IN THE BEGINNING
BY PAM DRESSER
Erie is a small city in northwest Pennsylvania located halfway between Buffalo
and Cleveland on the south shore of Lake Erie. With a population of 250,000
[including suburbs], Erie had, in 1990, most of the social amenities one would
expect of a city that size, except one: a crossdressers' club. Vivian Allen,
the editor-in-chief of Tapestry, asked me to write a few words about the
formation of the Erie Sisters to be included with articles by other Erie
Sisters members concerning personal impressions of our club and its activities.
The idea for founding a CD club began with my first issue of Tapestry, which I
read several times from cover to cover in absolute awe to find that there were
several thousands of people just like me. I also found, in the organization
listings, there was a crossdressing club in Cleveland, about 100 miles west of Erie.
I wrote to Alpha-Omega and received a personal reply from their president,
Jenny Higgins, who said an A-0 member was from the Erie area and would
contact me. A few weeks later, Diane and I talked for hours about Alpha-Omega.
That was October 1990. The next month we drove to Cleveland for my first-ever
CD club meeting. Of course, that meeting was very special to me, as were
future meetings with Transpitt, Paradise and the Canadian CD Club in Toronto.
These clubs allowed Pam to blossom, but just as importantly, also provided me with
the impetus and knowledge required to attempt to start a crossdressers club in Erie.
Any game plan, no matter how well thought out, is useless without players. My only
resource for prospective members was Tapestry and only one Erie-area crossdresser
was listed in the magazine. I wrote to her in May 1990. A reply arrived in April 1991.
In the meantime, I ran my own listing in Tapestry and mentioned I wanted to form
an Erie club. The listing resulted in letters from some wonderful girls with whom I still
correspond, but none close enough to Erie to help. What finally brought a few local
crossdressers out of the woodwork was an advertisement I placed in a local weekly
newspaper: Yes, it was a rather strange-sounding ad, but the only one acceptable
to the Greensheet. Earlier submissions, which contained the word crossdresser
or transvestite, were rejected as inappropriate for a family newspaper.
I ran the ad every two weeks for more than a year. Although I received lots
of replies (you wouldn't believe some of them!), only two were genuine crossdressers
who were interested in helping form a new club. There were five of us now willing to
add structure to the impromptu outings we enjoyed during the spring and summer of '91.
I called a non-dress meeting at a local Arby's in late September of 1991 with the object
of getting organized and in three hours emerged with a business plan for Erie's first
crossdressers club. We began by assigning titles and names to form a Board of Directors.
Ann Hill, who had a great deal of business experience, became our business manager.
Diane L. and Jennifer White chose to be co-vice presidents. As founder, I assumed the
duties of president. The fifth position, director-at-large, was vacant until filled by Becky.
We needed a name and I've always felt that groups or businesses are
remembered best if their name reflects where they are and what they do. We
would be sisters who meet in Erie to crossdress. Why not the Erie Sisters
Crossdressers Club? No one had any better ideas, so that was the name which stuck.
We also needed a mailing address. Since mine had been used
for the newspaper ads, we decided to use it for the Erie Sisters address
with the cost of the box to be split 50-50. Meeting dates were initially
set for the third Thursday of each month, but changed by the end of the year to
Saturdays to offer more hours of meeting time. We chose the fourth Saturday
of the month to avoid conflicts with the meeting dates of neighboring clubs.
Our dues structure was initially set at $25 per year for single membership,
$35 for couples and $15 for associate membership (newsletter only).
Meeting fees were set at $8 per person. Within a few months we
found our fees were higher than necessary to maintain our treasury and
that wives of members should not be charged to join their mates to do
something of little interest to them. Dues were reduced to $20, including wives.
The wives of members would not be asked to pay the $8 meeting fee.
Associate memberships remained at $15 per year. With the exception of Ann,
each of us belonged to at least one other CD club and two of us were
Tri-Ess members. We pooled our experiences from other groups to develop
a plan of operations, which we felt would satisfy the needs of the majority.
The activities of any crossdressing club center around its monthly meetings,
and we knew that meetings held month after month in the same place would
soon become stale regardless of the meeting format. We also realized
holding meetings at accepting establishments around town would provide
too much exposure to those who aren't comfortable with going out en femme.
The solution was quite simple: We would hold odd-month meetings behind
closed doors and even-month meetings at places where we would be seen in public.
Business would not be conducted at our Saturday meetings unless absolutely
necessary. Executive board meetings are held on the first Thursday of each
month to keep our social meetings unfettered by lengthy business discussions.
The executive meetings are always open to any member who would like
to assist in planning the club's future. With the meeting venue settled,
we next tackled club philosophy and by-laws. Our philosophy, which is
printed on the membership application, is largely that of common sense; members
are expected to dress tastefully and emulate their non-birth gender to the best
of their ability. Sexual orientation is a private matter and not allowed to be
exhibited at meetings. Our actual philosophy fills up half a page, but basically that's it.
Our by-laws are simple. We wrote one page covering the mechanics of Erie Sisters'
club structure and operation. We addressed the major points of Title, Purpose,
Membership Requirements, Officers/Board of Directors, Discipline and Dissolution.
It was thought one paragraph covering each point would be sufficient at this
time; if more detail was required in the future, addendums could be voted upon
and added later. With the completion of a form letter and membership
application, we were ready to start operation as a bonafide crossdressers club.
Our first Mirror Images newsletter was published in September 1991,
just prior to our organizational meeting at Arby's. I mailed it to a dozen or so
crossdressers I knew within an easy drive of Erie and invited them to attend a
dinner at an accepting restaurant. I rented a motel room for changing where we
would gather to go to the restaurant as a group and later return to socialize.
My motive was to start building the foundation for the Erie Sisters Club during
the course of the evening, but we were all having too much fun as our femme
selves to let business matters intrude. I did manage to interest a few in attending
a non-dress organizational meeting the following week, which worked out quite well.
The October issue of Mirror Images (named by Jenny White) officially
announced the formation of the Erie Sisters CD Club and contained a copy of
the organizational format we developed in late September. We have published
a monthly newsletter ever since to keep members abreast of what's
happening within the club and in the crossdressing community as well.
Publishing a monthly newsletter is a very important function of our club as
many members are unable to attend meetings, but belong just to be on our
mailing list. I produced the first 13 issues until an angel named Pam Howard
appeared with a marvelous computer and assumed the duties of editor. With dues
now coming in we found out rather quickly that the club needed a checking
account to handle funds. I chose the First National Bank as it had the lowest
cost checking services and would accept our club as an account. The signature
card was completed using the femme names of each board member (two signatures
required to authorize a check), which wasn't a problem. Their insistence on a
valid Social Security number for the account was another story. We weren't a
501(c)3 group at the time and didn't have a TIN (tax identification number) to use.
Diane volunteered the use of her SS number until the club had its own TIN.
The Erie Sisters grew rapidly to 40 members with a newsletter circulation of
55. Marketing plays a key role in attracting new members. We've taken full
advantage of the listing services available in all the national and regional
crossdressing publications. We continue to place ads locally in three weekly
newspapers from time to time (the word crossdresser is now acceptable). We also
are listed as a TV/TS/CD self-support group with the Erie Hotline (United Way)
information referral service. The Erie Gay Community Newsletter offered to list
us in their publication and we accepted with the proviso that we were to be
listed only as a TV/TS/CD support group. I've approached the daily Erie
newspaper (Times-News) several times to run a classified ad or write an article
about our group, but the paper refused us each time. The Erie Times-News does,
however, accept an annual donation from us for their Needy Fund! Erie is
indeed a small town, at least mentally. By April 1992 I had been to several
crossdressers' conventions and picked up enough experience to feel
confident that Erie Sisters also could sponsor at least a mini-convention.
I proposed the idea at our April '92 executive meeting;
The idea was turned down by two board members who thought the club was too
small to serve as host to a convention. But three board members thought the
idea had merit, assuming an appropriate site could be found nearby. The motion
was approved 3-2 and the search for a site began. Diane said the Ramada Inn
would have us, but had little to offer beyond sleeping rooms and a meeting
hall. The convention would be held in November, a time of year when the
weather in Erie, which fronts Lake Erie, would keep us girls indoors.
We needed a place that offered indoor amenities not found at the average
hotel. The search continued until June, when my wife and I were driving through
a small town just south of Erie. Cambridge Springs is the home of the Riverside
Inn, an 1890's Victorian hotel with 54 rooms and thousands of square feet
of turn-of-the-century ambiance. The place was perfectly suited for a memorable
crossdressing weekend, except for the fact that it's a white-collar resort in a
blue-collar town. I had previously rejected the inn as being unapproachable, but
my wife suggested we stop there for lunch and at least think about asking the question.
Well, ask I did and after more than three hours of intense discussion with the
owner, I was granted approval to hold our convention at the Riverside Inn in
November! Now that we had a site, the next step was to form a committee to run
the Riverside Gala Weekend. I met with the board and all agreed the
Riverside Inn was an ideal site. I asked each member to assume an area of
responsibility; this project would be too large for one person to handle
and I needed commitments from at least two others before continuing.
After a fair amount of discussion, each board member took on a job,
including the two original dissenters. I would chair the event with Diane
handling vendors and Lottie in charge of the banquet. Ann would book the
entertainment, Becky handled advertising and Jenny managed the seminars.
I told the group I would push for perfection and that the pressure would
greatly strain friendships before the end of the convention. Each person was
informed of what they would have to do in volunteering for a convention to
function and offered the opportunity to back out now rather than become
frustrated later. All stayed with me but two wish they hadn't and I lost two
good friends by pushing too hard. Their absence from the Board of Directors
and future Riverside Gala committee chairs was missed, but fortunately,
their vacancies were capably filled by two other members of the club.
In August I arranged a meeting at the Riverside Inn so each committee member
could meet the owner and become familiar with the inn's layout. The brochure
Becky and I designed was sent out in September. We had 800 copies printed
and 50 were sent to each club within a day's drive of Erie along
with a personal letter asking that they be distributed to their members.
About 75 brochures were individually mailed to friends, CD publications and
prospective vendors. The balance were kept on hand to answer inquiries. We had
no intention of making a profit on the convention, so we very carefully
calculated our fixed costs and added a $10 per person contingency buffer to
arrive at the price we would charge attendees. Forty-four people attended
Riverside '92, a good turnout for a first-time event, but below our break even
point. The buffer just barely kept us in the black. Except for a few problems
within the committee, the convention was a total success. Riverside '93 was
even better with an expanded venue, nearly double the attendance and far fewer
organizational problems. We applied what we learned from the first convention
to make improvements and were able to back off considerably in directing
committee volunteers. Lottie, Kris and Diane knew what to do and did it well.
By the end of 1992 the Erie Sisters was a fully functional CD club with a
strong, active executive board and an ever-increasing membership. Our
newsletter was better than average, meeting attendance was strong and our
checking account was always in the black. But our bank balance wasn't quite
fat enough to cover the cost of incorporation or applying for 501(c)3 status.
Although the chances of the club being named in a liability suit or fined by
the IRS for failing to file a tax return is small, it was an uncomfortable
feeling to know the club officers could be held personally liable
in any possible legal action or lawsuit against the Erie Sisters.
Incorporating would limit our liability and filing for nonprofit status
(501(c)3 would satisfy the IRS as well as provide us our own TIN. We
would need at least $500 to hire a lawyer and we just couldn't afford it
then. In December 1992 I proposed a Life Membership Program to raise
the necessary funds. For $100 any full member of record during 1992 could
become a lifetime member and be free from paying dues to Erie Sisters for
the rest of her life. The program would close in January 1993 and was never to
be offered again. Refund contingencies were included to cover dissolution or
expulsion and a plan (with a 40 percent deposit) was offered to make it affordable.
Lottie H., Diane L., Pam H., Janice G., Ann H. and myself hold the blue
Charter Life Membership card and our treasury had the funds for us to incorporate.
The Erie Sisters CD Club has come a long way since its inception in September
1991 and Im sure it will keep improving with age. Hugs to all my sisters.
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