That’s where @herstorypersonals comes in: Just as On Our Backs opened a door for queer women to own their sexuality, @herstorypersonals is becoming the de facto lesbian bar of the internet, restoring a sense of community to a faction of 21st-century queerdom.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.“It was the first time in my life that I was ever courted,” says Lula. Lula and Dot aren’t the only happily-ever-afters who met through @herstorypersonals: A little more than a year into its existence, the Instagram throwback to the days of lonely hearts ads has successfully matched dozens, if not hundreds, in romantic relationships, and connected countless others in various forms of simpatico queerness — from long-distance pen pals to mutual photo-likers to real-life friends and hookups.The whole thing began as a lesson in lesbian history for Kelly Rakowski, 38, a photo editor at Metropolis.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.
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.
Meanwhile, our need for a deeper sense of belonging hasn’t gone away.
For past generations, lesbian bars filled the dual role of romantic fishbowl and community center — a place where you could find unequivocal acceptance, a bathroom makeout, or maybe just a drink and a knowing look from the bartender.
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.