lusting for sweaty dyke athletes, pumped-up bodybuilders, and handsome, hot women in uniform to quell the ache in my loins”); others were more cerebral (“Thinking Lesbians …I like everything from Vixen to Wagner”).“We thought they were so clever,” says Bright.In an era when being openly queer was dangerous, even illegal, the On Our Backs personals provided a safe, anonymous space for women to express their desires — the weirder, the better.Some of the ads were blatantly horny (“Wanted: Frenetic Mons Grinder …In early 2017, she created @herstorypersonals, and the response has only grown since then: Over the two-day open-call period each month, Rakowski often gets upward of 200 submissions.After she culls through them, nixing the ones containing hate speech or needlessly graphic solicitations of sex, she still ends up with enough to post a few at a time until the next call.“I’m kind of shocked that people are willing to be so vulnerable and present themselves in such a public way,” she says.She’d already been following the account just for fun; she enjoyed reading what people wrote about themselves (e.g., “local scammer, pretty boi femme & intermittent wig wearer”) and what they were looking for in a relationship (“sexy, thoughtful extroverts to deep dive into romance,” or, alternatively, “just looking for queer friends willing to talk about experimental music, anti-capitalist ideas, Greek food & cute dogs”). “I’ve been trying to figure this stuff out for a minute.” And she liked the idea that anyone in the world might see it and write back, like sending a message in a bottle.That clarity appealed to her, especially after a recent streak of underwhelming dates. With the help of some close friends, Lula came up with her own ad (a snippet: “31 y/o watery & sassy black femme looking to be spoiled, spanked & appreciated like I deserve”).
The inspiration for @herstorypersonals, On Our Backs, whose name was a suggestive play on the “off our backs” mantra of ’80s feminism, was first and foremost an erotica magazine.“We were trying to capture an openness, wittiness, and grooviness that we couldn’t find anywhere else,” says Bright, 60, now a widely published writer and columnist, mainly on the topic of sex.From the beginning, the magazine ran personal ads from readers all over the country, many of whom lived far from the gay meccas of San Francisco, where On Our Backs was headquartered, and New York City.One day, she asked for Lula’s address so she could mail her a book of poetry; a few months later, in June, Dot sent Lula 32 long-stemmed red roses for her birthday, along with two records and tickets to see her favorite band.At that point, they hadn’t even spoken on the phone. They’ve been dating ever since, and they’re starting to talk about relocating to each other’s cities.But that increased online visibility, along with greater societal acceptance in some parts of the country (not to mention gentrification, which prices out both queer people and queer businesses) have all contributed to the decline of LGBT-specific spaces — witness, for example, the disappearance of lesbian bars from every major city.Therein lies the problem: Finding a queer date or even a relationship might be less complicated now than it was in the days of On Our Backs, but in the age of dating apps, the search for love and sex has been downgraded from a bar-going, club-hopping, social-energy-requiring activity to a mostly solitary pursuit.But those moments of connection have vanished as these spaces shut their doors, and not much has emerged to replace them.The queer community, and the lesbian community in particular, has been suffering from a lack of a clubhouse — a gathering space, real or virtual, to replace the rapidly shrinking physical territory we can claim as our own.As she scrolled through the xeroxed back pages, she discovered the women-seeking-women ads that would become the inspiration for @herstorypersonals.Rakowski, who has an eagle eye for queer social media catnip, began posting some of the vintage ads on @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y.