Public Personals: A Peek Inside the Queer Instagram Dating Experiment

feature image from @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y

What a thrill it is to live in a time when the potential for instant human connection is literally at your fingertips. Not so long ago when you wanted to find that/those special someone(s) outside of your social circles for friendship, dating and everything in between, you had to: condense what you’re about and what you’re looking for in a partner into the length of a tweet, write or type that letter, send or take it directly to the post office along with cash, a check, or a money order, wait anywhere from one to three days, and then answer all of your landline phone calls/listen to all of your voicemails.

Possibly a man calls even though you’ve specifically titled your post W4W. Then a woman calls, but you’re still making small talk with a stranger over the phone as your first interaction. Then she goes, “Do you know where Cache is? We could meet there tomorrow night if you’re free.” You don’t know where Cache is, but try to play it cool for some reason, as if “knowing where something is” is cool at all, and say you do know where Cache is, and that you can’t wait to meet them there tomorrow at nine o’clock. Then when you’re hanging up you almost say “love you” because mostly you talk to your family on the phone and it’s a fast twitch muscle memory. You catch it before it comes out, but in stopping yourself so abruptly something like, “Eep” came out in the process, so then you round it out with solid, unforgiving “goodbye.” All this at what cost! It’s too much!

Now the internet simplifies this process into the press of a button. But who’s to say if this immediacy and interconnectedness mean it’s better, or even more successful! In fact, one could argue having such a wealth of options and still not feeling like there’s a person out there for you is worse than being unsuccessful with limited options. At least then there’s the potential to believe the lack of real connection in your life is because of factors beyond your control, instead of being presented quite thoroughly with the crushing reality that love is a lie.

Then there’s the question of how well each executes transparency. Does less room for describing yourself and what you want in someone mean there’s less room to project an image and therefore allows for real candor, or is it listing 30 book titles and 73 movies you enjoy that exposes the real you?

It’s a difficult call. But thanks to h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y, the Instagram account run by Kelly Rakowski and known for its archived lesbian culture content, we no longer have to speculate! In August, the account began what they called “beta testing” for a website dedicated to personals of hersteryear.

It would be an homage to all the unique ways queer women have marked themselves and dog-whistled each other throughout the decades, the witch bitch switches and the techno hippie hyperdykes from the queer classifieds of the 80s, only this time it’d be instant and without the anonymity. The personals would be tagged with the participants’ username and shared as a text image with its 60,000 followers.

Anyone could (and still can!) sign up, and since their call for submissions a little over ten personals have been posted. It’s been something else watching the DMs roll out in real time as comments and seeing people @ing their friends to come get their people. For every hundred likes each post has gotten there have been a thousand more views, and for some idea of the scope of this experiment, the other day Ilana Glazier liked someone’s personal.

I wanted to know more (more apparently than the heaps of information already available to me?), so I reached out to a handful of participants for an update. In particular I was interested in what motivated them to submit and how it’s been since their personal went up. Here’s what they had to say!

@babyegirl: “I love the idea of an old school style personal ad and I think I actually got a pretty good response. Most people don’t directly message and instead like a bunch of your pictures, which is kind of strange and passive but I did find a cool girl I’m now texting who lives nearby in New Orleans.” [editors note: @babyegirl would like me to let people know she’s still single wiiiink.]

@stale.kael: “The reason for posting was to just take part and have something to look back at 20 years later. As someone who’s introverted the attention was a bit intense. But I won’t lie, it was nice being on the receiving end of it. The responses were all so nice and I didn’t get a date out of the personal ad but I get some new people to follow, plus a pen pal and point of contact in San Fransisco.”

@andthen_shesaid: “I submitted mostly because I loved that they were bringing back the idea from On Our Backs and other old school methods for lesbian/queer community. I wasn’t looking for a date at the time, but was curious about what would happen if I posted for other like-minded people. I did get a lot of responses and reactions but very few IRL follow-through, except from some new followers. I’m guessing this is similar to dating sites, ha. It was a fun experience, I’d do it again. : )”

@ireland.ingrid: “I wrote my ad while celebrating femme day with my best friend. A faux holiday where every single part of the day has to be indulgent 🙂 When I wrote it, with her by my side, I don’t think either of us expected it to get legitimate responses or let alone be posted on Instagram. But here I am weeks later having purchased a ticket to North Carolina. The comments on the post are the most special part of the whole experience to me. The way I present myself can often be so isolating in this community.. so to see other femmes rejoicing.. saying ‘this is so me!’ That made me so happy. Most of the responses were from andro babes in other cities saying the ad intrigued them etc but nothing went beyond small talk. But before my ad was posted, another was posted.. the ‘rare bird’ one. I read it and laughed, it’s basically a puzzle piece to my ad. And I almost exclusively wear clogs. After mine was posted she reached out.. texting turned into hand written letters and mailed gifts from nature which turned into FaceTime calls. And now I’m going to go see her. Wish me luck?”

@hello_its_kate: “This has all been a very funny experience. I didn’t think my ad would be posted. I wrote it because it was kind of cathartic. This summer I went through a couple of break ups that left me a bit wounded. When I saw the opportunity through her story to write an ad it got me thinking that I’d write one seeking my dream girl that I had yet to find in her entirety. I wrote it and sat on it several days. Writing it itself wasn’t the problem, actually submitting it was. So I sat and waited and when it was posted it definitely made me feel very flattered that it got any responses. I’ve had responses from literally all over the world, and even a few locally. I’ve had responses from literally all over the world, and even a few locally. Definitely have way more strangers following my Instagram account now. It’s almost better than OkCupid or Tinder really because it’s all focused around this funny, queer, vintage gay-loving Instagram account.

By far the most exciting thing that has happened is that after my ad was posted another ad was posted. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in our ads. She was looking for a “butch” to watch her out on makeup, while I was seeking a femme to watch. I messaged her immediately simply to point out the similarities. We’ve been talking every day since then and she just purchased a ticket to come meet me in a few weeks.”

A personal to personal match! What a ride. A big congrats to these two, and a big thanks to everyone who let me repost their story, making theirs an even more public public personal. Y’all are the heros.

Now it’s time for the rest of you to get out there and get your own pen pals, new followers, new friends, or budding cross country romance!


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Los Angeles based writer. Let's keep it clean out there!

Erin has written 196 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. this is really interesting and cute! thanks for posting about it, erin. also, real life, thinking that “the lack of real connection in your life is because of factors beyond your control [like living in a small town]” is how i managed to believe i was straight well into my twenties.

    • Not sure exactly what you’re asking, but the general content of the IG account is trans positive from what I’ve seen, and I’ve never seen TERFy comments on it. I think if a trans woman submitted a personal it would be treated the same as any other, and that any transphobic comments on the pic would be deleted, but of course there might be TERFs/trolls who send hurtful/offensive DMs.

      If you’re asking how many trans women have participated, I have no idea.

  2. I follow that account! They have some pretty neat content!
    Signed up to receive their newsletter, or something, but just missed it
    and never got it. Don’t know where my email address ended up! D=

    • I think the newsletter got blocked by MailChimp because they have a policy of not distributing material with sexual solicitations, or something. She posted about it a while back, I think she’s looking for an alternative way to distro it.

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