Lex, the hookup and social app that launched in 2019 with a nod to lesbian personal ads from the 80s, is changing. Only, precisely how much will change is still an open question. Sure, the venture-backed startup behind the queer app gave it a new lick of paint last week, but in refocusing on “friends and community,” some users fear that Lex will also scrub away its beloved, raunchy essence.
Home to personals both horny and wholesome, the text-based service grew over the past few years into a queer community newspaper of sorts — a place for women, trans, genderqueer and non-binary people to announce meetups, find concert tickets, share poetry, crack in-jokes or simply cruise. Given its breadth and silliness, the app inspires smiles and eye-rolls alike among queer folks in my orbit.
Lex satisfies a need that is typically shunned by mainstream tech; Craigslist, which famously upended the newspaper classifieds business, shuttered its online personals feature a year before Lex launched. Social giants like Meta and TikTok, meanwhile, take a largely puritanical attitude towards sex and sexuality. Apple, which sets the ground-rules for mainstream apps through its app store, is also totally prude. Tech’s censorship-prone gatekeepers — as well as the broader pattern of businesses sanitizing, and then monetizing, queer culture — leave many LGBTQIA+ folks reasonably wary of social media.
So, it’s no surprise that Lex’s announcement of a “new look” and “new direction” has rubbed people the wrong way, even as thirsty posting continues on the app.
Lex publicized its redesign on January 26, emphasizing its role in helping people find “LGBTQ+ friends & queer community.” A press release laid out the app’s evolution “from a dating app to a vibrant social platform,” while an Instagram post from the company highlighted a shift from personal ads towards group chats and meetups. Using a how it started meme, the startup contrasted its origins (sharing lesbian imagery and personals on Instagram) with a post for a trans tea party with “scones and jam.”
But by omission, is Lex trying to tidy itself up? The uproar I observed in response to the redesign wasn’t universal, but it was swift.
“Wtf lex …queer fucking is sacred, not some commodity,” said one user in a public post. Another wrote: “Let’s keep it ? ??. I appreciate the effort to make Lex better for platonic queer relationships, but I loathe the new culture of sanitizing the internet and washing our sexuality away from every platform.”
Others praised and critiqued Lex’s new look. One user said the redesign made the app more welcoming, while another called it cute. I chimed in on the app’s new color scheme, saying, “it ain’t easy being green. but at least it’s not twitter.” (I had totally forgotten that TechCrunch uses a similar hue… whoops!) I solicited more feedback on the new direction via the app itself, and I heard from about a dozen people, most of whom expressed some degree of concern.
Lily, a Lex user, told me she hated the shift. “Queer spaces trying to move themselves away from centering sex = giving in to a homophobic society,” she said, clarifying: “People were using this app for all kinds of things before, so there’s no need to encourage “social” use unless you’re trying to discourse other uses (i.e. sex).” Another user said the app seemed more subversive before the redesign. “I’m def in the ‘keep Lex filthy’ camp,” they added.
One user told me, “there’s enough social media out there. what I preferred about original lex was the craigslist feeling.” Yet another user cautioned, “There’s much more at play in the sanitization of one queer former dating app. Just look at the annual no kink at pride debate and how often it’s said that there should be no signs of sexuality in spaces if we want to be deserving of our gay rights.”
Later on, a new user who joined after the redesign told me she saw the complaints and felt like she “missed out lol.”
Asked about the direction of the app, Lex founder Kel Rakowski told TechCrunch that the company “surveyed thousands of Lexers and found that the overwhelming majority wanted a platform to find queer friends and community in their area.” Rakowski pointed me to a user research sign-up page and said Lex pays users for feedback. The founder and CEO went on to say that Lex’s “all queer team” is “in control of all product decisions.” She added, “Our investors never interfere with the vision of Lex.”
On the topic of sex, Rakowski said, “We encourage Lexers looking for dates and hookups to continue horny posting on Lex! It’s their space to connect, for love, friendship and more.”
When asked, Lex declined to say how many people use its app, but Rakowski said the service is “growing rapidly in cities across the US,” and its “top cities are NYC, Chicago [and] LA.” The ten-person team behind Lex has raised at least $1.5 million to date, from investors such as Corigin Ventures, Bumble Fund and Bonobos founder Andy Dunn.
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