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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 …
“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.
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.
“I’d already met or matched with everyone, or everyone I saw was already a friend.”So she decided to try something different: a personal ad on @herstorypersonals, an Instagram matchmaking experiment for the lesbian, queer, trans, and nonbinary community.
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.
“I was fascinated by how people wrote about themselves and what they desired in such a direct way,” she says.
“And then I was like, ‘We have to start doing this today.’”She put out a call for @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y followers to write their own ads; soon, she was overwhelmed.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.