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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.Meanwhile, our need for a deeper sense of belonging hasn’t gone away.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.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.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.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.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.
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.
A couple years later, Rakowski stumbled across a digital collection of On Our Backs, the first erotica magazine for a lesbian audience in the US, which ran from 1984 to 2006.
As she scrolled through the xeroxed back pages, she discovered the women-seeking-women ads that would become the inspiration for @herstorypersonals.
(Rakowski herself ditched the app scene a couple years ago and met her current partner in real life, or what she likes to call “slow dating.”)In many ways, dating apps have made finding romance easier than ever for the modern queer woman — we don’t have to leave our couches to find a whole party bus of lesbians within a 10-mile radius who might want to go on a date with us.
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.
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.