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"I called several guys who might have known the origins of hankies but the only one who came to the phone and answered my question said that the hanky thing started on the West Coast. Originally there were only two colors: red and blue. "

Hanky Codes
by Jack Rinella

Walt wrote in to ask about our Bandanna Color Chart, or as we refer to it, the Hanky Code. It seems we've were running the description for light blue (cock sucking) in reverse order. "Isn't the color code the same nationwide?" he asks.

Shows how much I pay attention to the hanky code, doesn't it? I'll get the editors to fix it, since the dominant partner should be wearing his hanky on the left. On the other hand, if the cocksucker is really aggressive about his sucking, maybe he's the top.

But asking a question like that is a typical Rinella diversionary tactic. We all have this idea that cocksuckers must be bottoms, so they should be "advertising on the right."

My gray handkerchief hasn't been out of my top dresser drawer for years. Somewhere along the way, I gave up on hankies, keys, and codes. In fact, if you go into most leather bars you will find that to be the case with many leather folk. It's a fad on the wane.

The noticeable exceptions, of course, are among fisters and pissers. Here and there a few people will still show their fetish with a hanky and that is really the benefit of hankies: they allow very specific notification of what you're looking for. As I said, this is most evident with those into red or yellow signals. Those folks are usually quite intent to get what they want and so when you see the appropriate color in their back pocket you can make a pick-up decision rather quickly.

I met Gary that way, when I was first coming out. His red handkerchief attracted my eye, we sat and talked for about 90 seconds and then grabbed a cab to my place. I know the timing because my friend Ed was watching us and later commented that he couldn't believe how quickly we had gotten out of there.

I called several guys who might have known the origins of hankies but the only one who came to the phone and so answered my question said that the hanky thing started on the West Coast. Originally there were only two colors: red and blue. They were the simple bandannas that farmers wear. Blue was for bottom, red for top. It was only later that the colors evolved.

Keys began to come into usage at this time too, though there was confusion as to which side was which. It seems that the East Coast picked one side for tops, the West Coast the other. The two merged, of course, in Chicago.

My informant remembers one guy who made a belt of keys so that they encircled his waist. That way, he had both coasts covered. There are several reasons why I don't favor the use of hankies anymore.

First of all, the color list is arbitrary and much too long to remember. What you see on these pages [of Gay Chicago Magazine] is only enough to fill in space not sold to advertisers. Believe me, if the areas filled with hanky codes were sold to some bar owner every week, you'd never see any part of the list.

I have a list that is thirty-one colors long. Forget it! Besides, what real leatherman is going to wear fuchsia? or pink? Get real.

Secondly, of course, I challenge anyone to be able to tell me what color most hankies are when you're cruising the back corners of a bar. The single light over the pool table isn't going to help you distinguish black from navy blue.

Thirdly, of course, the hanky that you think will attract the man of your fantasies may, in fact, dissuade him from talking to you. We both know that in the end, the person, not the fetish is what is most appealing. If I'm wearing a hanky, I send a signal that I'm not interested in anything else, when in most instances such isn't the case.

I remember a bartender in Corpus Christi who took me out one night wearing keys on the left. As we chatted amiably between sips of beer, he asked me all sorts of questions about who I was and where I was from and what was I doing in the South. "What do you say we go back to my place and party?" he said sometime during our second dance. "I bet I could show you a real good time."

"I don't think so," I answered, looking at the position of his keys. "We're too much alike."

"I can be flexible," he said.

"Probably not flexible enough."

"Try me."

I shook my head "No" and glanced at his keys again. As long as he wanted the dominant part, he'd have to find it somewhere else. He looked at my eyes and saw whence I stared. He paused a minute in his step, grabbed the key ring, and switched it to the other side of his waist. "I can be flexible," he said again.

"What?" I asked.

"I can be flexible," he repeated. It wasn't that I hadn't heard him, so I said "What?" again. He looked at me a bit perplexed and then said, "I can be flexible, Sir."

I smiled, "Then let's go find out just how flexible you are, boy."

So much for signs. But then, I speak as one who can be fairly versatile. That position is where most people find themselves as well, so the placement of keys and hankies can get problematic. I have seen hankies in both back pockets. I've also seen pockets so stuffed with colors as to say "I'm game for anything."

Back in my earlier days I used to look for yellow hankies because I had come to the conclusion that a guy who'd take a golden shower from me would do most anything else. I'm eclectic and love variety, a little bit of this and little bit of that, so I keep myself wide open for all sorts of possibilities. That attitude is what makes me feel the way I do about codes and keys: "Don't fence me in."

If, on the other hand, you're dead serious about one thing or another, color codes are one way to establish contact. The best way, though, is to say a simple "Hello". Time and time again, guys ask me how can they meet people. The answer is always the same: "Break the ice." Go ahead, say the first words, and let the conversation go where it will. Keys, colors, the way we dress, the way we stand, and where we go are all parts of the formula, but without the first "Hello" or "Hi" or "How are you?" nothing will ever happen. So, Walt, enjoy those cocks and suck them carefully. And if you find a "real big one" that's not wearing a mustard hanky, go for it anyway. Thanks for writing.

LIGHT BLUE   Wants Head Expert Sucker
NAVY BLUE   Greek Active Greek Passive
RED   Wants to Fist Wants to be Fisted
YELLOW   Pisser Likes Piss
MUSTARD   Has 8" or More Likes 'em Big
ORANGE   Anything Anytime Nothing Now
KELLY GREEN   Hustler John
OLIVE DRAB   Military Top Military Bottom
BROWN   Scat Top Scat Bottom
BLACK   Heavy S & M Top Heavy S & M Bottom
GREY   Bondage Top Bondage Bottom
WHITE   Likes to be Jacked Off Likes to JO others 
Cuddler Cuddler


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Copyright 1999 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact

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