More fun than Dudley Moore movies; More intelligent than amoeba; Easier to talk to than God; Added together—what is the sum? A 22-year-old whose life reads like a Russian novel? Yes and more! Is there Power and Trust in DC? Are you intense or just fooling yourself?
So goes a personal ad from the Spring 1986 issue of On Our Backs, a lesbian erotica magazine whose classifieds sections were more art form than advertisement. These words—carefully strung together like a poem by an anonymous writer in Washington, DC—spell out the naked desire of a queer community in flux. It was just before the dawn of the internet, and the 1980s, a decade of excess and extravagance, was in full swing. The theme of the moment? Sex.
Buried in the classifieds section in the back of a newspaper or magazine, personal ads were where readers flocked to see who was asking for what. If you were a lonely queer in the 1970s looking for love—or friendship, or sex, or something else entirely—the personals were a place for you. From booty calls to marriage proposals, the personals paved the way for love to transcend the boundaries of convention and, eventually, enter another dimension: the internet. Much like dating app profiles today, personal ads followed a formula, listing details like menu items: age, gender, hobbies, features, etcetera. Abbreviations like “NSA” (no strings attached), “GBM” (gay Black male), “D” (divorced), and “ALA” (all letters answered) made up a coded language of letters. It wasn’t necessarily secret—anyone familiar with classifieds would be able to decipher the acronyms—but it was discrete, and concise.