Femme Flagging: Nail polish hanky code

Finger Flagging all day.

This afternoon I stumbled across Cleanlinez’ tumblr post about using nail polish as an updated hanky code for femmes and I just wanted to signal boost it. The photo has so many unrelated notes and this is too smart to get lost in the shuffle. I want to capture some of this conversation for posterity!

Neon pink + Grey Area = let's queer the shit out of this grey afternoon.

Cleanlinez suggested:

an alternative to the hankie code where painting a specific fingernail/color would serve to “flag” in a similar way… and you don’t need pockets (solves my whole flagging-whilst-wearing-a-dress problem).

Goldengray said:

I thought about some femme langourously stretching their hands over a bar to show off their ring finger “flags” and swooned a little inside.

Jessica/Tangledupinlace replied:

YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!! I used to paint my “fucking fingers” differently than my others for ~*femme viz*~ for a while. I should go back to that <3

For the uninitiated, the hanky code originated in queer cruising culture and is basically the idea that you wear a different coloured hanky to signify certain kinks. My nail polish collection is absolutely larger than my stash of hankies, & I love the idea of adding some functionality to the trendiness of elaborate nail designs. I also like the idea that there are already some queered femme manicures out there. Checking out a person’s hands is one of my fav things to do.

Lavender hanky by hankycode on etsy.

Here’s some things I’d flag (or, should that be finger?)

  • Feelings top
  • Late night snacking
  • Knitting in bars
  • Drinking in high heels
  • Feminist makeupping
  • Long distance romance texts
  • Femme family
  • Puppy cuddler
  • Big spooner
  • Moustache makeouts

"Blank Hanky, Bottom Right" by art crush Vincent Chevalier, photo by David J. Romero

12 responses to “Femme Flagging: Nail polish hanky code”

  1. alagarconniere says :

    i’m going to think about this for a lot of time and think of all the cool things we can do. how closely do we want to follow the leatherman’s hanky code? how will we decide what colour combos mean what? for now i’m getting really hot and bothered thinking about jessica’s two-three finger flagging idea. i’m really really gonna need to invest in my colour variety in my nailpolish collection… all i’ve got is orange (Anything, anywhere, anytime – HELLO), red (fisting), and the pale pink i just got with you this weekend!

  2. Lily says :

    This will be really awesome! I was thinking that maybe we would need to re-work the leatherman’s hanky code because it was very much geared towards homosexual cis men when it was created and could be more inclusive in terms of who and what it encompasses… I think ring fingers should be adorned as “flags” on the left or right hand, and perhaps people looking for multiple things could have nail art incorporating all suitable colours? For femmes who aren’t looking for anyone at the moment then I’d say they could paint their fucking fingers (index and middle) a different colour, just to eliminate confusion between who’s flagging for some action and who isn’t.

    It could also be the other way around (femmes who aren’t looking paint their ring fingers) but it has allusions to traditional marriage which might not to be to everyone’s taste (including mine), as well as suggesting that anyone who isn’t flagging for action is taken. Maybe they’re just not interested in dating/fucking on that particular evening?

  3. delineatingkaj says :

    I think for simplicity it’d be cool to stick to most of the original colors, but we should for sure fix the busted up colors. My favorite least busted list is here: http://flaggingopinicusrampant.wordpress.com/hanky-code/ It also has less gross domism, which is nice. Also, So Treu on tumblr suggested multi-colored glitter for poc on poc, which sounds legit.

  4. Cuntext says :

    Okay, so…this has been bugging me since I started seeing this post pop up all over the place, and I had a lot of feelings about it, and I think maybe I can now articulate why it’s been bugging me.

    I don’t think what you’re describing here is flagging. I don’t want to make anyone feel shitty, and I’m all for using fashion and other aesthetic markers to express elements of one’s identity, but flagging has a context and a history that are totally absent from this description of it.

    Flagging is code, intended to signal to other kinky people that you, too, are kinky, and that these are the kinks you are into. This practice was created by a subculture of kinky people, and while I’m totally in favor of the various revisions to hanky code to make it less gay-man-centric and less dom-ist, I think that when you remove flagging from its context of kinky code, it’s no longer flagging.

    It’s no longer flagging for a couple related reasons. First, in this description (and as I’ve seen it being picked up on Tumblr and Facebook by people), you can “flag” anything you are interested in, like knitting in bars. This is where I see flagging being removed from the context of kink. Second, partly because you can flag any activity you enjoy and any element of your identity, it’s no longer code. It’s not really intelligible to anyone except the person who painted their nails and the people to whom they explain the significance. It’s no longer a nonverbal signal of kinship, shared community, or interest in being cruised: it’s no longer flagging.

    I think it can be really powerful to create your own meaning out of your own signifiers–I do this a lot with particular pieces of jewelry, for example. I just don’t think that it’s flagging when you do that. I also think it’s really powerful to spread a shared agreement of symbols. If the word keeps spreading and consensus about what colors/patterns mean what what emerges, maybe someday nail polish could be flagging, but right now, I don’t think it is.

    Thanks for reading, anyone who did! I wanted to put this out there, as a kinky queer femme for whom hanky flagging is currently a regular part of my femme practice. For me, it’s a way that I bring overt signals of my desire into my everyday existence; like, just because I am at work doesn’t mean I stop being a sexual person who’s into heavy BDSM. That place of personal significance is where I’m coming from here; I hope I expressed myself without trampling on anyone else’s personally significant practices.

    • bossyfemme says :

      Hi! Thanks for your thoughts. It’s really awesome to see people thinking deeply about this.

      I think you’re absolutely right: inventing a personal symbol for my particular nail polish pattern is probably not flagging, exactly for the reasons that you state.

      I have seen people express a desire to come up with a standardized list, based on the hanky code, that allows people to use flagging as a more universal code. Julia created femmeflagging.tumblr.com to start that discussion!

      I definitely didn’t anticipate this level of reception when I created this post. The list of things I’d flag is a pretty personal one, which is based on my own desire to express queer kinship without requiring a specifically sexual element. I think that flagging for queer relationships of all kinds is a worthwhile possibility, but moreover, my own life right now isn’t the sort where it would be appropriate for me to be flagging for sexual partners, & I didn’t want to give that impression on my blog, y’know?

      • Cuntext says :

        Yeah, I got you!

      • tweed off says :

        “my own life right now isn’t the sort where it would be appropriate for me to be flagging for sexual partners”

        So don’t appropriate it then?

        Flagging is about fucking, not knitting.

      • bossyfemme says :

        Flagging is absolutely about fucking.
        Lots of the discussion around flagging for femmes is a desire to be able to “flag” things that relate to queerness but not to particular sexual acts. People have suggested flags for things like queer/asexual/trans/survivor/poly/ask for consent etc.

        Writing about knitting particularly is definitely too specific to flagging in general, but a desire to be able to flag for queer friendships, say, is still something that lots of folks would like to do.

    • puck says :


      i keep trying to phrase stuff, but it’s not coming out. and i know that for me a lot of it is from being in a sad and lonely place that isn’t very queer and feeling defeated around how the hanky code is useless/invisible here, so why should i put energy into a new thing that will be even less visible?

      but i think that for me flagging has been all about dreaming that someone would recognize me from that, so i can see how “femme flagging” would be similar in its not-really-doing-anything-for-me-except-in-my-mind … which in that case, i’d be fine with folks making up their own meanings too. (:

  5. puck says :

    and then i found this message board and it made me really happy: http://femmeflagging.yuku.com/

    • bossyfemme says :

      Yes! I also feel like flagging on nails with no discernible code is just… doing your nails. But I don’t wanna be the person who dictates what that code should be for everyone else! I think the forum responses have been interesting so far.

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