Within the world of gay and bisexual men, the handkerchief code (hanky code, bandana code or flagging) is a semiotic system of non-verbally communicating one's interest in a sexual activity or fetish. The color of the handkerchief indicates a specific activity. The pocket it is worn in (left or right) signifies the wearer's preferred role in that activity. Flagging a handkerchief on the left side of the body typically indicates one is a "top" or "dominant" while wearing it on the right side of the body indicates one is a "bottom" or "submissive."
For example, a navy blue handkerchief indicates an interest in anal sex, and wearing it in the left pocket indicates a preference for being the penetrating partner.
The hanky code was widely used in the 1970s in major cities and some parts of the US, Canada, Australia and Europe. With the code only known to gay people, flagging was like a "secret" fraternity handshake in an intolerant and biased world. Many countries had laws that criminalized same sex relations. The practice allowed a gay man to signal to others without "outing" himself to those who would not know the code and presumably would disapprove. As LGBT people gained more acceptance, inconspicuous sexual "advertising" became more of a novelty.
Today, men who have sex with men (MSM) have many more options. To the relief of many, it is less common for MSM to “cruise" public parks and restrooms abating the risk of harassment or violence associated with such activity. Increasingly, in large swaths of the US, LGBT people no longer need to meet in secret. Their social interactions are becoming more a part of society at large.
Flagging has morphed into “digital” flagging in the age of social media, dating and hookup sites. MSM sites offer members to list fetishes and active or passive preferences as part of their online profiles.
The hanky color codes remain prevalent in the BDSM and leather gay community. Aside from handkerchiefs, leather shirts, pants and other gear are hued or trimmed in fetish colors. In leather competitions and formal events, traditionalists insist on adherence to the classic color definitions. In casual settings, however, the bandanas can be a fun conversation starter.
To receive a free Hanky Code card, use the Add a note to your order—Special instructions for seller section.