Personals is the text-only dating app that will get you laid

Online dating has become throwaway; based on an immediate reaction to someone's selfie. But one woman is dead set on changing that for the queer community.

by Hanna Hanra
11 July 2018, 9:10am

We all know that dating is hard -- apps trade off having a visual reaction to someone -- but how do you describe yourself with just a quick selfie? It’s one thing if you are a man seeking a woman, but what if your love life exists outside the sphere of heteronormative rumpty pumpty? How do you surmise that you’re looking for a soft-femme that’s thoughtful and cares about social justice and art, with a back-lit picture of yourself in a bikini? Kelly Rakowski, a photo editor who also runs the now iconic Instagram account @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y -- which focuses on reshaping history with images of queer women -- might just have the answer. @_Personals_ is the modern antidote to fruitlessly cruising through Tinder. Inviting people to write in, describing who they are and what they are looking for, the site asks queers, dykes, daddies and sassy leather lovers to set their intentions for true love -- and now it's growing out of Instagram into an app too.

Kelly, what made you start Personals?
I had found online some old issues from the 80s and 90s of the lesbian erotica magazine On Our Backs, and in the back of every issue were personal ads written by lesbians looking for lesbians. They were so sexy and inspiring. Women writing exactly what they were they were looking for. Directly, and in few words. I was inspired, and thought, we should be doing this too. So I asked followers of @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y to write their own personals. And they did.

And what has the reaction been?
Immediately people loved reading what were then called 'HerstoryPersonals' that I was posting so many on the main IG h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y account -- personals were overtaking the content. So I started a second sister account @HerstoryPersonals (now renamed @_Personals_). Personals is a super-active overflowing community with comments and DMs. The best part is how kind and receptive everyone is to the spectrum of identities, ages, personalities -- the comments are full of kind and supportive words.

Was it what you expected it to be?
I never planned it to be this successful, or popular. It grew organically, around the end of last year I decided to take the project more seriously, and now have set timelines for call for submissions (once at the beginning of each month, for two days) and I post nine personals a day. This helps build and maintain the audience, which has been growing like wildflowers. In tandem, around the end of last year I started thinking seriously about turning this into our own digital social community, building an app -- that is not affiliated with Instagram but still connected; the app will use your Instagram handle to login, and will help keep trolls at bay.

What has your own experience with dating apps been like?
My friends mostly use Tinder, I used Tinder in the past. Tinder is very throwaway culture; swipe and go. Most people I met on Tinder were recent breakups and not emotionally available. Because it's so quick, 'just throw up a selfie' and go -- you're not really setting intentions for something more fulfilling.

How do you think that the gay experience of dating online needs to change?
I think both the gay and the straight experience online may need to change. Or evolve. The current experience is face first, personality second -- I'm working to reverse that. On Personals Instagram you can tag the person you're into or DM them. Once you have a convo going, take it offline. With the Personals app beta version (first model) you'll be able to send an email to the person you're interested in and start the convo there. It’s much like the striped down Craigslist model of interacting. In later versions of the Personals app we'll have in-app messaging. On the Personals app you can also see user's Instagram handle and suss them out there.

Have you had any IRL success stories?
Yes! I started a hashtag #MetOnPersonals, there are couples flying across the country and world to meet. There's already been a marriage. Recently a lovely couple, Arizona and Juniper, messaged me to send a video they made together, highlighting their love, (it's in that hashtag) they are moving to Western Massachusetts together this month. Of course there's smaller stories; my friends have gone on Brooklyn beach dates and hooked up with someone in rural Ohio while passing through.

What is happening with growing it out of Instagram?
Right now I'm focused on getting a solid working version of this app made -- and while I’m building the audience on Instagram I’d like to throw more events. I also printed a Personals Newspaper -- a proper newspaper printed to promote the Personals Kickstarter. 100 NYC-area queers wrote personals to be in it. Eventually I would also like to build more media into the app, like advice and interviews.

Do you edit the submissions for Personals? If so, what are you looking for?
I don't edit much, only if it's grossly over the word limit. The system now is: a person contributes $5 to ensure their personal is posted. You can still submit personals free of charge, but the paid personals run first.

Do you feel that the moments of IRL community and connection have gone from the gay space?
Not at all, it's mixed, just like in life. You still go out and talk and meet people. The digital space just helps facilitate interactions that might not have taken place without it. I think it's important to have LBTQIA, gender non-conforming/nonbinary spaces -- (notice I left out the cis gay men). We need to be inclusive because being part of the lesbian community is much more colourful/queerer than just W4W. It's important for now to have gay men on the sidelines while we establish a space for ourselves. There are so many options for gay men, but for lesbians, trans, and nonbinary people it's much more limiting.

What would you recommend to those who find dating hard? Is there someone out there for everyone?
Meeting people through friends, on the beach, at a party or at an event is ideal. I call it slow dating. Or, just exchange an old-fashioned DM to someone you're crushing.

Pledge to the Personals kickstarter here.