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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.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”).But it wasn’t all photos of whip-wielding dykes and handcuffed femmes; it also published groundbreaking stories about queer life and culture, including some of the first reporting on the AIDS epidemic within the lesbian community.At its peak, the magazine had a full-time staff of 10 and a circulation of 20,000 — not insignificant for a publication that basically existed on the fringes of the fringe.“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.

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.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 2014, she started the Instagram account @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y, a hit reel of iconic queer imagery featuring portraits of Audre Lorde, candids from early Pride marches, and probably every photo in existence of Jodie Foster as a baby gay.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.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.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.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.

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