MEMBER ARTICLE: Is There Still A Place For The Gay Hanky Code?

MEMBER ARTICLE: Is There Still A Place For The Gay Hanky Code?

from Recon News

20 February 2024

By PaulStag

As the gay fetish and kink world grows ever wider it becomes increasingly diverse in its tastes. The variety/availability of specific interests has exploded since the turn of the Millennium, and many of our established traditions - largely from our 'coming out visibly' in the 1960s through to the '90s, now sit uneasily in the modern, livelier, open kinkster world.

We now travel further to circuit events, connect via online websites or phone apps, and have won many gay rights. As we become increasingly accepted, our safety has improved, and our visibility has never been higher. This has happened in a very short space of time, across one generation, and all of us, still happily mix together. Many players now operate on the scene, from two very different starting points and experiences. This is, of course, the basis of the 'Old Guard Vs New Guard' debate that continues unabated. Without question, we must protect our traditions and history. The fetish train has been speeding up over the last decade with the arrival of everything from PrEP to Puppies, Scruff to Superheroes, and Recon to Only Fans. It is truly exciting, and we need to get on board and hold on tight. But where does that leave our valued traditions from a few decades ago?

Recon has previously covered the basics and history of the hanky code, and its many colours, in features still available to read in the blog archives. Very simply, it was a system that gay men adopted from about 1970 onwards, to indicate that they were looking for sex. You signalled what you were looking for, by wearing a hanky in your back pocket. Choosing the left pocket would indicate Top/Dom, and the right pocket indicated bottom/sub. The colour of hanky was the other part of the code, which signalled what type of sex, guy, act or fetish you were looking for. Back in that era, where the closet was a much bigger deal and homosexuality was illegal, we were more exposed to homophobia, queer-bashing and being ostracised - just asking a guy in a bar a question, could be a fast track to the infirmary. So, we adopted our own 'secret' codes such as hankies, bandanas, and Polari.

We have moved away from the traditional all black 'leather clone', uniform, and have now embraced a multitude of colours and textiles, that has changed the definition of what a modern kinkster "should" look like. Many of the most well-known hanky colours, such as RED for fisting or YELLOW for watersports, have been adopted into modern gear - purely for fashion, choice, and style. A yellow stripe on a guy's rubber would traditionally signal a desire to be pissed on by 3 truckers with very full bladders. Nowadays we cannot always make assumptions – it could simply be that he likes yellow or finds the colour flattering.

With Apps and online profiles clearly displaying intent (whether you are a 'horsehung Alpha-male top', the 'biggest cumdump West of the Mississippi', or maybe into riding a wrist up to the bicep) we are now accustomed to a more direct way of communicating who we are, and what we are looking for. It is easier to change one's sexual mood and communicate it, and we can now be more direct and specific. We experiment more, and it is easy to find websites or fetish groups for whatever wacky thing we are into, especially if it gets our cocks twitching. If you like seeing guys in tighty whitey underwear being covered in gunge, or you're into busting your nut 8 times in a very sore session on an overpowered milking machine, you can find it with ease – without trudging around countless gay establishments looking for a green paisley hanky with a white border, in the left pocket of a guy that you might actually be into.

When you're out-and-about, it's become easier to ask a guy what he's looking for and what he's into – assuming you are unable to instantly find him on your GPS Grindr account 3 meters away. Generation X kinksters are very open, happy, unshockable, promiscuous, and arguably see little need for hidden codes which were necessary in a former era. Now they are just, a fashion statement, or seen as an antiquated (but important) part of our traditional fetish history.

How many hankies did you see during your last visit to MAL, Darklands, Pig Week, or Sleazy Madrid? Of the few that you did see, how many were linked directly to that guy's interests at that event? When did you last see a title holder refer to the hanky code or even style it out? Nowadays, on the stage of IML, Mr. Bear Europe, or Mr. Puppy Australia, you will see more colours than a Drag Race runway – and who up there is subliminally flagging their preferences for bondage or fisting!

We no longer feel as though we need to hide in plain sight. Many fetish guys want to stand out, and express themselves, as they feel out and proud and want to wear their best gear, to catch someone's eye. We spend fortunes on fetish clothing, which can come in as many colours, styles, and textiles, as brands like Mr S, or Mr.Riegillio, can produce.

The hanky code was a useful way of advertising your sexual preference, and it was particularly popular among the gay leather bar scene in the United States. In the 1980 cult classic movie 'Cruising', Al Pacino plays a gay cop who infiltrates a gay leather bar, and has the code explained to him by another leatherman. The "secret code" became less secret. Social networking platforms and apps have replaced the use of hankies in cruising areas, by digitizing the process, as hook-up app have made it easier to visibly flag your sexual interests. The modern fetish tribes such as bears, superheroes, sportswear guys, puppies, and rubber fiends, sometimes flag colours for preference, but they never fully adopted the 'hanky code' as it was very much part of the leather world and its history from times past.

By using online platforms, gay men can reduce the potential for the harassment, discrimination and abuse that they might face in a public space. Of course, that threat itself has declined in recent years. Online and digital hook-up apps like Recon, Grindr, Twitter, Planet Romeo and others, allow for niche preferences, and for people to openly list their fetishes, clothing preferences, and to be even more explicit about what they are looking for. This is where the replacement of the need for hankies may have come from.

As the trend reverts from its original intent as a secret signal, is the hanky code now, and in the future, under threat of becoming a mere fashion accessory on the periphery of our fetish world?

So, the next time you see Rob Halford from Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Famer's Judas Priest on stage with his red hanky in his left pocket, or Lady Gaga performing with a red bandana tied to her; ask yourself is it just for show, rather than them having the desire to fist the drummer up to the elbow at the interval?

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