What are you into? If I was wearing my hankies, you’d know what I like. Hanky code hit its peak in the ’70s — an under-the-radar system used by gay men seeking casual sex and kinky playmates in the pre-internet era. Colored hankies in your back pocket (left pocket for “top,” right pocket for “bottom”) signified what sex you like and what you’re looking for.
This was also called “bandana code” or “flagging.” As with most queer history, interpretations of the code differ. Different hanky code guides are on the internet, some with conflicting meanings. This slideshow is a composite of various online guides — with one major omission. Much of the original code focused on race (yellow with white stripe, right pocket, meant you wanted an Asian top; light blue with black dots, left pocket, meant you wanted a blow job from a black man). I’ve decided to halt our long history of racism and have removed these. Don’t see your favorite color/fetish here? Chalk it up to an underground system that was never officialized.
This is a hanky code guide for today — for guys who in 2017 are tired of hookup apps and ready to hit the streets. Let’s bring cruising back.
A word of warning from Alex Cheves.
My name is Alexander Cheves, and I am known by friends in the kink and leather community as Beastly. I am a sex-positive writer and blogger. The views in this slideshow do not reflect those of The Advocate and are based solely off of my own experiences. Like everything I write, the intent of this piece is to break down the stigmas surrounding the sex lives of gay men.
Those who are sensitive to frank discussions about sex are invited to click elsewhere, but consider this: If you are outraged by content that address sex openly and honestly, I invite you to examine this outrage and ask yourself whether it should instead be directed at those who oppress us by policing our sexuality.
For all others, enjoy the slideshow. And feel free to leave your own suggestions of sex and dating topics in the comments.
Hungry for more? Follow me on Twitter @BadAlexCheves and visit my blog, The Beastly Ex-Boyfriend.
Black on left = sadist/S&M Top. Black on right = masochist/S&M bottom.
S&M (also written S/M) stands for sadism and masochism. This is “ground zero” of kink. Sadists like inflicting pain. Masochists like receiving pain. There are various versions of S&M (this author is an anal masochist, for example). All of them eroticize pain and pleasure.
Why “ground zero”? Most kinky sex practices play with pain and pleasure — even ones that would not be considered typical S&M. A flogger in San Francisco once told me that S&M is the stem of kink, and all other kinks sprout from it. S&M is the latter half of the BDSM acronym (bondage, domination, sadism, masochism).
Flagging black on left means you’re looking for a masochistic submissive to use. Flagging black on right means you are an S&M sub. Go to any kink/leather fest today and you’re bound to see some black hankies.
How To Flag Today: Plain black hankies (not paisley) can be created by cutting simple black fabric or ordering online.
Black with white checks on left = top for safe sex only. Black with white checks on right = bottom for safe sex only.
In years past, safe sex meant condoms. Today, flagging black with white checks would include PrEP, the once-daily use of the drug Truvada, which is FDA- approved as an HIV preventative for HIV-negative people. One common alternative to this hanky is a safety pin on the right or left back pocket.
How To Flag Today: This would solve that “safe or bare?” exchange some guys have before sex. I say “some” because if you’re in a lights-out backroom or blindfolded at a sex club, you’re likely in a bareback-only space and assume a degree of risk by simply being there. Since this hanky is one of the lesser-known colors, you will still likely have to explain what it means prior to hooking up.
Black velvet on left = camera-ready. Black velvet on right = photographer.
Today we have Instagram and hookup apps, so getting photographed or filmed may not have the same illicit allure as did in more heavily closeted days. The risk of a picture is that it can expose your secret if seen by the wrong people. Some interpret this hanky to mean “XXX star” on the left and “pornographer” on the right.
How To Flag Today: This is one you’ll probably have to make yourself, as many queers of years past handmade theirs. Find the nearest fabric store.
Gray on left = bondage top. Gray on right = bondage bottom.
Much of the hanky code is no longer widely recognized. The leather and BDSM communities keep it going, but even the most devoted kinkster will have a hard time identifying the more obscure colors. Gray is still widely recognized to mean (and is associated with) bondage and the bondage community.
Flagging gray on left means you’re a bondage dominant. Flagging gray on right means you’re fit to be tied. Obviously more negotiation must be discussed — what your limits are, what your safe word is, what bondage skill level you’re working with — before jumping into the ropes.
How To Flag Today: If you’re into bondage or bondage-curious, grab a gray hanky and go to the next leather/fetish event nearby. If you’re a bondage beginner, here’s a tip: It’s best to learn the ropes from a pro on yourself before tying up someone. Flag on the right and be prepared to tell interested parties that, while you’re not explicitly submissive, you are looking to learn.
Light blue on left = looking to get sucked. Light blue on right = cocksucker.
This hanky would have been useful on my recent trip to Provincetown. A group of us were milling about on the beach late at night. The guy beside me pulled out a massive 10-incher and pushed me down to suck it. I choked on it for several minutes before standing up and bending over — and he pushed me away. He did this several times to several guys until the message was clear to the pack: He was there for blow jobs only, no anal.
How To Flag Today: Be prepared to explain when you’re cruising.
Mosquito netting on left = outdoor sex top. Mosquito netting on left = outdoor sex bottom.
Some items on the hanky code aren’t hankies at all. The modern-day equivalent of having mosquito netting in your back pocket would be to send someone a message on Grindr: “Into public?” A lot of guys love public play, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone with mosquito netting hanging out of their back pocket in the nearest gayborhood.
How To Flag Today: This will almost certainly require some explanation.
Medium blue on left = cop. Medium blue on right = looking to get cuffed.
Arrest me, officer!
How To Flag Today: This one may have died with antiquity, as it depends on gay cops widely knowing what this hanky color means.
Navy blue on left = ready to fuck ass. Navy blue on right = looking to get fucked.
Navy (fucking), red (fisting, see number 12), and yellow (piss, see number 22) may be the three most widely known hanky colors still used. Navy means you’re DTF, with the implicit addendum that you play bare — no condoms.
How To Flag Today: Grab a navy hanky and go!
Light green on left = verbal abuse top. Light green on right = verbal abuse bottom.
Any alpha doms looking for submissive fag bottoms? Here are some hankies for you.
How To Flag Today: This is a lesser-known color, so you may have to do some explaining when you’re finished choking on his cock. And, of course, after you’ve serviced all his buddies, you sick little slut.
Toothbrush on left = my place. Toothbrush on right = your place.
Wanna stay the night?
How To Flag Today: Grab a toothbrush — but please, not a clunky electric one.
Teal on left = CBT giver. Teal on right = needs CBT.
CBT stands for cock and ball torture. This includes ball-stretching, ball-bashing, ball-crushing, ball-punching, E-stim, and other forms of cock and ball S&M.
How To Flag Today: Again, this one may require some explaining, but CBT scenes are incredibly hot, so if you flag this one at the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, be ready for interested and willing partners.
Red on left = fist top. Red on right = fist bottom.
Red may be the most widely known hanky color today. In kink, the color red is widely associated with the fisting community. Whether you’re at International Mr. Leather in Chicago or some kinky gay circuit party in Berlin, a red hanky in the back right pocket (or tied around the right wrist) means you’re a fist bottom — vice versa if you’re a top.
Red can be easily incorporated into fashion; it’s not hard to find a red leather harness or red socks. At events where you can expect many other fisters present, wearing red will at least suggest an interest in fisting.
How To Flag Today: While this is not official (none of this is), some fisters say tying a red hanky around your neck means you’re a versatile fister. Since solid red hankies are hard to come by without cutting a fabric square, red paisley is fine.
Red lace on left = group sex top. Red lace on right = group sex bottom.
How To Flag Today: Fuck groups have always been associated with drugs, but there’s another hanky for that, so don’t assume. Today you’re more likely to get lucky finding a group on one of our various sites/apps than you will with a strip of red lace hanging out of your back pocket.
Dark red on left = two-handed fister. Dark red on right = two-handed fistee.
Skilled fist tops/bottoms sometimes flag dark red. Can you take two?
How To Flag Today: Same as number 12, but with more J-Lube.
Light pink on left = dildo fucker. Light pink on right = dildo fuckee.
“Dildo,” depending on who you ask, may be substituted with any toy. This is the hanky for toy pigs — some who may not not like dildos, but have a fetish for other toys (butt plugs, p-spot massagers, and so on).
How To Flag Today: Toys get a bad rep in gay sex discourse because many folks still think toys are secondary to “actual” bodies and “actual” sex. I’d cheer on a guy flagging light pink at a kinky gathering, but maybe that’s because I love ass toys.
Dark pink on left = nipple torturer. Dark pink on right = wired nips.
You need a few toys for a good night of tit torture: tit clamps, nip suckers, clothespins, ice cubes. The best is when you’re tied up, tits rock-hard. Have fun!
How To Flag Today: If your nips are wired and you’re looking to get them used, this one’s for you.
Maroon on left = cuts. Maroon on right = bleeds.
Hematolagnia is the blood fetish. Some guys love blood play, so long as it’s in a controlled, safe word-respecting environment. Remember to apply RACK at all times — “Risk Aware Consensual Kink.”
How To Flag Today: This one will need ample discussion prior to play. You will likely have to explain it and risk guys’ aversion. Blood, like shit, is something many kinksters draw a line at — perhaps not realizing that you can get off from the sight of blood without seeing buckets of it, and that you can take safety precautions to prevent injury and infection. Blood fetish often overlaps with more accepted kinks like flogging, caning, whipping, paddling, and other forms of corporal punishment.
Magenta on left = armpit-loving top. Magenta on right = pits sniffer/licker/cleaner.
Clean these pits, pig.
How To Flag Today: Being a more obscure color, this may require some explanation. If you’re in a sweaty group of shirtless gay men on a dance floor and have moved in on someone, just nosedive for it. Tuck your head in his pit and start licking. He’ll get the hint, and will more than likely lift up his arm and let you feast.
Purple on left = piercer. Purple on right = piercee.
The piercing fetish — piquerism — is more common than you might think. Ready for a PA?
How To Flag Today: I must stress the importance of sanitized needles and only getting piercings done in reputable piercing parlors. There was a time not long ago when PAs, nipple piercings, and other fetish piercings were hard to come by, and you had to travel. Today, clean piercing parlors are widely available. Use them.
Lavender on left = drag queen fucker. Lavender on right = drag queen.
Be generous when you tip your queens.
How To Flag Today: This is one that most drag queens know. Go ahead and flag it!
Leopard print on left = tattoo-loving top. Leopard print on right = tattoo-loving bottom.
Some guys are really into ink.
How To Flag Today: This one will likely require some explanation, but at least you’ll look fabulous.
Yellow on left = watersports/piss top. Yellow on right = piss drinker/human urinal.
How To Flag Today: Like red (fisting), yellow is one of the more commonly known hanky colors. Yellow in general is associated with piss pigs and is common among rubber fetishists and fisters. If you’re into all these scenes and more (you’re not the only one), consider wearing an orange hanky.
Pale yellow on left = spitter. Pale yellow on right = loves spit.
Spitting (into guys’ mouths, on their faces, on their holes) is common in the rougher arts — in verbal abuse scenes, domination scenes, piggy public scenes, bondage, S&M, etc. But sometimes guys just like to be spit on, or to guzzle your drool, or get gagged and watch their saliva string down while they get mercilessly paddled. Spit, like all bodily fluids, gets fetishized.
How To Flag Today: Some explanation required, and make sure it’s pale yellow (not cream, peach, or white, as these are other code colors).
Mustard yellow on left = hung (8+ inches). Mustard yellow on right = size queen.
This one needs a resurgence. If this hanky got back in vogue, I’d delete Grindr forever.
How To Flag Today: Cut a square of mustard-yellow cloth (which is truly one of the ugliest colors on the planet). And for the love of God, if you’re 8+ inches, wear it on left.
Gold on left = 2 guys/couple looking for third. Gold on right = couple-hunting.
Gay couples are the masters of taking home thirds, setting up threesomes, and guy-hunting as a duo. You don’t need your partner present (or flagging) to represent the two of you. He may be at home gardening, at the supermarket, or hoisted up in the sling.
How To Flag Today: I love going home with couples, but if only one gentleman arranges it, I’ll need to see pics of the other fella. Have them saved and accessible on your phone.
Orange on left = anything, anytime top. Orange on right = anything, anytime bottom.
Truth be told, orange doesn’t really mean anything, anytime. You can’t be expected to do needle play right there in the bar. Orange is what you wear if you have so many interests that your back pockets couldn’t possibly fit all the hankies of the kinks you’re into (I could flag orange on right).
Orange flaggers are the multikinky, extra-adventurous guys with skill and experience in a variety of fetish scenes. Orange on right means you’re a multikinky bottom, top means you’re a multikinky top.
How To Flag Today: I’ve seen orange and orange paisley used for this color. Both work fine.
Apricot on left = chubby guy. Apricot on right = chubby chaser.
Sorry, abs. Bellies are back! If you like big boys, find an apricot hanky.
How To Flag Today: Good luck finding an apricot hanky. Your best option is to go to a fabric store. Apricot is an unusual and obscure color, so you may have to search around.
Coral on left = suck my toes. Coral on right = sucks toes.
Let’s let the antiquated term “shrimping” — toe-sucking — die. At one point in the past this was presumably a more common fetish than it is now (if you don’t think sexual fetishes go in and out of style, you’ve clearly not witnessed the modern resurgence of pup play). If toe-sucking is your thing, here’s the hanky for you.
How To Flag Today: This one is going to take some explaining, mainly because it’s going to physically resemble light pink, apricot, and other hanky colors. Unless you went to design college, you may not be able to immediately spot the difference between brink pink and fuschia. Coral’s look-alikes are salmon pink and rose. Be prepared to tell people what color it is and what it means.
Rust on left = cowboy. Rust on left = cowboy’s horse.
Ponyism — or pony play — is a sexual role-play in which bottoms act stereotypically like horses. It’s one of many eroticized animal play scenes, but horse/pony play often takes a more intense dominant/submissive dynamic than pup play (its softer, sweeter, more popular cousin). Horses are buckled up and steered, ridden and whipped, mounted and lassoed. Wearing a rust-colored hanky calls to mind the Fickstutenmarkt (horse fair) sex parties in Berlin. Saddle up!
How To Flag Today: Your chance of finding guys who share this interest is greater if you create a profile on Recon or some other fetish-based hookup app/site.
Fuschia on left = spanker. Fuschia on right = spankee.
How To Flag Today: Not sure what fuschia has to do with spanking, but if you love crawling over daddy’s knee to get your ass reddened, flag it.
Kelly green on left = looking to buy. Kelly green on right = escort for hire.
I was in a club recently and came across my buddy wearing a kelly green hanky on his right wrist. He said that he had read conflicting accounts online saying the “for hire” hanky was either on the right or on the left, and that he wasn’t sure which it was. Different codes switched them. Either way, kelly green is likely to be recognized by gay men in the business.
How To Flag Today: Hit Hell’s Kitchen with your kelly green hanky flagging. You might find a client (or, if you’re looking to pay, a fun night) by the time you get back to your apartment.
Hunter green on left = daddy. Hunter green on right = orphan boy.
Here’s another one that’s fairly widely recognized. Daddies (older, established gay men) looking for boys (younger, less established gay men) is the oldest love story in the big, sexy gay book. Daddies are mentors, friends, lovers, trainers, helpers, and gay life guides (if a handful of special men in my life are seeing this: I love you, thanks for everything).
How To Flag Today: Wear your hunter green hanky with pride.
Drab olive on left = military top. Drab olive on right = military bottom.
Sort of obvious, and sort of easy to confuse with the previous one, hunter green. In fact, on one of the few times I’ve flagged hunter green, someone asked me if I was in the military. A common alternative to this hanky is green camo — see number 48.
How To Flag Today: Do ask, do tell.
Gray flannel on left = suit-and-tie top. Grey flannel on right = suit-and-tie-loving bottom.
There are few things sexier than a man in suit and tie.
How To Flag Today: A gray flannel hanky goes beautifully with a suit, so long as you don’t let it trail out like a mess. Fold the hanky. Just leave the top peeking out, like a pocket square. There is a dapper way to do hanky code.
Beige on left = rimmer. Beige on right = needs a rimjob.
Who doesn’t love a good rimjob?
How To Flag Today: There is a marked difference between a mediocre rimjob and a good one. If someone’s tongue is so ferociously in love with ass that they flag beige, bend over.
Brown on left = scat bottom. Brown on right = scat top.
Guys into shit may be the most punished, stigmatized, and ostracized minority in kink. Across America, I’ve read countless gay hookup app profiles. A vast majority read, “No blood, no brown,” or make a point to specify scat as a hard limit they won’t cross.
This is sort of funny, considering the practice of douching before anal sex among gay men is a relatively new phenomenon. During the bacchanal pre-AIDS sex frenzy of the ’70s and ’80s, shit was reportedly everywhere. It takes a certain degree of boldness to wear a brown hanky, right or left, because it’s bound to elicit revulsion.
How To Flag Today: Many gay men grapple with shit-phobia. It’s a point of insecurity and locus of sexual shame for so many of us. Attitudes around shit and guys who like it are usually pretty strong. Be prepared.
Brown lace on left = uncut top. Brown lace on right = foreskin-hungry bottom.
Brown lace is one of the more obscure hanky colors, but if you love a hooded head, grab your brown lace strip today.
How To Flag Today: A visit to your nearest fabric store is in order.
Charcoal on left = latex fetish top. Charcoal on right = latex fetish bottom.
Latex is one of several fetishized materials in kink. Others include leather, rubber, neoprene, sheer hosiery, even spandex. Got a latex fetish?
How To Flag Today: An alternative, like leather (see number 42), is an actual strip of latex hanging out of your pocket, but since this is hard to find, charcoal is best.
Light blue with white stripes on left = sailor. Light blue with white stripes on right = looking for a sailor.
Sailors and Tom of Finland go together like piers and public sex. Sailors were once part of a glorious gay Americana, an archetype of man-on-man camaraderie “in the navy” that sadly hasn’t carried into present times. If you’re looking for a salty seaman, here’s the hanky for you.
How To Flag Today: This may be one hanky lost to antiquity.
White on left = looking to get jacked off. White on right = giving handjobs.
Cum hungry, leave happy.
How To Flag Today: White, oddly enough, is not a widely known color. I also don’t know anyone who intentionally seeks handjobs.
Holstein (cow print) on left = milker. Holstein on right = looking to get milked.
Milking is when you deliver an extended handjob, massaging a guy’s cock and prostate, typically over some significant amount of time, to generate as much cum as possible when he finally orgasms. Sometimes this is done as “sensory overload” torture with withheld orgasm. Milking scenes with bondage, in which the poor submissive is unable to touch his cock, can last for hours.
How To Flag Today: Milking is still a popular fetish and guys into it will easily recognize the print screaming “moo!” from your back pocket.
Black leather bandana on left = leather fetish top. Black leather bandana on right = leather fetish bottom.
Leather is the most commonly fetishized material in kink. Gear pigs, motor babies, biker boys, single-tail aficionados, pain pigs, sirs, subs, old-guard leathermen and new-guard kinksters come together under this one sexy fetish. We love the feeling of cowhide and buckles against our skin. If you feel electrified in your new leather harness, you’re one of us.
How To Flag Today: You can likely find a leather hanky at your nearest leather supplier.
Tie-dye on left = phone sex top. Tie-die on right = phone sex bottom.
Are you alone? What are you wearing? Take it off.
How To Flag Today: You will almost certainly have to explain your tie-dye hanky, then promptly give out your cell number.
Red with white stripes on left = shaver. Red with white stripes on right = looking to get shaved.
Shave fetish is common among skinheads and rubber pigs. Wanna get buzzed and bred? This one’s for you.
How To Flag Today: Don’t worry, it grows back!
Red with black stripe on left = bear. Red with black stripe on right = bear chaser.
If the hanky code was still widely used by gay men, it would be very useful. Love a big, burly, sexy bear? Here you go.
How To Flag Today: The international bear flag is a widely known symbol of the bear community, and it’s nothing close to red with a black stripe, so this hanky may not be recognized by the gents you want to recognize it. Other accounts of the hanky code say that stuffing a small teddy bear in your back pocket reads as “bear” and “bear chaser,” depending on which side you keep it in.
Baby blanket on left = looking for a human baby. Baby blanket on right = human baby.
Infantilism is a form of age play in which guys act stereotypically like babies. They crawl around, wear diapers, and cry. As you might can guess, scat play sometimes gets involved here. Guys into this scene rarely call it a sexual role-play, but some consider it one.
How To Flag Today: Blanket only. Pacifier optional.
Handiwipe on left = gives oil massages. Handiwipe on right = likes oil massages.
Lube it up.
How To Flag Today: There are few things more relaxing and erotic than an oil massage.
Green camo on left = military (non-specific). Green camo on right = loves soldiers.
There is an endless supply of military gay porn on the internet — it went through a surge in the early 2000s — but if you want to live them out, find a green camo hanky.
How To Flag Today: There are countless different kinds of green camo and no hanky guide on the internet specifies which one you should use. “US Woodland,” used by the American armed forces from 1981 through 2006, is the camo print most widely used and recognized in the world, so that pattern is a safe bet.
Dirty jockstrap on left (or simply worn) = wears dirty jocks. Dirty jockstrap on right = loves sniffing/licking dirty jocks.
They make a fabulous gag when one’s hands are tied. Just stuff the jock you’ve been wearing for three days in his mouth.
How To Flag Today: Keeping a dirty jock hanging out of your back pocket is much more conspicuous than simply wearing one. No one said the hanky code was always discreet.
Airforce blue on left = pilot/flight attendant. Airforce blue on right = loves flyboys.
I seem to know an unusually high number of gay male flight attendants — is this why?
How To Flag Today: Since you’re flagging an obscure hanky color, you may have better luck renting a hotel room near a major airport for a weekend and getting online.
Robin’s egg blue on left = 69 top. Robin’s egg blue on right = 69 bottom.
The roles of top and bottom seem a little arbitrary in 69. You’re both doing the same thing.
How To Flag Today: Robin’s egg blue is a beautiful color that has nothing to do with mutual, simultaneous blow jobs. May require some explanation.
Black lace on left = looking for femme bottoms. Black lacke on right = femme bottom.
Femme guys face a lot of stigma in the gay male community, with our absurd #masc archetypes and hetero-worship. Fuck that noise. Flag for a top seeking femme guys only.
How To Flag Today: You’ll likely need to visit a fabric store.
Red and white gingham on left = park sex top. Red and white gingham on right = park sex bottom.
Not to be confused with “outdoor sex,” which can mean anything from the woods to the dark open lot near my house (totally available and empty at 3 a.m.). The “park sex” hanky comes from a time when city parks were home to raucous gay sex under the cover of night. Today, you’d struggle to find a decent nighttime gay sex park in North America. Many city parks are now heavily patrolled; cameras are everywhere. This wonderful relic of pre-AIDS revelry resembles a stereotypical picnic blanket.
For a glimpse of the wild sex-in-the-park scene of yesteryear, read John Rechy's compulsive and erotic novel Numbers.
How To Flag Today: Simply cut a square from your mother’s picnic blanket. She won’t miss it. People don’t go on picnics anymore either.
Milk-Bone on left = top handler. Dog collar around the neck/Milk-Bone on right = human dog/pup.
Been a good boy? Pup play has surged in popularity in recent years — thanks largely to the internet and a new crop of social-media savvy, younger-aged pups. Like pony play, pup play is a role-play that falls under “pet play” or “animal play.” You bark, roll over, play fetch, eat out of a bowl, spend time in a cage when you’re bad, and get petted by your “handler,” the dominant in this milder dom/sub dynamic.
Dog play is something I define as separate from pup play and is much rougher, much more like verbal abuse scenes, in which you smear someone’s face in a shoe, tie his hands with duct tape, and fuck the living daylights out of him. This is dog-fucking, making someone your doggy bitch (incidentally, what I’m into). “Dog play,” by this definition, has been around for generations. Some say pup play is a milder, softer evolution of dog play, with a relaxed power dynamic that’s more appealing to beginner kinksters. Others say pup play isn’t a dom/sub role play at all, but simply a headspace in which pups and handlers disconnect from their daily selves and play with each other without words or judgement.
How To Flag Today: There is so much puppy gear available today that a hanky is going to be the last thing anyone notices. You can buy puppy hoods, tails, puppy tail butt plugs, padded “paw” mittens that restrict the use of your fingers, and endless t-shirts/gear that show your pup status with pride. There are even puppy hankies you can find with little bones and paws on them, which are adorable.
Keys in front pocket, left side = has a car. Keys in front pocket, right side = looking for a ride.
A “ride” may mean anything from a john looking for a paid trick or someone seeking a legitimate ride across town — perhaps to the bathhouse or motel.
How To Flag Today: Lost to antiquity, mate.
Keys in back pocket, left side = has a place. Keys in back pocket, left side = looking for a place to crash.
Countless homeless homos have used this for a place to sleep.
How To Flag Today: Be careful. Have an escape route.
Gold lamé on left = loves muscleboy bottoms. Gold lamé on right = muscleboy bottom.
Lamé is a metallic fabric you’ve probably seen onstage. It’s often used for theater costumes. It has a bright sheen and typically comes in gold or silver — perfect for that beefy, bubble-butt trophy boy of your dreams.
How To Flag Today: Not sure where one finds gold lamé. Raid your high school theater department?
Silver lamé on left = starfucker. Silver lamé on right = celebrity.
Looking for love on the silver screen? Silver lamé is your hanky.
How To Flag Today: Someone in Hollywood (can’t say who, but he’s not that famous) told me that starfucking is harder now that it was in years past. Cell phones and social media create paparazzi frenzies in real time. Wear a silver lamé hanky on your next casual stroll through Beverly Hills.
Kleenex on left = stinks. Kleenex on right = into BO.
If you smell him before you see his hanky, you know he’s legit.
How To Flag Today: Keep extra Kleenex handy. And soap.
White velvet on left = voyeur. White velvet on right = loves to show off.
Voyeurism and exhibitionism are two kinks that don’t get talked about enough. Watching and performing are among the hottest experiences in a kinky gay man’s life. If you love an audience or like being one, here’s a hanky for you.
How To Flag Today: Fabric store.
Lime green on left = wants a human food tray. Lime green on right = dinner plate.
Alternate interpretations of this color: Left = dinner with trick; right = looking for a meal. Although less common, food play is a role-play scenario I mentioned in my slideshow “30 (More!) Role Play Fantasies Every Gay Couple Should Try.” It’s one thing to be a piece of meat, and another thing to be the tray the piece of meat is served on. Bon appétit!
How To Flag Today: Talk openly with kinky people about what you’re into and what you want to try. Kink is a shame-free space, or should be. Talk about what turns you on.
Tan on left = smokes cigars. Tan on right = likes cigars.
Cigar fetish is as old as leather. For as long as there have been bondage leather dominants, there have been cigar dominants, smoky sling rooms, and human ashtrays. Want to hold his cigar with your hole? Grab a tan hanky.
How To Flag Today: Tan might get confused with beige (rimming). It’s up to you if you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Aluminum foil/silver cloth on left = E-Stim top. Aluminum foil/silver cloth on right = E-Stim bottom.
Electrical stimulation — E-stim — is taking the world by storm. E-stim is far from new, but today it’s much easier (and safer) to purchase an E-stim kit from a reputable kink supplier rather than wire one together yourself. When used safely, low-level electrical currents can feel intensely erotic. Many folks discover E-stim as a form of mild massage, since it vibrates and pulses the muscle tissue. For this reason, E-stim butt plugs truly feel like they’re fucking you. Turn up the dial a bit, and E-stim becomes a powerful S&M scene. Amp things up!
How To Flag Today: Aluminum foil is easy to find. Just scour the drawers in your kitchen. Playing safe in E-stim means playing knowledgeable. Play below the waist and never near the chest/heart.
Turquoise on left = water sex top. Turquoise on right = water sex bottom.
Looking to get wet and wild? Find a turquoise hanky.
How To Flag Today: Good luck finding a bathing suit with back pockets.
Ziploc bag on left = has drugs. Ziploc bag on right = looking for drugs.
Keeping a Ziploc bag in your right/left back pocket was a precursor to “PnP?”
How To Flag Today: Unlikely to work well today. Keep in mind that Scruff and Grindr are both cracking down on the TexT characTers you can and cannot use on your profile that imply drug use.
Union Jack on left = skinhead top. Union Jack on right = skinhead bottom.
It’s impossible to understand the skinhead fetish without understanding how a style can be eroticized. We fetishize the look and style of leather men and in so doing create leather culture, which can be seen as a queer spin on biker culture. Skinhead culture is simply a style and movement that began in London (hence the Union Jack) among working-class youth in the ’60s. I try not to turn my nose up at any scene, but today, skinheads are associated with anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and white supremacism, and I have a hard time looking past these associations.
The skinhead look fetishizes white, slender bodies, buzzed heads, piercings, tattoos, lace-up boots, and military jackets. Many gay skinheads (or simply “skins”) are into fisting, rubber, water sports, and other kinks. While it might purvey a hot look, the skinhead scene toes the line of “Aryan Brotherhood” that does — and should — make everyone uncomfortable.
It’s wrong to say that all skinheads are racist; in fact many skins across Europe and America are far-left and apolitical. Skinhead style has influenced designers like Alexander McQueen and Jean Paul Gaultier and has had marked impact on my favorite brand, Boy London. But the large number of racist extremists who have latched on to skinhead style in the U.S. and across the pond make me steer clear of it.
How To Flag Today: Don’t.
Terry cloth on left = bathhouse top. Terry cloth on right = bathhouse bottom.
Bathhouses have vanished from the world almost as much as the hanky code has — perhaps even more so. The bathhouse was once where closeted gay men traveled to fuck. Fewer of us are in the closet now. It’s harder for us to be corralled by a homophobic society into underground sex venues. We have our homes now. We have our neighborhoods (and even these are disappearing). Nothing quite replaces a dirty bathhouse night. If you haven’t had one, do so as soon as you can before they’re all gone.
How To Flag Today: If you’re in the bathhouse, where do you keep your hanky? Don’t tuck it in your towel. Just don’t.
White with multicolor dots on left = hosting an orgy. White with multicolor dots on right = looking for an orgy.
Not to be confused with red lace, which, meaning “groups,” implies a smaller affair. “Orgy” implicitly means bigger numbers, more space. Pulling off a group is easy — I’ll just get three or four guys together. Pulling off an orgy is harder. Spread the word! All are welcome! Bring your friends!
How To Flag Today: You may flag a hanky with multicolor dots all you want, but you’re likelier to rally together a bunch of horny compatriots via one of our many apps/websites.
69. Doily on left = tearoom top. Doily on right = tearoom bottom.
I left this one for the end because a) it’s consistent across every hanky code guide available online and b) a lot of younger gay men don’t know what a tearoom is.
A “tearoom” is a slang term for a public restroom where quick man-on-man encounters happen, or are known to happen. Let’s lower our hats, gentlemen, and place them over our hearts to mourn for the lost art of cruising in public restrooms. Adios, old friend.
How To Flag Today: Public restroom fuckery still happens, but just like bathhouses, backrooms, and nighttime parks filled with gay sex, tearoom hookups are relics of a cruise culture that’s been all but destroyed by the internet and apps; by the evolving role of the gay man in American culture; by gay bars getting priced out and shutting down; by ample police arrests; and, finally, by AIDS.
Wear your doily as a memento to the time before surveillance cameras were on every corner. Cruising and public sex once took place in bars, shopping centers, bookstores, baths, and men’s rooms everywhere. Today we fuck in our bedrooms just like straight people — or, at least, that’s what we’re supposed to do.
Want to push back against the tide of assimilation? Reclaim our spaces? Celebrate our history? Take a visit to your nearest fabric store. Let’s see what you’re into.