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    San Francisco Bay Times ‘Personals’ Forged Lasting Connections

    For well over three decades, the San Francisco Bay Times “Personals” section provided an essential platform for local LGBTQ people to make connections: for business, pleasure and much more. To this day, those of us at the paper still hear from couples who met each other years ago via the paper. Before the internet, online dating services, cell phones, apps and other technologies, the Personals section ruled.

    This was especially true for members of our LGBTQ community, who often risked losing their jobs and families if outed. Such risks sadly still exist today, but not to the extent that they did in 1978—the year that the San Francisco Bay Times was first published. On the upside, the common anonymity of the Personals emboldened the otherwise shy and often had a sense of excitement and hopefulness about it.

    The debut issue of the paper featured a “Men’s Section” and a “Women’s Section.” Each were to have their own Personals sections, which soon merged. The introduction to the format in that first issue was as follows: “Personals let you exchange non-sexual information you might not get in other forms of encounter. It’s a different way of meeting people.” It went on to say that you can “make statements about who you really are and who you’d really like to meet.”

    “If you’re interested in the sexual possibilities, you can say so, but exchange details privately.”

    Of course, this led to all sorts of erotic acronyms describing individuals and their desired forms of sexual play. A veritable dictionary was needed to translate acronyms like DFK (deep French kissing) OWO (oral without, for those who hated the taste of latex and didn’t mind the related risks) and much more.

    Most of the ads, however, were more G-rated in nature and reflected the heartfelt hopes of their authors. Even these were not without risk, however. The first issue of the paper instructed: “For your protection, we advise against the publication of home phone numbers and addresses. We recommend a post office box or private letter drop service.”

    Sometimes the authors of the ads were friends who desired to help out their single, and perhaps a little skittish, pals. Such was the case with Deb Mosk. A friend of hers placed a Personals ad in the San Francisco Bay Times without Mosk’s permission. The friend simply told Mosk that an ad had been placed and gave her a post office box number. It was up to Mosk to follow up.

    At around the same time, the best friend of Debra Shapiro did the same. Shapiro, recently single, was living in Millbrae then, while her friend was in San Francisco and therefore more aware of the Bay Times Personals popularity. Shapiro recalls what happened next: “I checked the ads and circled three to call. I remember not understanding much about Deb’s ad, other than she was obviously Jewish—the header was ‘Professional Mensch’—35, employed, and slightly chicken, like me.”

    “I laid on my couch and repeatedly tried leaving a cool-sounding message on her mailbox recording,” Shapiro added. “After the third try, I was satisfied. Deb called the next morning, a Monday, and we agreed to talk that night. We talked on the phone for 3 hours and arranged to meet in Burlingame in a couple of days. I remember the next day I heard back from another ad I must have responded to, and I simply told that person that I had ‘found someone’ and was not interested in meeting anyone else!”

    “I sent flowers to Deb’s work with a note that said, ‘In Anticipation,'” she continued. “Although I was late for our first real date at the Hyatt Burlingame, I knew right away that I didn’t want to be with anyone else. She wore a cream-colored blouse and a grey jumper … and harlequin tights and brown shoes. I don’t think she wore a dress again until our wedding 5 years later! We had a beautiful wedding at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on May 2, 1999. When marriage was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court, we married, and had another ceremony in Deb’s parents’ garden on September 22, 2013. The actress Sharon Gless was our flower girl.”

    “It really was a miracle that I saw that ad, and met the love of my life. We have had a wonderful 24 years together, and look forward to many, many more.”

    Sean Timberlake tells his Bay Times Personals story at his website (https://www.seantimberlake.com/2017/06/18/personals-history/ ). It begins in 1991, when Timberlake had just moved to San Francisco. Freelancing in theater, he had two roommates and not much of a social life. He posted an ad in the paper, mentioning, in part, that he needed “more fun” in his life and desired someone “to be silly with.”

    The ad led to numerous calls from interested men. Timberlake writes, “One I responded to was a man named Paul, about my age, who was currently living with his parents in Marin County. In a typical ice-breaking way, I asked what he did, and he responded that he was studying sign language. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I know a signer,’ and mentioned his name. Paul made a low grumble. They had just broken up.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “From that point,” Timberlake added, “we quickly ascertained that we knew other people in common—remarkable as I knew so few people—and when we finally met face-to-face, I realized we had met several times before.”

    Both were seeing other people then, but they continued to meet up. Paul Brown (who now goes by dpaul) went back east to college. Timberlake, who volunteered with The Names Project, had the opportunity to fly to Washington, D.C., permitting a chance to visit with Brown, who subsequently began to volunteer for the organization as an ASL interpreter.

    “We spent an emotionally charged three-day weekend together in the capital,” Timberlake recalls. “Seeing the quilt in its entirety, marching on the White House, chanting ‘Shame! Shame!’ at an administration that still appeared not to care about a community in crisis. Ah, but we traveled together. We spent 72 hours in each other’s company, and did not want it to end. I knew, then, this was a relationship I wanted to pursue for the long haul.”

    Fast forward to the present, and the couple has been together ever since. They have married each other not just once, but three times, and are in their second home together with their second dog. Timberlake now wonders about himself and Brown, “Did these two young men have any idea that they would build a life, a lifetime, together? I don’t think so, but I’m very glad they got beyond that first voice mail exchange.”

    Not all Personals ad posters were as successful so quickly. In fact, frustrations over not finding the right match led to the catchy tune “San Francisco Bay Times Blues” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6TX9get2Zk ). But even those who were unlucky in love often look back at those Personals days with wistful nostalgia. We here at the Bay Times certainly do, and always welcome stories related to that memorable period in the paper’s long and continuing history.