Monday, July 18, 2011
The Hanky Code
Throughout the last couple of thousand years, western society has not been very kind to homosexual men. Life imprisonment, castration, and death have been common punishments - either state prescribed or mob-induced. It is not surprising that gay men developed secretive ways of communicating with each other. One such way is the hanky code.
Exactly where, when and how the hanky code came about is still debated, but it involves dangling a hanky or bandana out of one's pocket (rear, normally) to advertise a particular kink, slant, or sexual interest. The left side indicates tops, or a do-er, while the right side indicates a bottom, or do-ee, and color and patterns get down to the specifics of the interest. Those specifics are outside the scope of this blog, but remember, Google is your friend.
So how would you use this in an RPG? In a game with a modern setting, you can use the code as-is. I'm sure it would be great for confusing the heck out of a pack of investigative PCs - especially if the players have never heard of 'flagging.' For science fiction based games - imagine a hanky code that includes rishanthra - with colors and patterns indicating species. Oh Mr. Niven - you sly dog you. ;)
You could do something similar in a fantasy setting. But that is not what originally got me on this thought experiment. I don't really make gender inequality - or sexual preference inequality - a feature in my games. I just assume that, overall, the people of these worlds don't really care. The players bring enough of their own baggage in, anyway.
In fact, in my new city-based campaign Vayniris, the headless bureaucracy that runs the place actually promotes homosexuality. They've got 30+ million people to deal with in the city. They certainly don't want more.
So who is repressed in Vayniris? Who needs a secret code?
Well, my first thought is thieves and other hooligans. 'The Man' is always coming down on them. Rightfully so - yeah - but they are still in need of secrecy. So I think that a hanky code would be a great addition to a thieves' cant.
It could work like this: a thief who offers a particular set of services - such as pick-pocketing, second-story work, or kneecap-breaking would wear a set of handkerchiefs in one way. A person looking for a burglar or assassin for a particular job could wear a bandana in another way. So at the 'black market bar,' the customers and service-providers can, just with a glance, know whether they should talk to one another or not.
There is probably a lot to think through in such a thieves' hanky code, but it's a start. :)