Eracer group aims to serve students with non-conformist gender identities

The new Eracer student support group, brain child of Alliance secretary Morgan Randall, aims to fill a niche for Murray State students with non-conformist gender identities and/or expressions.

The Eracer program, which began in January of 2012, is a confidential peer support group which enables students who are struggling with their gender identities to come and talk with other students who are facing the same problems. Members meet and discuss issues facing their community at home, in Murray and nationally.

The goal of Eracer as stated on their website is to erase gender lines.  Currently the group only contains about 12 members who meet every other week, and as needed.

Randall, who not only founded the group but also acts as Eracer’s moderator, said while Eracer was formed by Alliance members and it mostly consist of students who are also in Alliance, it is a separate organization with different goals.  She said Alliance deals with LGBT education, advocacy and social programming in Murray and on campus, while Eracer is more concerned with support and does not anticipate doing many, if any, public programs.

Randall said she realized Murray needed a program such as Eracer by witnessing the struggles of her friends to find their true selves, a struggle made harder by the fact they had no one to talk to.  Morgan has also experienced discrimination firsthand at Murray State and in the city of Murray, due to her gender expression.

“As the driving force behind Eracer, it’s safe to say that the topics of gender identity and/or expression are huge passions of mine.” Randall said.  “I get support from those involved, just as they get support from me. I knew other students that were dealing with the same issues and that we could help each other through a support group such as this.”

Randall said the long term purpose of Eracer is to help its members come to grips with their identity, and hopefully, no longer facilitate the need for them to come to meetings.

“Ideally in a club you want to gain and keep members until they graduate,” Randall said. “With us, we want to keep members for only however long they need; hopefully by the time they graduate, they will no longer need to come to meetings.”

For the comfort and safety of its members, those who come to Eraser meetings must sign a confidentiality contract which binds members to silence about what is talked about at meetings and who the other members are.  Meeting places and times are not publicly advertised on campus and are instead organized through email and by word of mouth.

“Confidentiality is such a big part of Eracer because many people struggling with their gender identities and/or expressions have not told many, and even none, of the people in their lives,” Randall said.

Joseph “Jo” Bennett, the secretary of Eracer said because of the sensitive nature of the subject to members and due to the not-so-infrequent violent backlash that sometimes accompanies their global community’s coming out to the public, they must tread lightly.  He said however, he does encourage members who are comfortable with it, to make their presence known.

So far, Bennett said they have not faced any issues with confidentiality or with people dishonoring the contract.

Jody Cofer and Joshua Adair serve as the faculty co-advisors of Eracer, while also being adviser and associate adviser of Alliance, respectively.

Adair, who has a graduate certificate in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender studies, said people who belong to the loosely defined categories of being transgender or transsexual do not benefit from many of the legal protections stereotypically gendered people do, despite frequently being the targets of physical and emotional violence.

“My decision to get involved was an easy one: I believe in equality and fairness for all people,” said Adair. “During my career I have worked with a number of transgender, transsexual, and gender non-conforming individuals and I know that their lives are frequently quite difficult because their gender identity and/or gender expression confounds some people’s sense of what’s ‘normal’.”

Adair said it is a common misconception that gender and sexuality are either the same feature of one’s identity or they are inextricably linked.  He said gender identity and expression occurs in a continuum from the mild: a man with effeminate traits, a woman who prefers to dress in work boots, jeans and a trucker hat, to farther down the continuum where one would find individuals who wish to dress like a man or dress like a woman or even farther to where someone might wish to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

“In Western culture, we construct meaning through binaries: yes/no, good/evil, male/female, straight/gay, even though such a construction is essentially faulty,” Adair said.  “Scientific research by Anne Fausto-Sterling (a Ph. D. and Professor of Biology and Gender Studies at Brown University) and others suggests there may be as many as five biological sexes. Gender identity and expression-what we call feminine and masculine-appears in countless permutations and variations.  Western culture polices the borders of gender pretty stringently and those who clearly violate such roles are often punished for doing so.”

While Eracer hopes to grow in membership by the end of the year, the group is only open for those who are personally facing the challenges of their gender identity and/or expression, although they do recognize the supportive role that allies could provide in the future.

“By the end of the year I want Eracer to be existent and known to say the least,” Bennett said.  “I would like to see Eracer be frequently involved on campus and support programs centered around gender identity and expression, the transgender community, and awareness. I would like to see membership double come the end of spring, although any growth is exciting.”

Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer.