Personals Non Grata: The End of Craigslist Casual Encounters

San Francisco’s most notorious hookup queens look back on their strangest meetings.

Craigslist Casual Encounters is now a casualty of puritan legislation from the Republican Congress. Two days after the Senate approved a draconian bill called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), Craigslist shut down its storied personals section, as ads for consensual hook-ups can now have criminal liability as possible sex trafficking.

Before Tinder or Grindr, before there was ever Match or, there was the magical yet shameful sexual underground of Craigslist personals. Back in the day before hook-up apps, we’d use Craigslist Casual Encounters for anonymous, tawdry, one-night stands wherein you never called the partner back afterward and you wouldn’t even make eye contact if you saw them on the street.

“Losing the Craigslist personals was like losing a best friend. It set me into deep mourning,” says local drag queen, Oasis owner, and Daytime Realness co-hostess Heklina. “For a moment, I even considered moving to Canada,” she says, noting that Craigslist personals are still online in Canada and Mexico.

“It really became an addiction and made me hopelessly attracted to  DL, unavailable straight guys,” she tells SF Weekly. “There was the one guy who showed up at my outside intercom with a 4-year-old girl in tow. I knew this because I can see my front gate from my bay window. He was babysitting and was going to have her be in another room watching cartoons while we had sex. I do have my standards, however low, and told him to go away.”

“There was also the guy who showed up for our tryst with his wife on the phone,” Heklina remembers. “The whole time I was sucking his dick, he never stopped talking to her and he never once addressed me. I assumed it was his wife or girlfriend because I heard a female voice telling him what to pick up from the store on the way home. That one was actually kind of hot.”

“What am I gonna do?” Heklina wonders now that those personals are gone. “Maybe I’ll explore dating. Is there a market out there for middle-aged, non-passable drag queens?”

There was a market for just about anything sexual on Craigslist, and sexual folklorist and creator of Bawdy Storytelling Dixie De La Tour once posted a Craigslist ad requesting the “worst sex ever.” That is exactly what she got.

“I put up an ad on Craigslist. It was entitled ‘The Worst Sex Ever, Want to Help?’ ” she says. “I say, ‘I’m a redheaded BBW, big beautiful woman, I need really, really bad sex.’ ”

“I click send, and my email box starts flooding with responses. It’s alarming how many responses I’m getting,” she remembers. “After 10 minutes, there’s like 100 responses.”

Dixie found one email that stands out, accompanied with a photo. “I click on the photo, and it’s his dick,” she says. “And I see that he has named his photo ‘hung.jpg.’ I thought, that has all the makings of bad sex.”

So the two arranged to meet.

“I said to him, ‘You’re going to have to meet me on the street at the bus stop, because I’ve only seen your penis and I want to make sure you’re not a serial killer,’ ” she said,

He passed the not-a-serial-killer test, and the two dashed to his apartment and fast-tracked straight to coitus. But Dixie was unsatisfied because he wasn’t penetrating her deeply enough, so she pushed her body back on him to get that D in deeper. In doing so, she gave him a pulled hamstring, which brought the date to a painful end.

“I shake his hand and thank him, and it occurs to me,” De La Tour says. “I hadn’t really stipulated who the worst sex was going to be for, me or him.”

Craigslist personals did not disappear in a vacuum. The personals were pulled because FOSTA and SESTA have wrought havoc on pretty much all sexual conversation online. But sex workers, who are most adversely affected by these laws, are leading the charge against the two laws.

“There are a number of things you can do right now,” sex worker, educator, and journalist Andre Shakti tells SF Weekly. She recommends donating to sexual advocacy groups like the Third Wave Fund and the Lysistrata Mutual Care Collective. “If you have even $5 or $10, every little bit helps.”

“Listen to sex workers, read sex worker op-eds about SESTA-FOSTA, listen to where sex workers are telling you to put your money or your time or your energy,” Shakti says. “When you hear of an organized effort like a march or peaceful protest in your area, and sex workers are telling people to show up, show up to it.”

The Craigslist personals page is now just boilerplate text saying, “Hopefully, we can bring them back someday.” To bring those personals back, the sex industry is seeking men and seeking women for strictly platonic support and advocacy.

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