Thursday, September 20, 2007

Chasing Amy Social Club blacklists Bi Girl Friday


It turns out that I’m not member material for the Chasing Amy Social Club, a bisexual women’s social group in San Francisco. No it’s not because I drink red wine or that I smoke (outside only) or that I’m transgender (which I’m not)—one of the many disqualifying criteria on a long list of who can and cannot be a CASC member. (See the end of this article for a partial list of member criteria that Amy Larson, the founder and organizer of the CASC, sent to me during an e-mail interview August 20 and a link to the CASC Web site.)

My CASC membership card was yanked because I’m a journalist who covered CASC’s anti-trans women policy, “Bi social club bars some trans women,” in August, after it was discovered in July by Charlie Anders, a bisexual pre-op transgender woman, who wanted to be a member but was bared because of her pre-op status.

“It feels like having a fox in the hen house to allow a journalist who wrote such a controversial article about us to be a member of this group as well,” wrote Larson in an e-mail September 19 responding to an e-mail I sent September 18 enquiring if I had missed any e-mails or if the club was on hiatus.

Yet, she failed to inform me of my unacceptable member status “journalist” when it wasn’t in her favor. Mind you, this whole incident happened after CASC enjoyed glowing publicity twice this summer in articles that I wrote: one covering bi visibility, “
Bisexuals show increased visibility,” and the other publicizing CASC’s stance on bi erasure during San Francisco Pride’s global broadcast, “Biphobia claimed in Pride Parade Web, TV coverage.” Larson had no problems agreeing to participate in these articles and reap the benefits of free publicity.

No, I had to enquire, because as Larson wrote, “I have been thinking long and hard about what I wanted to say to you about this, because I am not a fan of confrontation…I removed your e-mail address while you were writing the article in August, because I felt extremely uncomfortable with the idea of you reading about my private life while you were writing about me so publicly.”

Larson continued, “It seemed like a conflict of interest to allow you to remain on the list, and some of the women in the group who regularly attend events expressed that they wouldn't feel comfortable attending events if you were to be there. They felt like their privacy would be compromised. I can understand that and relate.”

Hmmm…the article was written and published August 23, that’s almost a month ago. I have a feeling that if I hadn’t asked, Larson would still be thinking long and hard about deleting me from her e-mail list. Regarding the other members' privacy being compromised, it is completely unfound, as I mentioned to Larson in response to her e-mail September 19 confirming my suspicions of being blacklisted. I didn’t abuse the apparent hypocrisy of her no dating policy, while I was working on the controversial article, and she sent out pictures of two CASC members marrying each other the weekend before. Larson attended the wedding. (Larson clarified on September 21 that the CASC members who wed met outside of the club. She also reneged her "no dating" policy.)

Actually, until now, no article prior to the controversy wasn’t without Larson’s full and enthusiastic participation and knowledge. We had a sit down interview and she sent me photos to include with the both articles bi visibility and bi erasure. Furthermore, when I was interested in the CASC campaign against KRON4’s erasure of bi floats in this year’s global broadcast of San Francisco’s Pride parade, which I saw on her MySpace page and received in a CASC e-mail, I approached her first and asked about covering CASC's letter campaign to KRON4 before pitching the article to my editor. Larson enthusiastically participated and landed on the front page of the
Bay Area Reporter.

Writing up the trans policy
Up until July, I was unaware of CASC’s anti-trans policy and so were many other people. The policy wasn’t posted on the CASC Web site under the club’s member criteria until the day before the article I wrote was published. Larson wasn’t transparent about all of her policies.

I openly admit that I became aware of the policy when Ray Rea, a transman, who hosted “Not Queer Enough,” a transgender and bisexual reading event at San Francisco State University, in July mentioned it when I told him before the event that I couldn’t wait to see Larson. Rea told me that Larson wasn’t going to read because it was in conflict with CASC’s transgender policy. Larson mentioned nothing to me earlier that day during an e-mail conversation that she wasn’t going to be at the event, nor anything about CASC having a transgender policy.

The three of us, my friend, who I’m withholding her name to protect her privacy, and another woman, I don’t recall her name, looked at each other quizzically as we hung out before the event started. I was disappointed about Larson’s not being at the event. Everyone in our small group said “that’s too bad” upon learning about her reason for not attending the reading and followed up with “I didn’t know they had a trans policy, did you?”

Of course, perhaps I would have been enlightened about the policy if I actually attended a CASC event during the year that I was a member. I perpetually missed events, announced by e-mail, due to work or being too tired from work.

But it wasn’t because I failed to attend CASC events that caused me to lose my good standing as a member, it’s because I’m a journalist who had the audacity to write an article that put CASC in a bad light three weeks after I became aware of the policy. It wasn’t my knowledge of the CASC anti-trans policy that sparked the article, but a tipster.

Larson accused me in her e-mail “…you've made it very clear in writing that article that your professional goals come before everything.”

Then why did it take me three weeks to cover the controversy? Would I have even covered it if my editor wasn’t tipped off? If I wasn’t so casual and “in my personal life” when the news crossed my path, may be I would have jumped on the story, but it didn't and I didn’t. When Rea announced the changes in the lineup of readers no one seemed phased. Perhaps Carol Queen and the dazzeling trans and bi talent destracted the audiece or more likely word of the CASC anti-trans policy hadn’t spread—yet. I watched people’s responses and listened to the crowd to see if anyone was outraged. No one seemed outraged—at least at the event. The policy got lost in the fog of my memory as other pressing issues needed to be covered.

Until the tipster dumped Anders’ blog that was circulating on a list on my editors desk and she brought it over to me to cover. I had to confess that I was aware of the policy and when I was aware of it. If it wasn't for the tipster, who knows if the story would have ever seen the printed page of the B.A.R. Needless to say, my editor wasn’t exactly congratulating me on my journalistic chomps for the taste of a story. My editor was even less thrilled to learn that I hadn’t jumped on the ADYKE situation that happened this past spring when lesbians gave bisexual women the boot from that group. It was a hairball of a battle on lesbian and bisexual list serves that I quite frankly had no appetite for and therefore didn't gobble up, more like I said, “No thank you mam,” and deleted screaming e-mail one after another.

Now really, if I was more concerned about my career as a journalist, I should be concerned now, because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do…grab the story and run with it. Where’s that gut hunger for the story??? Where’s my need for going for the jugular? It’s not like I’m covering how to bake the best bread or decorate the perfect muffin…Martha?? No, I’m covering the queer community: The sassiest, funkiest, glamtastic, and sometimes quite down and dirty and lusty queer community in the “Gay Mecca.”

So, when the CASC story landed on my desk and due to my acquaintance with Larson she got it good. I wasn’t completely impartial, even though I covered the controversy critically. I handled it with a lot more caution and care than when I covered the Chicago Hellfire Club’s anti-trans policy, earlier this year, “
Chicago SM club under fire for anti-trans policy.” I didn’t know these people personally.

Larson, because of our acquaintance was given the opportunity to spin the negative publicity in her favor. A list of questions was sent to her by e-mail and she had three days to respond. She was given my full attention through several long and dramatic phone calls that she made to me. One of which, she told me that if I wrote the article she was going to close the club and it would be my fault. She provided some CASC members to interview, one of which harassed me by e-mail after she didn't meet the deadline I provided. One of her comments via e-mail after the deadline ended up in the article.

When the article landed on the newstands, Larson called me and thanked me for the article and told me that the first e-mail she received after publication of the article was one of support from a trans woman. It took her another couple of weeks to delete the link of my profile to her's on MySpace http://www.myspace.com/heathercassell. In an e-mail to me on September 20, Larson wrote that the harassment she received prior to the article being published ceased. Discussion of the anti-trans policy returned to the B.A.R.'s "Letters to the Editor" page, columns, and the blogsphere.

Larson and one of her members has accused me of being an "unethical journalist." I let my readers decide, now that I've filled in some information I originally left out when I posted this blog on September 20.

Because after all of this drama, quite frankly my dear I don't give a damn! As a journalist it is my responsibility to remain an independent critical observer when I cover stories, even when acquaintances are involved. I disclosed my membership and status at the end of the article, but I kept my personal feelings out of my reporting. It's not my responsibility that you are permanently stained in newsprint by the controversy. I’m not the one who went public and was hiding a discriminating policy. If that makes me a callous story hungry reporter then so be it. I’ve arrived.

CASC rambling member criteria
In an e-mail interview with me on August 20, Amy Larson, the founder and organizer of the CASC, clued me into other criteria to be a member of the CASC:

“…the CASC also doesn’t meet the specific needs of those who would like to engage in political or religious discourse or activism at events, indoor smokers, vegans offended by the presence of animal products, those with serious cat allergies, red wine drinkers, folks interested in partaking of drugs during events, women under the age of 18, women seeking a singles hookup environment or sex club, and a wide variety of other things…”

http://www.chasingamysocialclub.com

2 comments:

Liz said...

I thought your article was pretty well balanced, and it was an important community issue to cover. Thanks for writing it, and for explaining in this post! These things are best aired in public for everyone to learn from. Huzzah for transparency.

Cheers,

Liz
http://liz-henry.blogspot.com

Bi Girl Friday said...

Thank you. Transparency is my goal. My readers are important to me. It is my aim to inform the community.