The History of the Queer Crop Code: Symbology in the Settlement Era – Cindy Baker

Documentation of queerness has existed from the very beginning of written history. The ancient Greeks were notorious homos, the bible talks about gay sex ad nauseam, and written and pictorial histories from Asian countries illustrate explicit examples of queer sex over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. We know about queer artists like Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein and even about gay American president James Buchanan. We know about the role of the two-spirit people in traditional First Nations cultures and about the evolution of urban queer culture. Urban life, through history, has been the locus of gayness in just about every culture that has had a developed “urban” setting. Even in the middle ages, royal households (the closest thing in any kingdom to an urban centre) were said to be “hotbeds of homosexual activity.”[1] As David Higgs writes in his introduction to Queer Sites, “Dynasties rise and fall, but homosexual activities are a more permanent feature of city life.”[2]

Not all queer history is rooted in the urban, however. Referring to a man who is acting promiscuously for a period before planning to settle down and start a family, the colourfully rural phrase “sowing their wild oats” is actually a derogatory slur against gay men; as wild oats are weeds which can take over and destroy crops, to literally sow wild oats would mean wasting one’s time and energy and destroying the agricultural potential of a plot of land. So to say that someone was sowing their wild oats was originally meant to imply that they were having their fill of gay sex (and wasting their fertile potential) before getting married and settling down with a woman to sow, ostensibly, more fruitful crops. A saying which is centuries old, this idea survived homophobic histories to come into modern use from the ancient Greek whose agrarian culture and cultural acceptance of homosexual sex spawned the phrase. (The wild oat plant was originally documented by Theophrastus around 300 BC.)[3]

The Western (European) world, and the religion of Christianity in particular, vilified and pathologized gayness; before this influence, most other cultures had a healthy relationship with their queer peoples and practices. Even those countries’ ancient histories have now been sanitized, references to queerness minimized and relegated to the realm of the unhealthy. So it’s not surprising that North America’s queer culture would not only be erased before it was ever written, but it was outlawed, suppressed, concealed as it happened, making it invisible and unspoken even to the people who were living it.

Throughout the written histories of this continent, there have been stories of cross-dressing adventurer women, from pirates to cowboys, such as Annie Oakley, and rugged gay men. But what about the vast majority of those people who settled the land? The homesteaders of the “lawless west”? Where are our Farmer Faggots? Our Buckwheat Bulldykes?

Women who were more attracted to an adventurer’s way of life – in other words, who were drawn to the cowboy (or pirate or bank robber) lifestyle – were more likely to become entrenched in those histories, as they may or may not have been known to be women at the time; though their realities would have been discovered upon their deaths, and their high-profile lives made excellent fodder for storytelling and, later, the history books. Many of the “women” travelers who lived their lives completely disguised as men would have been what we know today as (transgendered) men, some queer and some straight. Others simply relied on the protection such disguises offered a single woman traveling alone.

Less romantic but far more common were the lesbians who lived as women, disguised in plain sight in their rural communities as farm wives, widows and lone ‘spinster’ farmers, whose same-sex desires would have ostracized and endangered them in their communities.

The queer men and women who settled the West had many of the same motivations as their straight counterparts; to be compelled to break the land and populate the new provinces (and states) implied a strong desire to procreate, something that is less easy and convenient (even now as it was then) for queer peoples, but not necessarily any less urgent than for their straight counterparts. These queer people would have formed couples and married, sometimes with each other (lesbians marrying gay men) but more often with straight partners who did not know their sexual orientation.

Far more fortunate were those couples that knew their sexual leanings and found others like themselves, a difficult thing indeed in those times. The crop code came in very handy not only for men and women seeking sexual partners, but seeking opposite-sex companions to complete the illusion of straightness (or partners with whom to bear and raise children.) Queer couples such as these were unlikely to live, even at home, as “out” – so even their children were not necessarily aware of their parents’ orientation. This fact more than most others is what really obscures the history of queer rural life and makes it so impossible to trace the people who lived it.

More visible to contemporary historians are the lesbians who lived together as spinsters and sisters. Men had fewer options for pairing up, and in fact were quite often “matched” by well-meaning folk with young women with whom they could raise a family, even if they did not desire to do so themselves. Other queer rural men and women with less desire to raise a family joined the church and tried to suppress their desires.

Of course, once a queer farmer found true love or otherwise removed themselves from the market, they were free to plant whatever crops they chose. Many elected to plant crops flagging their farm as queer friendly to any queer travelers in need of a safe resting place.

The crop code, not entirely unlike the original “hanky code” was a secret “oral history” meant to be invisible to anyone outside of the queer culture. Because it was shrouded in secrecy and because it was never formally documented, this code was lost not only in the history of farm life, but in our queer history as well.

This code has been pieced together primarily through research compiled while cross-referencing church or census records with the seasonal records of customers at grain and feed stores, and later, grain elevators. Pairs of “sisters”, spinsters, widows, widowers and single male farmers with short- or long-term farmhands (or widowers with adult “sons” that moved into a new area when the son had already grown and where no one knew the family’s earlier history), when studied as a group in any given geographic area or climate region, show patterns of crop cultivation that would be considered quite unusual as a snapshot of any average farming region. For example, even in areas where corn was the primary crop and where male farmers primarily grew corn, a statistically negligible number of the single women or paired women farmers (including widows, spinsters and sisters) grew corn even over the course of several years. Conversely, in areas where peas/lentils were the most lucrative crop, almost no single male farmers with or without sons or farmhands grew peas or lentils.

This type of research obviously cannot be conclusive, but can certainly paint a convincing picture of early North American queer farm life for a historical period when there is no other existing information about the lives of the queer people who we know made up a generous percentage of the population.

crop code image

Electrophilia – then a new but incredibly popular “fad” fetish which lasted a relatively long time in settlement-era North America, perhaps due to the availability of large batteries and generators alongside the privacy afforded by a farm – bears special note, of all the fetishes in the traditional crop code. It emerged as a fetish for the erotic stimulation of various erogenous areas as well as for the novelty provided by newly invented electric machines in vogue between 1880 and 1917.[4] These machines were invented to invigorate every area of the body in the treatment of a vast number of real and imagined maladies. Not the least of these maladies (and in fact one of the most widely diagnosed “female disease”) was “hysteria.” In fact, doctors having been overwhelmed by the demand for their anti-hysterical electrical pelvic massage, the original “personal massage” vibrators (despite the modest nature of historical advertisements) were invented so that women might simulate the same therapeutic effect – orgasm – at home.[5] Electrophilia obviously has its roots here, though true electrophiliacs, even back then, were rarely satisfied with simple electrically-generated vibratory stimulation. From crude homemade metal devices attached to large glass batteries to the sophisticated futuristic-looking violet wand, so-called for the purple glow emanating from the gas-filled glass electrode, real sparks must be administered to satisfy the true fetishist.[6] (The unusual purple glow of the violet wand is possibly the reason the electrophile’s crop code symbol is flax, whose flowers are a soft purple.) Electrophilia endured through the decades as a popular fetish in rural areas despite lagging interest in the practice in metropolitan areas, which tended to be more fickle, always searching for the newest titillating trend. In fact, contemporary electrophiles have rural queer farmers to thank for not only keeping the tradition alive, but for literally saving scores of ancient electrical devices from the junk-heap, using and lovingly maintaining these machines such that many are still in use today!

It must be said that any practical crop code application would be tempered by the agricultural needs of a specific geographic area. Thus, the queer farmer crop code varied greatly in its application from region to region. Crop codes outlined within this article were in use at one time in the rural areas of North America, though at what particular time and in what specific region is not always entirely clear.[7,8]

For these reasons, the Crop Code crops would have been selected not only for their vague references and resemblances to sexual tendencies and activities but also for their relative popularity. In other words, a high-demand crop grown easily across the country such as wheat was paired with the more common sexual reference; a queer farmer’s wheat crop signified simply that she or he was seeking a dominant or “top” partner. Wheat (and other single-stalk grains) and potatoes being the most common settlement-era crops, there was obviously some cheeky symbology employed in assigning “top” to wheat, which bears its fruit at the top of its stem, and “bottom” to potatoes, which grow underground. The other crops on the farm would allow other queers in the area to determine whether the farmer was looking for a long-term or short-term partner, and what sort of sexual interests she or he had.

This code was in fact quite useful, telling other queer farmers and traveling farmhands not only what kind of sex they were into, but what ‘benefits’ they could offer to a queer farmhand looking for a job or announcing what sort of services they were looking for.

Flower gardens further told the story of the queer farmer of the house, if only to denote the gender (and the sexual preference) of the person inside. Having a much broader range of expression than a field of crops might allow, the queer floriograph (the queer version of the secret language of flowers developed in the Victorian era; sort of a faggoty hanky code) contained dozens of varieties of flowers and their sexual counterpart. Thus, any farmer’s very innocent-looking flower gardens could have reflected a much more detailed set of sexual desires than the crops could have.

The main difference between Victorian floriography[9] and queer floriography[10] is that in straight/Victorian flower code, bouquets of significant flowers were arranged and given, like encoded love letters, to their beloved. Queer floriography was employed in much the same way as the hanky code; originally worn on the left or right lapel, the kind or colour of flower worn would tell others versed in the language what kind of sexual kink the wearer was into. Adopted later by the queer farmer, his or her whole garden could tell a very colourful story of the farmer’s sexual proclivities.

Gay American couple

Gay American couple from the late 1800s; tintype (photographer unknown).[11]

Crop rotation has always been an important part of farming. Crop rotation means changing what is planted in a given field from season to season to ensure a healthy balance of nutrients in the soil and to capitalize on the nutrients left in the soil by previous crops by planting crops that need more of those nutrients. Queer farmers, instead of changing the meanings of their code season to season, took advantage of the crop rotation to tell a more detailed story of their lives and their desires. An important thing to remember about queer farmers’ lives is that relationships developed and grew very slowly, learning about their queer brethren over a period of seasons or years. The crop code is much less about the sexual whims of an evening out or the kinky desires of a person and more about fulfilling needs and long-term goals (looking for a partner, wanting to raise children.) Of course, more specific sexual proclivities were always a part of it as well, and even the traditional crop code, as short as it was, contained some sexual interests that would still be considered peripheral or “kinky” today.

Upon the advent of the grain elevator in the mid-1800s, the grain elevator man became in some ways a gatekeeper to the world of queer rural desire; he knew what everyone was growing, what they’d grown in previous seasons, and what they were planning to grow next season. The job of the elevator man was an ideal one for more effeminate rural queers or less physical men. It put them right in the thick of things. For straight wheat elevator operators, this world would be completely invisible, even though they were often unwitting matchmakers as they innocently discussed the season’s crops with the farmers in the area. For queer ones, this job was the queer equivalent of the early telephone operator, who knew everyone’s secrets.

Small towns would brag about the number of elevators in the area in pamphlets designed to promote settlement to the area. Queer elevator operators with influence over these pamphlets could place subtle coded messages in these pamphlets about the availability of local queers in an attempt to lure more queer settlers, through the language they used as well as through tiny markings that would have been read by most people as simple embellishments but in fact were a complicated visual code. This code survived into the 1950s in “physique” magazines which purported to promote a healthy lifestyle but instead equivocated early porno mags, telling the stories of the beefcakes inside through “a bizarre section of runic symbols, used as a psycho-sexual rebus for each model, marking the precursors of today’s personal ad.”[12]

Of course, the introduction of the elevator came alongside the locomotive, followed quickly by automobiles, cities and industrialization. This development created new opportunities for queer relationships, community, and sexual encounters. Older queer farmers had either settled down or found it easier to find love in town (or in other towns) than in painstaking and inconvenient crop planning. Rural queers of subsequent generations flocked to the cities to find community and love, and to create a queer revolution, decimating the base of queer farmers to such an extent that the crop code was no longer feasible.

Queers have always used coded language to seek each other out and to remain safe in any non-queer specific environments; even using the crop code, one had to be very careful about how they approached a farmer who appeared to be flagging his sexual proclivities – otherwise, roaming farmhands might have gotten into a fair heap of trouble mistaking an innocent widower’s crops for something more significant!

Coming in handy as shorthand for communication between gay migrant farmhands (secret even from the queer farmers) was a queered version of the hobo code.[13] An early precursor of the beefcake mag code, the hobo code was a set of symbols which transient wanderers would mark homes with (written in the dirt, in chalk on fences, scratched into wood etc) to alert fellow hobos to the potential kindness or danger of stopping there.

Examples from the Hobo Code.

Queer travelers developed their own nuanced version of this code, which would act as a supplement to the crop code planted by the farmers themselves. These symbols were an important part of the queer agrarian language, as it would be impossible to know from the crops alone whether the homesteader was, for example, kind, generous, cold or abusive.

People often assume that we’re much more sexually liberated now then back then, but that’s not at all the case. It would make sense that in North America, the land of the free/open skies and endless possibilities, with people flocking here for the freedom from oppression, some sentiment of sexual liberation would have come along for the ride. Puritanical views and religious missions would surely have obscured a lot of that activity, but we shouldn’t pretend it wasn’t happening, especially as brothels are such a central part of the popular culture of the time. If straight guys and girls were getting their rocks off, surely some of the rest of us were too. In fact, the history of the hanky code acknowledges its roots in the early part of the settlement of the west:

The wearing of various colored bandanas around the neck was common in the mid- and late-nineteenth century among cowboys, steam railroad engineers, and miners in the Western United States. It is thought that the wearing of bandanas by gay men originated in San Francisco after the Gold Rush, when… men dancing with each other in square dances developed a code wherein the man wearing the blue bandana took the male part in the square dance, and the man wearing the red bandana took the female part (these bandanas were usually worn around the arm or hanging from the belt or in the back pocket of one’s jeans).[14]


Blank Hanky, Bottom Right is a performative body work by Vincent Chevalier (Montreal, 2010) that references the hanky code. The tattoo is meant to be filled in with markers of various colours, to suit the mood of the artist (or perhaps somebody else).[15]

The hanky code as employed by the queer leather/fetish community primarily in the 1960s and 1970s, much like the traditional crop code, had only a handful of easy to remember, very common categories. Today’s hanky code, widely known throughout and outside of queer and fetish communities, is used more as a list of accessories signifying membership in a subculture (if it is used seriously at all.) The contemporary incarnation of the hanky code (which varies from source to source) contains well over a hundred fetishes, and as many of half of those are not associated with a handkerchief at all, but include such odd accessories as kewpie dolls, handywipes, rosaries and vacuum bags.[16]

Dress as a signifier of subculture is second nature to the contemporary world, but that wasn’t always the case. Clothing has pretty much always been a signifier of class wealth, gender, occupation, ethnic and religious affiliation as well as marital status, but within each class setting there weren’t always ways to distinguish membership in certain groups. That’s why the flower code developed in urban settings, to act as secret signifiers to those in the know that they were amongst friends. Of course, military uniforms have for hundreds if not thousands of years used very complex sets of pattern, dress, and embellishment to signify not only whose side one was on, but within their ranks who had authority, what battles one had fought in, what specialized training one had, and so on.

Long before the existence of most contemporary subcultures, the brothel dress code helped the clientele of brothels determine what kind of sexual proclivities and experience each prostitute could bring to the table, so to speak. As repositories of sexual diversity and open sexuality in general, brothels attracted queer women looking for work and community. Prostitutes wearing pink could be expected to fulfill the role of a stereotypically feminine woman; sweet, demure, passive. The colour green was used to signify queerness (Oscar Wilde’s iconic green carnation being the most memorable example), making the crop code potently symbolic, as most crops are green for a great portion of their lives. Green in the brothel signified queerness but not in the contemporary sense of the word; it implied a twisted/deviant nature. While the lady in the black corset might have been willing to tie you up and whip you, the girl in green britches would most likely be the one to acquiesce to your most bizarre fantasies involving hot water bottles, a loaf of bread, a bucket of mud and a farm implement or two.

Women who slept with men for a living were the least likely to be suspected of queerness, and that afforded these women the opportunity to live with and love other women. For these reasons, the brothel contained much knowledge of the crop code, and adopted its own dress code to let potential clients know what they were “good at.” These signifiers made sexual encounters far more satisfying for both parties, helping the women earn more money and (for the lesbian prostitutes) maintaining the appearance of straightness.

The “cathouse panty code” was far more nuanced than a list of colours and their meanings, however. Though historical studies of cross-dressing have tended to focus on cross-gender, in early modern London (1500-1800) archival evidence reveals cross-class dressing as a popular erotic practice; in this history we find the kernel of the brothel’s dress code:

London citizens could use luxurious clothing to invent alternate identities for themselves or their partners in a single relationship, to create class parity between unequal partners, to satisfy fantasies of class ascendancy or of altered power relationships, or to imagine access to otherwise inappropriate or inaccessible sexual partners.[17]

The settlement-era brothel wardrobe was full of cross-class costuming. Outside of the brothel, there remained a strong conceptual association between female cross-class dressing and whoredom. While the evolution of fashion and culture has obfuscated most of the traces of the brothel’s dress code in contemporary clothing, the association still exists in contemporary western culture that a woman dressing outside of her own socio-economic class is sexually loose.

Four people in costumes including Hector Cyr dressed as a woman at Souris Valley, Sask. August 2, 1934. Saskatchewan Archives Board — Photograph R-A1951[18]

Though there is no statistical or empirical data to support this claim, anecdotal evidence along with casual observation leads us to believe claims that there is a new contemporary crop code in current use, based loosely on the old crop code as well as on other queer codes such as the hanky code.

This new crop code, like the contemporary incarnation of the hanky code, is less likely used to subtly signal other closeted farmers about their search for sexual partners, and more so as an act of pride and solidarity among gay farmers, a sort of “crop flag,” if you will. There are too many fetish varieties in this new code for any one farmer to be expected to memorize it; however, an online database along with printed reference sheets (circulated discreetly among queer farm circles for those areas outside internet service areas) might act as a handy guide when selecting the next season’s “crop story”.

There are still many gay farmers in North America. These rural queers have it just as hard as their earlier counterparts, as support services and queer networks in rural areas are scarce, and rural North America can still be as dangerous to queer men and women as it was when the land was first settled.

Farmers today, however, benefit from globalism and connection to the rest of the world as was absolutely unheard of a century ago, exposing them (and us all) to new ideas, desires and activities to pique our curiosity and arouse our desires. The New Crop Code not only includes new fetishes, specialized rural eroticism and more urban-centric desires, but it reflects the changing world of agriculture. New crops previously grown only in Asian countries, hybrid crops and engineered foreign seeds that withstand North American climates and pests, as well as crops brought in to satisfy the demands of a culturally wide-ranging population have led to a greater diversity in agricultural life that mirrors the growth and diversity of people and of desire across North America.

When any significant patch of land is devoted to any of these crops, alone or in combination, they mean the farmer is interested in or looking for:

Major Canadian Crops:
Wheat = top
Potatoes = bottom
Corn = male (gay male)
Legumes = female (lesbian)
Peas = polyamorous lesbian(s)
Lentil = all-natural lesbian
Bean = baby dyke
Chickpea = lipstick lesbian
Buckwheat = butch
Canola (rapeseed) = biastophilia/raptophilia
Sunflower = group sex (i.e. looking for a third)
Hay = casual sex/looking for one-night stand
Zucchini/squash = long-term partner
Alfalfa = bestiality or zoophilia or faunoiphilia
Flax = trichophilia
Barley = sleeping/passed out fetish
Oats = faunoiphilia
Rye = xenophilia
Canary seed = knismolagnia
Quinoa = gold fetish
Amaranth = robot fetish
Rice = gerontophilia

Soybean = galactophilia
Mustard seed = Hung 8”+ or seeking hung
Safflower = Piercing fetish

Tobacco = capnolagnia
Sugar beet = chubby chaser
Sod = aretifism/bare foot fetish
Hemp = kinbaku

Tomato = mammalagnia+inflataphilia = breast expansion fetish
Cucumber = transmen – andromimetophilia
Carrot = nasophilia
Lettuce = transwomen – gynemimetophilia
Cabbage = renifleurism
Bell Pepper = sneeze fetish
Broccoli = teratophilia
Rutabaga = fisting
Turnip = morphophilia
Celery = formicophilia
Asparagus = masochism
Beet = spanking fetish
Pumpkin = spectrophilia (or, in Ontario, chubby chaser)
Brussels sprouts = microphilia/vorarephilia
Cauliflower = troilism/cuckoldism
Parsnip = hybristophilia
Spinach = sthenolagnia
Yam = apotemnophilia
Onion = dacryphilia

caraway = phalloorchoalgolagnia/CBT
coriander = mechanophilia
cilantro = frotteurism
chickory = mysophilia
dill = asphyxofilia/breathplay
peppermint = exhibitionism
spearmint = autagonistophilia/passive exhibitionism
hyssop = haematolagnia
garlic = eproctophilia
fennel = narratophilia
sage = gerontophilia
savory = teratophilia
chives = olfactophilia/osmolagnia/osphreslolagnia/ozolagnia

Fruit and nuts:
Fruit trees (somewhat like the floriograph of times past) have become the contemporary crop code shorthand signature of the person/people who live on the farm (especially in interior British Columbia and Ontario where fruit crops are common and plentiful). This might range from an orchard full of trees, shrubs or vines announcing the presence of the queer residents to one or two lone trees in the yard.

Apple = dominant woman
Grape = dominant man
Raspberry = submissive woman
Plum = submissive man
Peach = male-indentified genderqueer
Cherry = female-indentified genderqueer
Apricot = fatty/two tons of fun/BBW/BBM
Hazelnut (filbert) = tamakeri

Florals: The very few flower crops grown in Canada are all in Southern Ontario. Please refer to the Floriograph[19] for fetishes related to flower gardens.

Many of the plants used in the contemporary crop code seem to have been selected quite randomly (or perhaps they were the favorite plants of the queer farmers who originated their use in the code.) Others, however, have a history with at least some small aspect of the fetish they represent.[20,21,22]

Quinoa, for example, was held as sacred to the Incans; the Incan emperor would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using golden farming implements.[23] The fetish connected with quinoa in the crop code is the fetish for gold.

Another example is amaranth, crop code for robot fetish, which has been referred to since the 1970s as the “crop of the future” for its diverse potential.[24]

Hyssop, on the other hand, appears in the bible: in Exodus 12:22 the Jews in Egypt are instructed to “Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe.” Hyssop is the crop code for bloodplay.

Hazelnut (filbert) is the only nut crop in Canada, and it’s primarily grown in Ontario. A hazelnut tree in the yard of an Ontarian farmer would act as more of a warning than a beacon to other queers; it signals its owner’s predilection for the Japanese fetish of tamakeri (ball-kicking)!

Herb crops, though small and therefore not necessarily obvious to see, can be extremely aromatic, attracting gay men and women by nose to the farm where they could see the other crops that the queer farmer was cultivating. Despite the relative levity with which the Crop Codes are employed on the contemporary queer farm, they can be nonetheless very competitive considering the relative scarcity of “fresh blood” available in the queer farm community demographic.

The crop code is an important aspect of queer history, but not just because it helped gay farmers find love, or because it allowed them sexual liberty in an otherwise oppressive time. The crop code is significant because it demonstrates our place in the evolution of this continent. It reveals the powerfully symbolic truth that queer desire literally changed the face of North America: what the countryside looks like, what we grow, and what we eat.


Written as a perversion of the hanky code employed in the 1960s through the 1980s (and still used in some subcultures), this essay chronicles the evolution of an underground sexual language from its origin as a set of secret signals for a small group of marginalized people through its current incarnation as an easily recognized counter-culture badge of pride, having grown during that time from an easy-to-remember but limited handful of symbols to a comprehensive and ridiculously exhaustive catalogue attempting to chronicle of the breadth of queer desire.

The work uses real historical research and photos to imagine the stories of people who do not have recorded histories, to raise awareness of the contemporary people whose voices and histories are going unheard and unrecorded.

Because there are no queer rural communities, there are no queer rural histories. There are indeed isolated instances of queer lives documented by those who did not want their stories to go unrecorded, but those are few and far between, and they capture a very narrow view of queer rural history (primarily Southern US and post 1900.) We will need to start paying attention to real queer farmers now if we want to hold on to their histories. Luckily, there are some support networks for queer farmers, but these networks cover broad areas and offer little opportunity for real connection with peers. Because these farmers are basically all closeted, there is no way to collect real information about the lives and histories of these men and women.

This is not to say that this account is not real; just because I made it up does not mean that it did not happen, or that it WILL not happen. It is a fact that there were queer people in homestead-era North America, and it is probably also true that almost all of these people were closeted their whole lives. Whether because they were closeted or because their experiences did not fit within the establishment’s view of that history, we have virtually no historical accounts of their existence. An imagined history serves to assert our right to freedom not only now, but then as well. Queer revisionism dares mainstream society to claim that we never existed, making conspicuous our absence from those records and making space for queer history.

A work such as this one can also create new histories in more direct ways; rumours become real when written down; assertions become truths. I cite the Jelly Bracelet Sex Scare[25] of the early 2000s as proof: “jelly bracelets” (thin, rubbery plastic bracelets produced in a variety of colours, popularized in the 1980s by pop stars such as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper) were nothing more than cheap, innocent baubles worn by every schoolgirl (and many boys.) One day, someone started a rumour, or someone said “what if?” What if someone owed sex to a person who managed to snap one of these bracelets off another’s wrist? Jelly bracelets were hardly the first “sex token” artifacts to circulate among North American youth; over the last half a century, rumours have circulated on the schoolyard about pop can tabs and beer bottle labels, when removed correctly, obligated the person to whom it is given to have sex with the giver. Of course it’s ridiculous to imagine that anyone would perform any sort of sexual act against their will simply because a random person claims they must. Still, schools sent letters home to parents warning them about the jelly bracelet sex game and made announcements banning them from the school altogether. Once the alarm had been sounded, all that was needed was the legitimization of the media reporting on the story, both making it “real” and helping to distribute the idea broadly within and outside the community of origin – and suddenly it WAS real. People knew it, bought into it, and even (in some corners of the community) started playing the game. refers to this phenomenon as – “wishful thinking codified into belief.” At least now there is some truth to the rumour the next time it surfaces, though it will still be just as unlikely that anyone besides sexually active consenting adults would ever play the game.[26]

At least as much of it became real after its invention by the media and popular culture rumour mill as arose organically. So who are we to say what is real history and what is not? By writing it, in so many ways, it becomes real.

Other rural areas are re-inventing their histories, not so much to make space for those left out by the official history books, but to make their past as vivid, as glorious and as interesting as that of their counterparts in large cities. No place’s history is less valid than another, but just as with queer revisionism, when a place’s people feel less validated within its cultural milieu than others, it imagines a history for itself that will help keep it on the map. The city of Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan is a perfect example. People around the world believe it to be true that Al Capone came to hide out in Moose Jaw, and lived in the underground tunnels there. You can find all sorts of “histories” coming out of Moose Jaw about what Al Capone did and how he lived while there. The City’s own promotional material uses carefully crafted language to avoid outright claiming Capone ever visited Moose Jaw, but careful reading reveals the truth – that a small city in the middle of nowhere wanted to boost flagging tourist numbers and hired a promotions company to develop a ‘history’ of their town that would attract visitors from across the country and beyond.[27] Not only did Al Capone most likely not come to Moose Jaw, but the tunnels themselves have been exaggerated; only a handful have ever been “discovered” of the network of tunnels thought to have once existed throughout downtown Moose Jaw, and those that do exist have been renovated and expanded to accommodate the “historical” tours. They took a tall tale circulated amongst the citizenry and spun it into pure gold, boosting the local economy and reaffirming their claim for a place in the history books.[28]

The Crop Code’s reading of rural queerness in the homestead era paints a picture of Western gay life, but does not address race or colonialism. It addresses one specific lifestyle of the era – that of the farmer – and accepts as self-evident that the word “farmer” is neither gendered nor racialized. While the “settlers” (i.e. colonizing culture) were indeed racially homogenous, this does not imply that the farm was solely the realm of the white European settler. By its nature, however, this modern interpretation of rural queer reality displaces Native people and further distances them from the sexual freedom and equality that was sought by their queer contemporaries. By presenting a history of Western settlement that rejects and repaints the history projected by the establishment, I acknowledge the homonationalistic[29] nature of contemporary readings of that history, affirming our need as queer peoples to be accountable to the Native struggles for decolonization, and commit to forwarding an activist strategy rather than abstaining from it in the name of fighting the oppression of colonialism’s victims.[30,31,32]


Sources consulted (not cited):

A.D. Peterkin, The Bald-Headed Hermit and the Artichoke: An Erotic Thesaurus. (Vancouver, Arsenal Pulp Press: 1999).

Midas Dekkers, Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, trans. Paul Vincent (London, Verso: 1994)

Taft, Michael, “Folk drama on the Great Plains. The Mock wedding in Canada and the United States.” North Dakota History 1989: 17 -23.

Barbara Nemitz, et al., Pink: The Exposed Color in Contemporary Art and Culture, (Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz Verlag: 2006)


Gay farmers have very unique needs and experiences. There are a handful of online queer farmer support services. Gay farmers are encouraged to visit these links to seek support and to find others with similar concerns.

Queer farmer blogs:…

Queer rural books and stories:…

Will Fellows, ed. Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press: 1996)


[1] David Higgs, Queer sites: gay urban histories since 1600, (Oxford: Routledge, 1999) 1.

[2] Higgs 1.

[3] Allan E. Smith and Diane M. Secoy, “Forerunners of pesticides in classical Greece and Rome,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, November 1975: 1050–1055.

[4] Rachel P. Maines, The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998) 85.

[5] Maines 82.

[6] Wikimedia Foundation Inc, “Violet wand,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, 1 August 2010.

[7] Statistics Canada, “Canadian field Crops,” 1 August 2010.

[8] Ernest Small, “New crops for Canadian agriculture,” Perspectives on new crops and new uses, ed. J. Janick (Alexandria: ASHS Press, 1999) 15-52.

[9] Wikimedia Foundation Inc, “Language of Flowers,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, 26 July 2010.

[10] Cindy Baker and Megan Morman, collab. Anthea Black, Floriography: the tradition of the Flower Code, 2009. Screenprinted poster.

[11] (artist unknown), Gay couple from the late 1800s, (date unknown), tintype photo, Stacy Virgil collection, Missouri, 1 August 2010.

[12] Jon Savage, “All Pumped Up and Nowhere to Go: Beefcake culture,” Frieze June 1995.

[13] (artist unknown), Hobo signs, (date unknown), Fran DeLorenzo collection, 1 August 2010.

[14] Susan Stryker and Jim Van Buskirk, Gay by the Bay: A History of Queer Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area, (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1996) 18.

[15] Vincent Chevalier, Blank Hanky, Bottom Right, Designer Mikiki, Photo David J. Romero, body performance, 2010.

[16] The most complete hanky code compilation I’ve found:

Steven C. Sampson, The Complete Hanky Code, (Paris, copyright 2010 Steven C. Sampson and Butchmann’s) web chart, 1 August, 2010.

[17] Cristine M. Varholy, “Rich like a Lady: Cross-Class Dressing in the Brothels and Theaters of Early Modern London,” Journal for Early Modern Cultural StudiesSpring/Summer 2008: 4-34.

[18] Neil Richards, Photograph R-A19510, Saskatchewan Archives Board All Frocked Up: Glimpses of Cross-dressing in Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Council for Archives and Archivists, 2003, 1 August 2010.

[19] Baker, Morman.

A fairly comprehensive list of fetishes (paraphilias). Please note that any compiled list of fetishes is likely to have originated within the psychology/psychiatry community as a list of deviant behaviour (in other words, pathologizing these desires or activities).

Wikimedia Foundation Inc, “List of Paraphilias,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, 27 July 2010, 1 August 2010.

[20] The most exhaustive record of fetishes ever compiled is contained in Forensic and Medico-Legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, which lists 547 fetishes.

There are only 5 kinds of sexual desire agreed-upon by the medical community to be considered “normal” or non-aberrant – note that this list does NOT reference either homosexual or heterosexual desire:

Androphilia: Sexual interest in men
Analloerotic: Lacking in sexual interests towards others (but not lacking in sexual drive
Ephebophilia: Sexual preference for individuals in mid-to-late adolescence, typically ages 15–19.
Gynephilia: Sexual interest in women
Teleiophilia: Sexual interest in adults (as opposed to pedophilia, etc.)

Anil Aggrawal, (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2009) 369–82.

[22] “List of Paraphilias,” Wikimedia Foundation Inc.

[23] Hugh Popenoe, Lost crops of the Incas: little-known plants of the Andes with promise for worldwide cultivation. (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1989) 149.

[24] J.L. Marx (1977). “Speaking of Science: Amaranth: A Comeback for the Food of the Aztecs?” Science/AAAS 2 September 2003: 40.

[25] Wikimedia Foundation Inc, “Gel Bracelet,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, 24 July 2010, 1 August 2010.

[26] Barbara and David P. Mikkelson, “Sex Bracelets,” Legends Reference Pages, 14 September 2009, 1 August 2010.

[27] Tunnels of Moose Jaw, Attraction History, 1 August 2010

[28] City of Moose Jaw, Welcome to Moose Jaw, 1 Aug. 2010.

[29] Coined in 2007 by Jasbir Puar in her book Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, homonationalism is the enacting of homonormative ideologies that replicate narrow racial, class, gender, and national ideals, accompanied by the heteronormative ideologies that the U.S. nation-state has long relied on.

Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).

[30] Scott Lauria Morgensen, “Settler Homonationalism: Theorizing Settler Colonialism within Queer Modernities,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies Volume 16, Number 1-2, 2010: 105-131.

[31] Lyndsey, “Judith Butler Protests Homonationalism,” Feminists For Choice 29 June 2010, 1 August 2010.

[32] kersplebedeb, “Jasbir Puar’s Homonationalist Talk: A Real Disappointment,” Sketchy Thoughts 6 November 2008, 1 August, 2010.…

Interdisciplinary and performance artist Cindy Baker is passionate about gender culture, queer theory, fat activism and art theory. Baker considers context her primary medium, working with whatever materials are needed to allow her to concentrate on the theoretical, conceptual and ephemeral aspects of her work. She believes that her art exists in its experience, and not in its objects. Some of Baker’s biggest interests are skewing context and (re)examining societal standards, especially as they relate to language and dissemination of information, and she perceives a need for intervention and collaboration, both within the art world and in the community at large. With a background of working, volunteering, and sitting on the board for several artist-run centres in Western Canada, Cindy has a particular professional interest in the function of artist-run centres as a breeding ground of deviation. She is based out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Email:

Comments from old site:

Submitted by Buckwheat (not verified) on Thu, 09/02/2010 – 14:07.

Great read!