The basic principle was that a gay man could dangle from his back jeans pockets a bandanna hankerchief, sometimes accompanied by other artifacts, as a badge or sign of just exactly what he was interested in...or providing.
The code was a means to know before meeting someone, whether there was anything in common in terms of sexual interest, which was, to be honest, the focus of gay male life in the San Francisco of the late 1980's.
The code went something like this:
A hankerchief in the right pocket meant that the man preferred being on top, "giving" if you will, while a left pocket position meant a "receiver" or bottom player.
The color of the bandanna, and how it was knotted also had meaning.
A green bandanna meant that the man would have sex for money. This was usually worn by young runaways, or very buff athletes.
A black bandanna meant Sado-Masochistic play.
A yellow bandanna indicated water sports, or playing with urine as a sexual fetish.
A brown bandanna meant sex play with excrement.
A red bandanna signified "Rough Trade" or a willingness to engage in dangerous, violent or rough sexual activities.
A white bandanna meant 'vanilla' or very straightforward and non-kinky gay sex, and if it was accompanied by a small teddy bear stuffed beside it, in signified a desire for tenderness and cuddling. Seeing that combination always made me smile.
An orange bandanna meant "any time, anyplace, with anyone, in any fashion". Orange was the color of the indiscriminate sexual adventurer.
A violet or lavender bandanna was the rarest, it signified a homosexual transvestite, who preferred a feminine expression. Since most gay men were attracted to other, big beefy gay men, there was not a lot of interest in the feminine lavenders. This might be accompanied by a lace hanky as well, signifying a person who considered themselves transgendered. If I had had any interest in sex, and wanted to play, this combination would probably have been the one I would have used.
The bandannas were displayed in many ways, but always from the back pockets. A wild, fluffed out bandanna flag meant that the person was easygoing. A twisted and knotted bandanna signified the desire for more than a one night stand, at least a two day affair. Knots enhanced this effect, and for some, the number of knots suggested the number of days!
Bandanas were twisted together to form combinations. For instance, a person might display a braided Red and Green pair of bandannas which meant that they would engage in rough trade for money.
I never wore any bandanna, sex was the last thing I wanted with my inappropriate sex organs. This of course probably is a primary reason that I am alive to tell the tale, for AIDS forever obliterated this era, in all of it's colorful glory.
And I tell you, that
it was, in it's own way, glorious to see. It certainly was not boring.