I wear a dark green hanky, usually in my back right pocket. My favourite description of what this means in the gay hanky code, a method of subtly communicating desire, is “orphan boy looking for a daddy.” I usually say this with a mischievous grin on my face and a twinkle in my eyes.
I don’t really remember when I started to wear hankies. I’m not sure if I even remember what prompted it. I know that now it is an important part of visually expressing my identity: a way to be visibly queer that is largely invisible to dominant culture and symbolism that connects me to a lineage of queer men. Visible queerness, visible expression of my desires, visible connection to history, and often a teachable moment for the young gay men that I work with.
Flagging dark green meant I was interested in older men, and at first these relationships were purely sexual. Discovering the culture of cruising in Victoria, I met men in the trails of Beacon Hill park (and then later online.) They were all at least twenty years my senior, which was fine by me. While it was usually spit and semen we were sharing, occasionally I was privy to their stories as well. I heard stories of what life was like back in the days prior to modern gay rights, and what life was like today for men whose experiences were radically different from my own: bisexual working class men, closeted men in heterosexual marriages.
These encounters were anonymous and ephemeral, with no lasting connections. This satisfied me for a while, but eventually I began to realize that there was something more I desired.
And then I finally found the Radical Faeries. Going to Shine (an intergenerational gay men’s retreat) on Salt Spring Island, was an amazing experience. I felt for the first time like I was part of an extended family. I felt like I could lean back into these people and they would support me. My relationship with my boyfriend was supported by people who had been in similar relationships, who understood the tensions and challenges I was grappling with.
Friendship and community with older guys was a new and different experience. Sure, there were one or two I flirted with a bit, but for the most part these were non-sexual relationships. Lots of stories, lots of support, and lots of learning. I found mentorship for my newly chosen vocation of facilitation and community building; I found guidance in dealing with depression; I found praise and support for my relationship; I found my history.
I continued to have anonymous sex with older guys, build community with different older guys, and wear my dark green hanky.
At the 2013 BC Radical Faerie Gathering, these two seemingly separate forms of desire converged. There were these two older guys who I thought were both extremely attractive, and they thought I was attractive, and they also thought the other was very attractive. Ideal three-way triangle, right? Tragically, no. Neither of them were having sex that weekend because of their relationship agreements. That didn’t mean we couldn’t tease each other, though, and tease we did. We had lots of fun building some delicious sexual tension. We also had space to be intimate in other ways, and one morning, as I was snuggled between the two of them in Heart Circle (a Radical Faerie interpretation of the talking circle tradition), I realized that my hanky wasn’t just about sex; it was also about support, friendship, and love. I wasn’t just flagging daddies for sex; I was flagging daddies and uncles for community, for intimacy, and for family.
I started calling it my intergenerational mentorship hanky.
Intergenerational community building had been one of the core themes of my community involvement up to this point, but I had never drawn a connection between my desire for community and my desire for sex. Suddenly I saw nothing but connections, and I realized it was the same desire being expressed in different ways. The gay men’s community is built around sexuality, so sexual mentorship intertwines cultural mentorship.
In the spring of 2014, I started to realize that my casual non-intimate sexual relationships were not feeding me in the way that they once had. In the past they had been invigorating and exciting, but that had waned and I found myself instead often feeling unsatiated and left craving intimacy. A couple of the casual sexual relationships I had developed unexpectedly had strong intimate components to them, which helped me to realize how important to me that was in all my relationships. Like an art gallery, I started to curate my sexual partners, removing the pieces that no longer fit in the exhibit, and looking for the pieces missing from my gallery of lovers. I eventually realized that missing piece was an older dominant top with whom I had an intimate connection: a daddy. So I set an intention to find one.
I had just chosen my bunk for the 2014 BC Radical Faerie gathering and I wandered outside to find somewhere to paint my nails. There among the faeries I knew were two I didn’t. One of them, with his ball cap, salt and pepper beard, and a softness to his eyes, caught my interest immediately. I sat down on the step below him and introduced myself. As we chatted, I felt a connection, and I decided I wanted to play with him this weekend, thinking that would be all that would come of it.
The next morning after Heart Circle he found me and initiated a conversation that went from zero to deep in about sixty seconds. Building on some of what I had talked about in Heart Circle around finding it challenging allowing myself to be vulnerable in relationships, he shared some of his own experiences, as well as some useful insight. I was even more enthralled: this guy was so much more than just a handsome face. The rest of the day was spent in flirtation. A wink across the dining hall, a wandering hand sunbathing on the dock as we shared stories, a kiss amongst the trees. Playfully introducing each other to our bodies, minds, and hearts; finally climaxing with a deeply intimate and satisfying sexual encounter.
It was a memorable weekend to say the least.
We started texting the day after camp and didn’t stop. I visited him two weeks later. And then the week after that. And then the week after that. Suddenly it was a thing. It was a relationship. This guy wasn’t just a friend from camp. I wasn’t quite sure what he was, what we were, but I really liked it.
Barely a month after meeting we were at a point where we were sharing the vulnerable and sometimes painful stories of our past, and talking around, about, maybe even using “love.”
There were elements of this relationship that I was familiar with. I had had sex with older guys, and I had deep friendships with older guys, and I had fallen in love with guys close in age to me, but the combination of all these things was new and unexpected. It felt really good.
I still wear my dark green hanky. I may not be an orphaned boy anymore, but my desire for intergenerational community and love has certainly not diminished. And I still have that twinkle in my eyes.