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Over the course of its 12-year run, On Our Backs became a beacon of sexual liberation at a time when the mainstream women’s rights movement, largely dominated by the anti-porn brigade, was still squeamish about the pursuit of sex for pleasure.In fact, helping landlocked lesbians get laid was partly the point of On Our Backs: In the words of former editor Susie Bright, “we wanted everyone to be having the best damn sex of their lives.”At the time, there were a handful of small papers with a personals section specifically for women in search of women, but their raunchiness was curtailed by pressure from advertisers and printers, who would pull their business from a publication that smacked too much of homoeroticism.On top of that were the more puritanical strains of the feminist movement: Among a subset of radical queer feminists, including some lesbians, porn was viewed as an instrument of the patriarchy, an evil beyond redemption.
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.
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.
The day after it went up in late January 2017, she woke up to “like, a billion follow requests.” After a week or so of exchanging messages with a few people (including someone in Copenhagen, with whom she’s still pen pals), she heard from Dot, a 33-year-old woman in Los Angeles: “Not in Seattle but love your profile!
Def gonna check out Nightcrush next time I’m up there.” From that point on, Dot waged a low-key but persistent wooing campaign, responding to Lula’s Instagram stories, liking her photos, and sending her pictures of flowers and sunsets.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.