Hanky ​​code

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“Hanky ​​Code” painted on a Paul Bunyan statue.
In the right environment, he would make it known that he likes to actively " fist ".

The Hanky ​​Code (also Hankie Code from English hanky  = (in US: childlike) short form of Handkerchief  = handkerchief ; hence sometimes also handkerchief code ; in English also referred to as Handkerchief code , bandana code  = neckerchief code, flag  = flag or flagging  = "show the flag") is a semiotic code which creates the possibility for the initiated to discreetly indicate sexual preferences and desired sexual practices by wearing different colored handkerchiefs or scarves. It was commonly used by homosexual men specifically looking for sex partners and by BDSM practitioners in the leather scenes of Anglo-America and Europe. Presumably due to the increased importance of online dating sites, however, its importance has decreased significantly.

The way the cloth is worn indicates the preferred BDSM role . Usually a handkerchief carried in the left back pocket (on the side of the heart ) is seen as a signal that the wearer wants to be active (“top” or “the one who penetrates ”). Conversely, the handkerchief worn on the right signals the desire to be passive (“bottom” or “the penetrated”). When worn around the neck, the scarf identifies the wearer as "flexible" (" switch " or "versatile"); Both active and passive sexual contacts are possible and desirable. For (BDSM or leather) lesbians, the signal code applies equally to other places where they are worn - such as handbags, breast pockets, etc.


In the middle / end of the 19th century it was common for cowboys , train drivers and miners to wear colored scarves in the Wild West . In the post- California gold rush in San Francisco , women were rare and men would square dance together . In order to distinguish the roles, a code was developed in which the male dancers wore blue scarves on their arms, belts or in the back pocket of their jeans , and dancers in the female role wore red scarves. (Although, according to historical color depiction, blue actually only became the color of men after the First World War around 1920.) Others report that scarves were worn on the right or left arm. The popular tradition of the gay and lesbian community of San Francisco sees this as a possible origin of the Hanky ​​Code.

At the same time the dirndl appeared in Bavaria and Austria . According to media reports, the ribbon with which the corresponding apron is tied symbolizes the relationship status of the wearer. Bound on the right side means that the woman is engaged or married, on the left side that she is single. Tied at the front it shows that the woman is wearing a virgin, and tied at the back that she is a widow. This practice is comparable to the hanky code. However, it cannot be regarded as a possible origin.

Around 1964, S&M leather guys in the USA sometimes wore badges with an "S" or "M". In today's BDSM scene, the ring of the O is used. This is mostly a finger ring in the form of a signet ring with a triskel on it. The rule is that the top wears the ring on their left hand and the bottom wears it on their right hand, while the switch wears it on a chain or cord around their neck. It must be noted, however, that in the story of O , in which the ring is first mentioned, the protagonist O, a female bottom, wears it on her left hand. Also there it is only worn by female bottoms. So you can't say for sure what the wearing method ultimately means, especially since the ring is now also worn outside of the BDSM scene.

Even before 1970, keys hanging from belt loops were known as characters, called "key codes". It was reported in TIME Magazine in 1975. Here, too, the key on the left hip indicated the " top " and on the right hip the " bottom ". Another story of how the Hanky ​​Code came about is based on this code. Around 1970, a journalist for the liberal New York weekly newspaper Village Voice is said to have joked that it would make more sense to use different colored handkerchiefs to express sexual preferences subtly instead of just using keys to mark “top” or “bottom”.

It is widely believed that the Hanky ​​Code was developed in the gay leather and jeans scene in the early 1970s . TIME Magazine reported on the use of the hanky code in the leather scene in 1975 and also printed a table to explain it. The Samois group printed the first adapted hanky code for women in 1978. The code was discussed in U.S. criminalistics in 1984.

In addition to the leather scene in particular, the code was rarely used in other bars and especially when cruising . The handkerchief tradition has also been known in South Africa since the late 1970s. However, only a few used it as a sex indicator; the majority wore it as a fashion accessory around the neck or on the wrist. However, they knew enough about the meaning of the code red, which is best known in the gay scene, that they never accidentally wear this color on the back on the right. In the meantime, its use has again been restricted to the leather scene and the bear community that comes from it , primarily due to changes in homosexual culture.

While sexual behavior was quite promiscuous for those who grew up in a repressive society in the 1970s and early 1980s after the Sexual Revolution and after Stonewall , and the Hanky ​​Code was an expression of it, many changed their behavior with the advent of HIV and AIDS . In 1984 a group in Texas also introduced a safe sex hanky, making safe sex a positive choice rather than a restriction. While openly homosexual life and living together was much more difficult in the past due to the rules of the majority society, the situation has improved in recent years. The possibilities of finding partners have increased and the number of those who live more or less hidden during the day and only look for a quick adventure at night is falling. As the self-confidence of homosexuals in general increases, so does the willingness of the individual to take risks to have a conversation with the other about preferences. Furthermore, Internet contact portals such as Gayromeo , Gaychat or Gaydar have become the main channels for many people to contact, especially when it comes to fast adventures and specialized preferences. All of this led to a decline in the use of hanky codes.

Another problem was that the lists of color / preference combinations got longer and longer and the hues became more and more difficult to distinguish, which was even more important in dark places. Some similar hues meant very different practices, such as light pink for dildo games, dark pink for nipple games, and magenta for axillary games. As an extension, not only the color was decisive for some preferences, but also the type of fabric ( e.g. satin ) or the pattern (e.g. dotted, striped). This made the code more and more difficult to understand, even for the initiated. A further complication was that, beyond the basic meanings, the code was not the same internationally, but could even differ from local to local.

Some gay contact and chat portals have taken over the use, where you can also read the meaning there via tooltip . Via the gay leather scene, the hanky code also found its way into the general BDSM scene in a modernized form and is used there occasionally, for example at parties.

Possible confusions

There was not always agreement within a cultural group about which side stands for active and passive. In non-English-speaking Europe, the left / right meaning tended to be temporarily reversed in the days before the Internet and was therefore active on the right hand side .

The division into "active" or "passive" can lead to fallacies:

  • In oral intercourse , as in language, this is often misunderstood, but it has to be logically integrated into the system. An apt explanation is: the “passive” is the one who is penetrated , while the “active” penetrates.
  • It is also difficult with prostitution. Is the active one the paying customer or the selling prostitute? By and large, two traditions have emerged: In the German-speaking area, the customer is "passive". In the USA the customer is "active".

Newer symbols for sexual preferences

An interest in being able to recognize at first glance what “role” a potential sexual partner plays in terms of penetration is also supposed to establish a new symbolic practice: It is becoming more and more common that instead of handkerchiefs in the back pockets, black leather bracelets are simply worn on the corresponding wrist become. As with the keys, this symbolism could lead to confusion if a black leather bracelet is unwittingly worn for purely fashionable reasons. There are also bracelets with color-coded inlays in the middle, the color selection is currently limited to white , yellow , red , blue and gray.

Excerpt from table (color examples)

In addition to the basic colors, which denote common practices or have an intuitive connection (e.g. brown = feces, yellow = urine, white = semen, olive green = military), other colors and meanings can vary depending on the region and locality.

colour meaning
brown Coprophilia / excrementophilia , "scat", "fecal games"
yellow Urophilia , "pee"
Gray Bondage , "light BDSM"
Sky blue Oral intercourse ("penetrate", receive fellatio ↔ "be penetrated", give fellatio)
Navy blue Anal intercourse
orange Do everything, Top ↔ Bottom (very experienced leather or fetish men who do not want to wear multiple colors)
red Fisting , fist traffic
black BDSM ( TopBottom )
White masturbate
Rosa (Engl. Hot pink) Dildo games
Dusky pink Edit nipples , "trim breasts"
magenta Lick armpits
Fuchsia Spanking
Bordeaux Dominance
beige Rimming
Mustard yellow big penis
Light green Male prostitution (DE: customer ↔ prostitute; US: prostitute ↔ customer)
olive green Role play (military games)
Forest green Role play (I'm father ↔ son / looking younger ↔ older)
B / W checkered Safe sex (right & left)
teddyTemplate: smiley / maintenance / teddy  teddy bear Cuddle
Paper handkerchief Paper handkerchief Stink ↔ sniff

Cultural mention

  • Peaches published the song Hanky ​​Code online in 2006 , in which she sang about Hanky ​​Codes. At the beginning she advises that you should know your hanky code better before you leave, asks the listener what is in your pocket and whether you know what it means. In the further course she explains some colors and the right / left carrying.
  • Published in 2001 documentary Beyond Vanilla (a reference to conventional sex ) was by the production company Hanky Code Productions Inc. produces.
  • In 1983 The Parker Sisters - Div. Of Fire Island Games, Inc. brought out a Gay Monopoly that bought bars and saunas . If you landed on a "manipulation" field, you had to take the top of the 16 cards from "Ollie's Hanky ​​Code" and correctly explain what it means to be worn left and right. Correct answer received $ 69, and incorrect answer paid $ 69 to the Stonewall reserve.
  • As the illustrator of the leather scene in the 1970s and 1980s, Tom of Finland drew some of his characters with hanky codes.

Web links

Commons : Hanky ​​Code  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Eric Partridge, Tom Dalzell, Terry Victor: The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English , Routledge, 2007, ISBN 0-415-21259-6 , p 320; hanky or hankie: UK 1895, US: childish, UK: virtually conventional. hanky code, hankie code
  2. a b Norbert Elb: SM-Sexualität: Self-organization of a sexual subculture , Psychosozial-Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-89806-470-0 , p. 59
  3. Sensuous Sadie: It's Not about the Whip: Love, Sex, and Spirituality in the BDSM Scene , Trafford Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1-4120-0183-8 , p. 186
  4. James L. Limbacher: Sexuality in world cinema , Scarecrow Press, 1983, p. 12, ISBN 0-8108-1609-1
  5. a b Gloria G. Brame: Come Hither: A Commonsense Guide to Kinky Sex , Simon & Schuster, 2000, ISBN 0-684-85462-7 , p. 311
  6. a b Cindy Patton: Notes for genealogy of safe sex , in Kenneth Plummer: Sexualities: Critical Concepts in Sociology , Taylor & Francis, 2002, ISBN 0-415-21276-6 , p.178
  7. Felice Newman: The whole lesbian sex book: a passionate guide for all of us , Cleis Press, 1999, ISBN 1-57344-088-4 , pp. 185, 196
  8. ^ A b Susan Stryker, Jim Van Buskirk Gay by the Bay: A History of Queer Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area , Chronicle Books, San Francisco 1996, ISBN 0-8118-1187-5 , p. 18
  9. Caroline Kaufmann: On the semantics of the color adjectives pink, pink and red - A corpus-based comparative study using the color carrier concept (PDF; 1.9 MB) Dissertation for the Doctor of Psychology, Herbert Utz Verlag, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-8316-0652-8
  10. a b c Ken Cage, Moyra Evans: Gayle: the language of kinks and queens: a history and dictionary of gay language in South Africa , Jacana Media, 2003, ISBN 1-919931-49-X , p. 41
  11. Susan Gray: Gay San Francisco. A quick history , in: Michael B. Murphy, Let's Go, Inc., Catlin Casey, Heather Jackie Thomason, Jordan Blair Woods: Let's Go San Francisco 4th Edition , Macmillan, 2003, ISBN 0-312-31997-5 , pp. 63
  12. Gay leather bars , Gay Leather Fetish History, Cuirmale, Netherlands
  13. ^ Paul Baker: Fantabulosa: a dictionary of Polari and gay slang , Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, ISBN 0-8264-7343-1 , p. 153
  14. Crossing Signals , TIME Magazine, September 8, 1975
  15. Cecilia Tan: Bisexuality & S / M: The Bi Switch Revolution , in: Naomi Tucker: Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queries, and Visions , Haworth Press, 1995, ISBN 1-56023-869-0 , p. 168
  16. ^ Origins of the Hanky ​​Code. masterces-inleather.com, September 11, 2002, archived from the original on January 31, 2009 ; accessed on November 17, 2012 (English). Origins of the hanky code. (No longer available online.) Chaostime.com, archived from the original on March 4, 2016 ; accessed on November 17, 2012 (English). Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Paul Baker: Fantabulosa . A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, ISBN 978-0-8264-7343-1 , pp.
     @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / chaostime.com
     141 (English, limited preview in Google Book Search [accessed November 17, 2012]).
  17. Linda Rapp: Symbols ( Memento of the original from January 31, 2012 on WebCite ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , HTML-S. 4, 2003, Version: May 24, 2008, in: Claude J. Summers (Ed.): Glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.glbtq.com
  18. ^ Gays on the March , TIME Magazine, September 8, 1975
  19. Marc Stein (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History in America: Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History in America , Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004, v. 3, ISBN 0-684-31264-6 , p. 68
  20. ^ National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Howard University Center for Youth and Community Studies, SAGE Publications: The Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency , Vol. 21, 1984, p. 263
  21. ^ Sadie Sensuous, Sensuous Sadie: It's Not about the Whip: Love, Sex, and Spirituality in the Bdsm Scene , Trafford Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1-4120-0183-8 , p. 186
  22. a b In a book from Great Britain: Tim Edwards: Erotics & politics: gay male sexuality, masculinity, and feminism , Routledge, 1994, ISBN 0-415-09903-X ,
    p. 96 Table 1: left: passive; right: active
    light green: left: buying; right: selling
    p. 166: is occasionally confusing gay men [...] left: preference to suck; right: preference to be sucked. [Fits with his active / passive definition.]
    And he gives the following that got confused: Humphries, M. (1985) Gay machismo in A. Metcalf and M. Humphries (eds) The Sexuality of Men, London: Pluto.
  23. Albert C. Veldhuis: Monopoly - USA related Games ( Memento of the original from April 17, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , muurkrant.nl/monopoly/, version: December 25, 2008 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.muurkrant.nl
  24. Micha Ramakers, Finland Tom: Dirty Pictures: Tom of Finland, Masculinity, and Homosexuality , St. Martin's Press, 2001, ISBN 0-312-27694-X , p. 252