Lex, the hookup and social app launched in 2019 with a nod to lesbian personal ads from the 80s, changes. Just how much exactly will change is still an open question. Sure, the venture-backed startup behind the queer app gave it a fresh coat of paint last week, but by refocusing on “friends and community,” some users fear Lex will also scrub away at its beloved raunchy essence.
Home to personals that are both hot and healthy, the text-based service has evolved in recent years into something of a queer community newspaper — a place for women, trans, genderqueers, and non-binary people to announce meetups, find concert tickets, share poetry, crack in jokes or just cruise. Given its breadth and silliness, the app inspires both smiles and eye rolls from queer people in my job.
Lex fills a need usually shunned by mainstream technology; Craigslist, which was famous for turning newspaper ads upside down, shut down its online personals feature a year before Lex launched. Social giants like meta and TikTokmeanwhile adopt a mostly puritanical attitude towards sex and sexuality. Apple, which sets the ground rules for regular apps through its App Store, is totally that way too prudish. Tech’s censorship-prone gatekeepers — as well as the broader pattern of companies cleaning up queer culture and then making money — are making many LGBTQIA+ people fairly wary of social media.
So it’s no surprise that Lex’s announcement of a “new look” and “new direction” has left people in awe, even as the thirsty posting continues on the app.
Lex announced his redesign on Jan. 26, highlighting his role in helping people find “LGBTQ+ friends and queer community.” A press release outlined the app’s evolution “from a dating app to a vibrant social platform,” while a Instagram message from the company highlighted a shift from personal ads to group chats and meetups. Make use of one how it started meme, the startup contrasted his origin (sharing lesbian images and personals on Instagram) with a post for a “scones and jam” trans tea party.
But is Lex trying to clean up after himself through negligence? The uproar I observed in response to the redesign was not universal, but it was rapid.
“Wtf lex…queer fucking is sacred, not a 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 cleaning up the internet and washing our sexuality off every platform.”
Others praised and criticized Lex’s new look. One user said the redesign made the app more welcoming, while another called it cute. I agreed with the app’s new color scheme and said, “It’s not easy being green. But at least it’s not twitter.” (I completely forgot that gotechbusiness.com uses a similar shade… oops!) I asked for more feedback on the new direction through the app itself, and I heard from a dozen people, most of whom expressed some level of concern.
Lily, a Lex user, told me she hated the service. “Queer spaces try to keep themselves away from sex-centered sex = giving in to a homophobic society,” she said, clarifying: “People used to use this app for all sorts of things before, so there’s no need to admit ‘social’ use. unless you’re trying to discuss other uses (i.e. sex). Another user said the app seemed more subversive before the redesign. “I definitely belong to the ‘keep Lex dirty’ camp,” they added.
One user told me, “There are plenty of social media out there. What I preferred about the original lex was the craigslist feel. Yet another user warned: “There’s a lot more to cleaning up a former gay dating app. Just look at the annual no kink at pride debate and how often it is said that there should be no signs of sexuality in spaces if we want to earn our gay rights.”
Later, a new user who joined after the redesign said she saw the complaints and felt like she “missed out on fun.”
When asked about the app’s direction, Lex founder Kel Rakowski told gotechbusiness.com that the company “surveyed thousands of Lexers and found that the vast majority wanted a platform to find queer friends and community in their area.” Rakowski pointed me to one user research login page and said Lex pays users for feedback. The founder and CEO went on to say that Lex’s “all queer team” has “all product decisions under control.” She added: “Our investors never interfere with Lex’s vision.”
On the subject of sex, Rakowski said, “We encourage Lexers looking for dates and hookups to continue posting hot to Lex! It is their space to connect, for love, friendship and more.”
When asked, Lex declined to say how many people use the app, but Rakowski said the service is “growing rapidly in cities across the US,” and that the “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.
Do you know anything about Lex’s new direction? Contact this reporter at Twitter or email.