People looking to date online have many options: Tinder, OkCupid, Bumble, Plenty of Fish, Match, and more. But, if you identify as queer, non-binary, or otherwise, the choices for looking for love via dating apps are significantly less. While some of these apps do recognize different sexual orientations and gender identities, they were not made with the LGBTQ+ community in mind. However, in November, a new dating app called Lex launched with queer community specifically in mind—and in the process has helped change the way queer people are thinking about online dating.
Since its rebranding in November, Lex is proving to be a radical social space that seeks to connect lesbian, bisexual, asexual, womxn, trans, genderqueer, intersex, two-spirit, and non-binary people. It is not intended to be used by cisgender men. The concept for it first developed as an Instagram account in 2017. The idea for it came about through h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y, an Instagram account dedicated to archiving and portraying lesbian culture. The popular Instagram account generated over 10,000 personal ads in its time, all submitted by LGBTQ+ people from around the world. The original Instagram’s concept was playing on an old practice with the personal ad, but now in the digital age, it has created new space for the queer community.
Kell Rakowski is the founder of Lex and h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y, which offers viewers a well-curated look into lesbian culture over the decades, drawing from a multitude of sources ranging from memes, historical photos, and other things that center the lesbian experience. In a quest for content, Rakowski had been scouring through different sources and came across On Our Backs, an erotica magazine from the 1980s and ’90s. In it were various personal ads that Rakowski was particularly interested in, and she took to Instagram with them. These posts generated buzz and planted the seed of what would eventually become Lex in Rakowski’s mind.
“I was searching the internet for images of vintage lesbians to post on h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y and came across an online archive of On Our Backs magazines from the 1980s and ’90s. In the back of every issue were personal ads written by queer women detailing their desires. I thought, why don’t we write personal ads now? And added a link to a Google doc form to h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y’s bio, and submissions started pouring in. Soon after, I started a separate account just for personal ads,” says Rakowski.
In the two years that have followed, Lex has become the little queer dating app that could. Rakowski approached it in a very straightforward and minimalist way. Initially, she created a Google doc where people could write personal ads that she would then share on Instagram. When interest and demand grew, it was not feasible for Rakowski to sustain by herself. She was posting up to 20 ads a day. In the summer of 2017, armed with a concept and funding raised through Kickstarter, the next phase began.
Lex’s stripped-down approach does away with the pressure of photo-focused online dating platforms and instead asks participants to focus on words. It puts more emphasis on what people are looking for than what they look like.
In its new app form, Lex functions like the original Instagram account, but once you make your account, you can post ads and missed connections. From there, users can filter by location and keywords and phrases such as “top,” “daddy,” “cocktails,” and more. These keyword searches allow people to focus their preferences and look for ads that are specifically tailored to what they are after. For example, the word “daddy,” in the queer community, generally means an older, established male-presenting type person. Using words like cocktails or pizza is a way to find people who are interested in similar things and hopefully find people who are like-minded. The app itself has a “zero-tolerance policy towards creeps” and asserts that “no transphobia, no racism, no fat-phobia, no ableism, no hate speech of any kind” will be allowed.
“With Lex, the text is first and selfies second,” Rakowski says. “The focus is on your personality, wit, and clarity of your desires. We are very focused on serving the queer community. There are two ways of experiencing the Lex app, as a reader and as a writer. Some users of Lex might be just enjoying the experience reading about how other queers express themselves, but not interested in writing a personal. It’s also much less focused on dating, but also creating lasting friendships and community.”
And within three months of its debut, it’s gotten shout outs from even famous people such as queer author Carmen Machado and actress Jen Richards. Their feed is also flooded with many happy and enthusiastic users recounting recent meetups or chats they have had as well.
To date, there are only a handful of apps made exclusively for LGBTQ+ dating. Grindr did change its policy so that it is now geared toward people of all genders, but it has historically been a more male-dominated space. Scruff is also geared toward gay men. There’s also Zoe, which is made for female-identified folks, along with HER and Likk. Even mainstream apps such as OkCupid have tried to be more inclusive when it comes to gender, but they still tend to broadly cater to the heterosexual crowd.
Personal ads, in general, have experienced a bit of an online Renaissance with Craigslist’s infamous Casual Encounters, Personals, and Missed Connections sections. However, in 2018, the federal government shut down Casual Encounters and Personals on Craigslist, in an attempt to address larger sexual trafficking issues and individuals who have used the space for sex work. Despite that, Missed Connections still lives on in the Community section of Craigslist, and ads for people seeking sex and hookups do occasionally slip in. With the launch of Lex’s Instagram in 2018, this newfound queer space exploded after getting national attention and generated even greater interest, underscoring the need for more apps and social spaces like this.
Lex’s approach to a dating app is essential in the 21st century and is helping to foster a larger attitude of sexual and gender inclusion. And as Rakowski and Lex’s website stress, they are trying to create both a dating and community space. In the spirit of the larger project Rakowski is developing, it is putting queer identity at the center and is helping people form a community and become connected on a global scale.
“Recently, we featured on Lex Instagram a story about an artist in Minnesota conceptualizing a mural with a community organizer in Michigan. They worked together and with other queers to create a gorgeous mural in Saginaw, Michigan in honor of queers, trans, and drag queens that live in Saginaw. The artist and organizer are now bonded and great friends.”
Connections such as these that Lex is creating are essential to the LGBTQ+ community. They also play a huge role in how people interact and meet more like-minded individuals. By carving out this space and encouraging those who use it to connect in meaningful, fun, and sexy ways, they are helping to bolster what queerness and queer identity are.
The app’s overall emphasis on creating a community is also a departure from apps such as Tinder and Grindr that seek to connect people on a romantic and sexual level only. Lex’s emphasis on queer, trans, non-binary, and female-identified folks has helped to set it apart by giving space to a portion of the population that is normally not recognized on more mainstream apps. Platforms such as Lex allow for change to occur and also help build a stronger sense of community for the queer community locally and internationally.
“[With Lex, we want to] bring people together from URL to IRL and have fun. The app is meant to form connections with queers from all over the world—or your neighborhood,” says Rakowski.