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.
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.
Into that sex-starved void, On Our Backs cast its net.
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.
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.
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 …
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.