KAI WOODWARD explores the queer-coded handkerchiefs of the hit TV show’s metalhead hero
As I’m sure many of you are aware, the first volume of Stranger Things 4 dropped on Netflix on May 27th, 2022. If you haven't already, check out Beth Nethercott's review of it here! Since then, many in the fandom, myself included, have become utterly besotted with 20-year-old Eddie Munson - leader of the Dungeons and Dragons club Hellfire, metalhead, Lord of the Rings fan, drug dealer, and almost certainly fruity, if the black handkerchief hanging from his back pocket is anything to go by.
“But what does the handkerchief have to do with anything?”
Well, allow me to provide a brief explanation.
The queer hanky code
In the 1980s, when the show takes place, flagging (or the ‘hanky code’) was used by queer men in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia to communicate to other queer men a) that they were queer, and b) their sexual interests. The stigmatisation of homosexuality meant that this code was crucial for queer men seeking partners. The placing of the hanky, in either the left or right back pocket of the legwear, would communicate whether you were a top (dominant) or a bottom (submissive), with the left being for the former and the right for the latter. Meanwhile, the colours and even patterns and material would indicate to potential partners the sexual interests of the wearer e.g., light blue for giving or receiving oral sex, red with a black stripe for being a bear or liking bears (hairy, plus size queer men), white velvet for being a voyeur or willing to be watched.
When considering the character of Eddie Munson with this knowledge of flagging in mind, we can determine not only the fact that he’s a bit fruity but also what he’s trying to communicate to potential partners that know the code.
First, the pocket the handkerchief hangs from. Eddie’s hanky hangs from his back left jeans pocket, meaning that he is a top or a more dominant partner.
Next is the material. His hanky isn’t made of velvet, so this rules out the possibility of him saying he likes to take videos or perform for the camera. The colour and pattern are slightly more ambiguous however, meaning we have a little more detective work to do, Watson. The main colour of the handkerchief itself is black, but it’s not a plain black handkerchief. It has a white pattern on it, but not a pattern that’s written in the Onyx NY Northeast’s hanky chart. It’s not black with white check, meaning he’s not saying he’s a safe sex top or bottom. There is also no white stripe, so he isn’t trying to indicate that he likes black bottoms or black tops. Because the hanky doesn’t contain these specific white patterns, we therefore have to consider that the most likely answer will be that he’s hinting at being a heavy sadomasochism top.
“But Kai! That hasn’t been confirmed as canon! It could just be an aesthetic choice!” you’re probably yelling at me right now.
And you’re correct! Nothing has been confirmed by the Duffer brothers and it may very well be an item they integrated into his design as part of his metal head aesthetic. However, I have one piece of evidence that is also from the show that can’t be a coincidence.
Handcuffs - off the cuff Duffers?
Eddie has handcuffs in his room.
No, seriously, he does! A lot of fans who watched the newest season spotted the handcuffs hanging about in his room. That partnered with what we’ve interpreted from the hanky in his back left pocket points to only one possibility… Eddie Munson is fruity and a heavy S&M top. (There is definitely no other possibility, trust me bro). The hanky on its own could easily be explained away as being an aesthetic choice and even a common occurrence in images of metalheads that researchers may have found when looking for reference images for Eddie’s character design. It’s this additional piece of evidence – the handcuffs – that allows a fuller picture to form regarding what Eddie is trying to communicate to potential sexual partners without explicitly specifying what his sexuality is.
The beauty of fandom
In the end, we may never get a confirmation about Eddie’s sexuality from the Duffer brothers, and if we do it may not be any time soon (and it probably won’t be confirmed before this is published either). But I think that’s where the beauty of fandom and fan created works come into play. While Eddie’s sexuality is never stated or explored on the show, that doesn’t stop us fans exploring it for ourselves. A queer metalhead nerd who isn’t afraid to be his authentic self is someone that I, as a queer person myself, would have looked up to if the show had been made and released when I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in the world. Characters like Eddie and fandom spaces allow us to do exactly that without much fear of being hate-crimed and discriminated against because of how open and accepting and queer many members of the fandom are.
So, even if we never receive any confirmation regarding Eddie’s sexuality and the use of hanky code in his character design, I know that there will be many fans out there who will be incredibly grateful for how fruity Eddie Munson almost certainly is. And not only that, but it reminds us that there will always be a way for us to be able to express ourselves and our sexuality to those who understand and accept us. Maybe that is what the main takeaway of Eddie’s character really is for many of us.
Be authentic. Be unapologetic. Be queer.
Be Eddie Munson.
Written by Kai Woodward