We Are All Dancing Wildly (2022)

Secondhand Bandanas, Beeswax, Makeup, Gender Fluids

Meditations on the Hanky Code

The hanky code is a language whose roots have been lost to time. The world it grew up in no longer exists; A pre-AIDS dreamscape rife with prepositions no longer in use. To be “with” someone then was different. Its linguistic family lives on in Grindr and in that look they give you across the bar. But those colors and their fantastical connotations died with millions of our elders, except there is no quilt for lost words.

At the start of things, the hanky code was one-half joke. It helped to know left from right, tops from bottoms, but the colors came later, little adjectives. What started with utilitarianism (tops flag left, bottoms flag right) became a piece of culture rather than just a tool. More colors were given significance, and more jokes were made about the  hyperspecificity of cruising. At one point Queens Quarterly claimed puce bandanas indicated one was interested in discussion of pre-Minoan art. It makes sense to me that a language of ours would begin as satire. It gives me pride to think of one of my ancestors, their genes surviving the virus, hate crimes, compulsive hetersosexuality, trickling into me. How they parodied their own risky semiotics, giggling as they imagined new colorful words to describe the ways their bodies moved through space and the many ways they loved.

Today, I can’t hear their laughter. I can only imagine it. The sense of humor inherent in an extinct
(or at least extant) language, an untranslatable syllable, a sensation that lives in you and me and everyone queer everywhere, an echoing scream laugh inside our ribs, unexpressed in daily life, saved for the nights in, caring for one another.

At its best, the code was based on equals. Everyone involved had to be flagging one color or another to engage in the language together. It became an extension of a body on some sticky hot night along a bridge or somewhere secret where the language was whispered, a limb covered until just the right moment. And many times there were no words exchanged, just touch, just illegal sensation, symmetry.

I know something about you, and that is enough.

I may never see you again, but I will always know what it felt like to have your hand in my back pocket.