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San Francisco Life LGBTQ search San Francisco

Gay hanky code: A dive into the color-coded language of desire

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A Night at the Roxbury. Some people still find it annoying when others ask what they’re sexually into, so imagine if it could get you arrested.

Naturally, in the absence of the internet, the gays needed a safe and discreet way to cruise in public. Thus, the gay community adopted the hanky code.Another theory about the origin is that gold rush settlers who used a bandana flagging system in dance inspired San Franciscan gays.

There was a shortage of females, so men indicated their role as lead or follow with hankies. In 1977, San Francisco photographer Hal Fischer produced his photo-text project ‘Gay Semiotics’, which helped bring the hanky code mainstream.

The color code evolved to bracelets and other adaptations, like the right ear being the “gay” ear. Knowing your history is fun and all, but the real treat is knowing what color bandanas to buy and how to use them.

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