Bi social club bars some trans women
by Heather Cassell
The Chasing Amy Social Club came under attack last month after its anti-transgender membership policy was revealed on a trans woman's blog.
Charlie Anders, a bisexual transgender woman in her 30s who has not undergone convertive surgery, posted an entry, "Chasing Transgender Women Away," on July 21 on her Charliegrrrl blog protesting the club's transgender policy. She posted a follow-up entry on August 13, which encouraged people to contact Amy Larson, CASC founder, to voice their disagreement with the policy.
Anders told the Bay Area Reporter that she contacted Larson sometime in July to inquire about joining CASC. Anders, a former staff member of Anything that Moves, the now-defunct national bisexual magazine and a longtime LGBT community activist, was bothered by the policy.
The policy, according to Larson, is "partially" modeled after one used at Osento, the all-women's bathhouse in San Francisco's Mission District. According to its gender policy, Osento allows transgender women who have had surgery. In an e-mail response to questions August 20, Larson stated, "There is a fair amount of semi- or full-nudity at various of our private group events."
CASC is a private social group founded, organized, and funded solely by Larson, a bisexual woman, for bisexual and bi-supportive women in the Bay Area that has been operating for six years. The group has an estimated 500 members, according to Larson, who screens potential members by phone to see if they meet the club's membership criteria.
Women excluded from joining the club, Larson said, are women who smoke indoors, "vegans offended by the presence of animal products, those with cat allergies, red wine drinkers, folks partaking of drugs during events, women under the age of 18, women seeking a singles hookup environment or sex club, and a variety of other things," including bisexual transgender women who haven't undergone surgery.
Larson wrote in an e-mail to the B.A.R. , that the policy "has existed for years, and has been reevaluated at various times."
While most of the aforementioned criteria are posted on the CASC Web site, there was no mention until Wednesday, August 22 that pre-operative transgender women are barred from joining the club. The Web site only stated, "all women over the age of 18 are invited to be a part of this group!"
Some members of the club support Larson's policy, while others do not.
Lisa Vogt, 28, a bisexual woman, wrote in an August 17 e-mail, "The Chasing Amy Social Club is a community for bisexual women and their bi-supportive female friends ... Amy's leadership is necessary to the club, and she is the one who decides on the rules ... I support the way Amy has chosen to balance the need to create a safe space within the club with the need to remain open and inclusive, as indicated by the club's policy."
Club member Marsha Lanier, in an e-mail to the B.A.R. on August 21, described transgender women as "women with penises."
"If a woman with a penis wants to force her way into a group of transitioning women and bio women who have tried very hard to create a safe place for themselves, then that is a very patriarchal energy," wrote Lanier. "A 'me and my cock have a right to go anywhere' kind of entitlement."
It is this attitude that is turning some members away from the club.
Gina de Vries, 24, a former club member, told the B.A.R. that the CASC events were "a lot of fun" and there was a lot of positive energy "being a bi woman and being in a bi women's group," but she would like to see that positive environment extended to "all queer women."
According to de Vries, earlier this year there was a transgender woman who attended a CASC event who hadn't undergone surgery. It was during that event, according to de Vries, that a conversation arose between the unidentified transgender woman and Larson. De Vries got the impression from that conversation that the policy was perhaps ended.
"What Amy said was pretty vague," said de Vries. "I couldn't tell if there was a policy."
She was surprised a few months later to hear that the policy remained in place.
"I was surprised that other trans women were excluded and now she is saying publicly that this policy is true," said de Vries. "That saddens me."
Anders doesn't have a problem with recognizing the other membership criteria cited by Larson, but she does have a problem with the transgender policy, especially in an organization that has recently seen its profile rise. The club was featured in a couple of B.A.R. articles, including one about bisexual visibility in this year's Pride issue.
Anders became aware of the policy when she inquired about membership in the club. At that time Anders told the B.A.R. she informed Larson about her pre-operative status as a bisexual transgender woman.
"I told her," said Anders. "I figured that she might already know that I was transgender because I post on a lot of e-mail lists that she's on. So I mentioned that I'm legally female, my driver's license says 'f'.'"
Larson informed Anders about the club's policy, which disappointed her.
"It's actually a very irrational policy," said Anders. "Because it's so genitally focused it's so objectifying ... It's insulting, not to just trans women, but to all women, because it reduces everybody to what's between their legs."
Anders and Larson attempted to meet, but it never transpired due to scheduling conflicts, according to both women.
After Anders's blog post, Larson said, "I learned about what I considered two-faced behavior. I realized meeting with her was something I no longer felt inclined to do."
Sting of successes
Anders wasn't only upset by the policy, but was concerned that the policy was institutionalized in the most public bisexual organization in the Bay Area. Anders had read the articles in the B.A.R. this summer that featured Larson and the CASC.
"I love the bisexual community," said Anders, who told the B.A.R. that she hasn't experienced the same exclusion from the lesbian community. "It's fairly rare for any bisexual organization to get that kind of exposure ... to an extent they are the most prominent bisexual organization in the Bay Area right now by virtue of the other ones not getting as much exposure. I don't think that they can really say, 'Oh, we are just a private club, at this point.'"
Larson insists that the club's recent appearance in the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade and an e-mail blitz to KRON4 about the club's "distain" at being left out of the television broadcast was a personal act, not a political act.
"I didn't 'launch a campaign,'" wrote Larson. "I voiced my opinion aloud. I don't think that makes me an activist."
Recently, transgender activists and supporters have been voicing their opinions about CASC's policy.
Dorian Katz, 38, a queer woman, was considering joining the club, but doesn't want to join anymore because of the policy.
"Some of the people I love most are transgender women," said Katz. "I don't want to go to anything they can't. It sucks."
Upon learning of the policy, Katz sent a "sassy" e-mail to Larson in protest of the policy.
"I wrote that I would never donate money to you and I will boo loudly if I ever see your float in a Pride Parade," Katz said.
Katz said that Larson's response was "angry and kind of bullying."
But CASC isn't the only club with membership issues. Earlier this year bisexuals were being booted out of a social group for lesbians over 40, Ain't Dead Yet Kick-Azz Events, which formed on June 20, 2005. The founder of that club, Michelle Brenard, circulated a poll in April asking members to identify their sexual orientation.
A flurry of angry discussion buzzed on Bay Area lesbian and bisexual listserves. Brenard has since deleted the poll and told the B.A.R. that it was a "mistake." To make up for her error she created ADYKE 2, a social group for lesbians and their friends, in May, but didn't reinstate bisexual members in the original ADYKE.
Brenard, a personal injury and employment law attorney, told the B.A.R. that she is working to build ADYKE from a social group of 1,200 Bay Area members into a nonprofit organization to serve lesbians over 40, a group she recognized needed community and support services. Bisexuals don't fit into the mission of ADYKE, according to Brenard. Brenard said that she won't make a decision about lesbian transgender women until she has a board of directors with which she can consult.
This is different from CASC, which, according to Larson, will remain a private social group.
Both Brenard and Larson told the B.A.R. that due to their positions they have received harassing e-mails, blog post comments, and listserve discussions.
Larson did not provide any e-mail she identified as harassing, she only stated, "I have received mean-spirited hate mail ... some of whom have teetered dangerously close to outright threats in my direction."
Brenard told the B.A.R. that her home phone number and address were posted and circulated on Bay Area Sappho and that she "was really afraid for my life that people would attack me."
Getting out of the spotlight
With CASC's recent public success that brought her more offers of community service along with some criticism, Larson is retreating.
"It is and has always been my intention to keep my life as my own and preferably out of the public eye," wrote Larson. "Unfortunately, there are those in the community who currently won't allow me that privacy."
She opted out of presenting at the "Not Queer Enough" transgender and bisexual literary event in July, hosted by transgender instructor Ray Rea at San Francisco State University, after learning that Anders was going to confront her about the policy.
According to Anders, Larson dropped out of the event due to "scheduling issues" and wasn't aware the reason was linked to her presence at the event.
Rea declined to comment to the B.A.R. about the situation.
ADYKE's Brenard said that she supported Larson.
"The power of being united as a queer community is great, but that doesn't mean we as human beings lose our right to gather," said Brenard. "Discrimination law was never meant to limit people's freedom of association."
Lanier and Vogt both wrote that they feel Larson deserves recognition and support for her commitment to the community.
Larson wrote in an e-mail that she's done quite a bit for the transgender community over the years. She produced Miss Kitty's Scratching Post, a show for queer women and transgender individuals, for a year and a half. Currently, she moderates a Bay Area poly women's discussion group for "anyone who self-identifies as female." She even told the B.A.R. in an e-mail that she offered to help Anders start her own group that could do "joint events" with CASC in the future.
"These offers went completely unanswered," wrote Larson.
Bisexual activist Amy Andre, who is also a member of CASC, hopes that the recent situation doesn't harm the history of the bisexual and transgender communities working together.
"The bi community has a very strong tradition of alliance with the trans community," said Andre. "I would hate for this situation to cause damage to that very long and fruitful relationship."
At the same time, Andre recognizes the CASC's right as a private organization, in spite of personally preferring gender inclusive spaces. She appreciates the space Larson has created for bisexuals to socially interact.
"I think it's important for bisexual people to have places to come together and interact socially ... I would not be happy if this organization â€“ which has so many people engaged and bi community activity â€“ if it just disappeared overnight."
Anders wants Larson to change the policy and post it on the club's Web site. "[If] she would just add a sentence saying the club is open ï¿½ to everyone who self-identifies as a woman," Anders would be satisfied.
Full disclosure: Heather Cassell is a member of CASC but has not attended its events. Her membership is limited to being on an e-mail list.