code exists like myth or urban legend, with two or three main stories surrounded by a variety of altered details, depending on the source.

You can read the full article here.

About The History Project
The History Project is the only organization focused exclusively on documenting and preserving the history of New England’s LGBTQ communities and sharing that history with LGBTQ individuals, organizations, allies, and the public. Visit their website to learn more about The History Project.

3 responses to “The Hanky Code: Sexual signaling

  1. Pingback: Before Dating Apps Like Grindr There Was...The Hanky Code - The Randy Report

  2. Interesting to learn about The History Project/New England. The Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest ( serves a similar function for Oregon and Washington. Their website is extensive. When I started writing #MedicineForTheBlues they were very helpful in getting me started with gay history in the Pacific Northwest.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There are still a few of us who continue to flag 🙂



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