Despite gains in peaceful coexistence between the sexes, there remain some very, very touchy genders out there. If you doubt it, check with the membership office at the American Foreign Service Associaton.

AFSA, normally, is a very diplomatic outfit. It has to be. It represents many of the nation's diplomats in dealing with their employer, the ultimate diplomat, the U.S. State Department.

Even in the best of times AFSA has its work cut out for it. It is c constantly locked in nortal combat with a fierce irval, an AFL-CIO union, for the hearts, minds and dues money of potential members. And it must negotiate with the Department of State, attempting to get agreements, concessions and straight answers from the place the rest of the federal bureaucracy called The Fudge Factory.

To add insult to unjury, some AFSA members who want more macho and less diplomacy, have even talked about asking the Teamsters union to represent them. In short, life isn't a bed of roses for AFSA brass.

Try as it may to forcefully tiptoe trough the tulips at Foggy Bottom, AFSA sometimes steps in it. Consider the following:

Some weeks back, after the Iranian "students" seized the American Embassy, AFSA put out a statement. It deplored the action, demanded the release of the hostages and yet did so without, it thought, inflammatory language that might make things worse for the American prisoners.

The telegram AFSA sent to its members in more than 100 U.S. embassies called for the "SAFE RETURN OF OUR COUNTRYMEN." Sounds safe enough, right? Wrong.

Within a couple of days, AFSA received a written rocket, a letter adressed "Dear Gentlepersons." It was from a member who took issue with the telegram. (AFSA, ever diplomatic, declines to say whether the writer was man or woman).

What the letter-writer said was that he (or she) was canceling his/her membership to AFSA. The reason:

The letter writer said that the telegram AFSA sent out, demanding the "SAFE RETURN OF OUR COUNTRYMEN" indicated that the organization favors "leaving our countrywomen" behind in Tehran as prisoners when the men are freed.

AFSA thinks it is one member poorer. Not everybody would agree.