Tag Archives: passive men

Gay History: Bandana Codes

PIt seems like only a brief minute ago that on any night out in a gay nightclub, you would see all manner of guys there sporting bandanas and keys in their rear pockets, advertising to those in-the-know what they were into. Which pocket I used depended on my mood as I raced out the door at home, but there was no guarantee that that was the side it would stay on if the right guy showed some interest! Same applied to keys.

It was sort of one of those things that we took for granted, without stopping yo think that there was a history behind it. In times where being gay, and trying to attract a sexual partner, could not be done blatantly, so things like earrings, bandanas, keys and language played an important role in advertising what we were looking for.

Research seems to suggest that bandana (or hanky) codes originated in San Francisco after the gold rush. With a shortage of women, men danced with each other at square dances, and used coloured bandanas to denote what role they played – blue for the male, red for the female. Their hair would curl if they knew what they stood for now!

These days, they denote fetishes, or preferences. Wearing a bandana (or keys) in one’s left rear pocket denoted an “active” or “top” position for whatever the colour suggested, whereby the right rear pocket denoted the “passive” or “bottom” partner. Despite what many straight men think, these are NOT male or female roles!

There are some regional differences for some of the lesser practiced fetishes, though colours for the basics, or more common practices, are pretty well universal. The following list contains most of the basic codes, including some I wasn’t aware of.

There is also this alternate list of – in my opinion – bizarre and impractical objects used for some very rare fetishes. How true-to-form this list actually is, I’m not sure. I have seen small teddy bears being displayed by guys who are into cuddling…but as for foil, ziplock bags, chamois, cocktail napkins, enema nozzles or doilies, I’ve never seen it – though perhaps because I wasn’t looking for it!

I would have thought a celery stick denoted into vegetarians, so there you go!

I put in this link to Cowboy Frank for those who want to check out some very comprehensive lists of colours and items. http://cowboyfrank.net/archive/hanky.htm

Apart from the odd occasional leatherman – generally older – I haven’t seen people out and using bandana codes for many a year now. Its heyday was the 80s.

I also was not aware that there was a Raver Code, so obviously the tradition is carried on in other areas.

I believe, according to an article on hanky codes in the Village Voice, a twink bandana code exists, but I’ve not to-date been able to track it down. For nostalgia purposes, I include this list from Image Leather, which would seem to be a leather bar.

Back in the day, bandana codes were useful for knowing what you were getting yourself into when you went home with someone, and prevented those “Oh…I’m sorry…I’m not into that!” moments, as the whips come out.

Purely for both interest, and novelty value, I attach several other lists to peruse, at the end of this article.

Tim Alderman (C) 2016