Hanky Panky

Handkerchiefs remind me of a lot of things. Tied around the neck, they suggest an old-fashioned country crooner. Worn as headgear, they bring to mind L.A. gang-members or possibly music video back-up dancers.  And if you wrap one around your face to cover your nose and mouth you’re probably holding up a bank in the Old West.

But in the 1970’s in certain social circles, if a man placed a handkerchief in his jeans’ back pocket he not only announced his homosexuality but also his specific sexual fetishes. The Hanky Code developed in gay communities in Canada and the United States as a means of identifying sexual partners based on practices and compatibility. Colours and patterns symbolized different activities, from the relatively-vanilla (light blue for oral sex) to more extreme (black meant S&M, understandably). Friendly orange conveyed the rather daring message that you were ‘up for anything’.

While the back pocket was the most common placement, hankies were also looped around belts or tied around ankles. Worn on the left side they meant you were a ‘top’ (the penetrating role) while the left side signalled you were a ‘bottom’ (the penetrative side). Inexplicably, the sides could reverse meaning depending on which coast you were on.
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