Kerry Dawkins, 2009, minor edits made 1st Jul 2011 and 16th Nov 2014
In 2007, I wrote an article about the divisions in plurality. Whilst I’m happy with the ideas presented in the article, I wanted to revisit the idea in a second article. The original article will remain available on the site.
The plural community is rather fractious: even though everyone in it has the shared experience of more than one conscious entity in a body, the vast differences between collectives has caused a great deal of division. People whose systems correspond with the traditional trauma-split idea of multiplicity might not always get along with those who remember having been plural as long as they can remember, simply because their experiences are so different from one another’s, and people whose systems primarily consist of non-fronting fictives might not relate as well to groups whose members routinely swap control of the body and its life.
I’ve noticed some trauma-split systems meet natural plural systems with some suspicion and hostility because they are so familiar with the medical model, and they cannot understand why others can revel in something that has caused them so much pain. They see us as trying to make light of something they struggle with daily. (I find that rather like classical transsexuals/Harry Benjamin Syndrome people/Women Born Transsexual criticising genderqueer people for having fun with something that they find painful.) One thing for them to remember might be that not all trauma-split groups have struggles for domination and problems co-operating, and not all natural-origin plural systems necessarily enjoy being plural. We know trauma-origin systems that get along well, co-operate and are happy being plural, and we have heard of non-trauma-origin groups that have difficulty co-operating with each other. Also, there is no scientific proof that says that we cannot have more than one conscious entity operating inside a brain, and that multiplicity is inherently pathological. The idea that it is is a Western cultural idea. I believe the idea of ‘multiple personality’ (the ‘pathology’, not plurality itself) is a culture-specific ‘disorder’. Although I support a system’s choice to integrate if they all decide that it is healthiest for them, I do not support the idea that it is inherently better for everyone to be singlet, rather than plural, and I wish that some of these groups would understand that. The validity of someone’s identity is also not contingent on how ‘fun’ or ‘not fun’ it is. You are not more real because you are not having ‘fun’ with your system-mates, and you are not any less real because you are.
There is also some hostility towards groups with fictives (whether those fictives front or not) from trauma-split groups, mostly for the same reasons, and because of cultural opposition to the idea of ‘characters living in your head’. There is a way to explain fictivity without invoking the supernatural—for example, someone in your system might simply have a deep psychological affinity to the character they present as, and it is simply their identity. Richard discussed this earlier, and I tend to agree with him. There are also writers who feel a strong connection to their characters—or readers who feel a strong connection to the characters in books that they’ve read—and communicate with them as a more solid version of literary muse.
It can go the other way round as well; many natural-origin plural groups don’t feel comfortable around trauma-based systems because they fear that they will all reduce the people in their group to ‘alters’, ‘personalities’ or ‘ego states’, or that they will all think that integration is the best option for plural groups. It might be helpful for some of these groups that not all trauma-based systems see themselves as needing to no longer be plural.
They also might not feel comfortable with groups with non-fronting soulbonds. For some systems, there is not much difference between non-fronting soulbonds and non-fronting members of gateway, natural-origin systems. They’re full people; they just don’t care to be involved in the front life for whatever reason. That doesn’t make them any less real. They’re no different from people like my own parents in-system, who don’t front, but are as real as those of us who do. There is also the stereotype that soulbonding systems collect their system members simply for their sexual enjoyment or for inspiration for role-play plot-lines. These people are often referred to as ‘muse-hoarders’. Whilst I do think that some ‘muse-hoarders” treatment of their soulbonds is exploitative and obnoxious, it’s unfair to claim that all systems with non-fronting soulbonds are like these people.
Many trauma-based groups only adhere to the medicalised stereotypes because that’s the only thing they’ve been exposed to. They simply might not know that it is indeed all right to be plural, and that there is room for many different sorts of brains in this world. They feel as though they have to have ‘sex alters’, ‘scared lils’, ‘protector alters’ because many high-profile multiples have had them. If the people in those systems really do identify that way, then it is their right, but I suspect that many of them are more three-dimensional than their stereotypes, and it is their right as individuals to be three-dimensional. Non-trauma-based groups really shouldn’t stereotype all trauma-based systems as being like this, because it’s just not the case for everyone. Yes, some ‘hosts’ are terrible to their group-mates, but not all of them are, and many of those who are might not know any other way to treat them. (Not that I think that it’s RIGHT for them to be treated that way, but a lot of trauma-based groups have taught a lot of utter nonsense about plurality.)
All these divisions don’t help those systems who have a mixture of trauma-origin and natural-origin group members, or those who might have frontrunning fictives, or multiple systems who might have a few non-fronting fictives who speak to the main frontrunners, but don’t do much participating in the front-life themselves. We fall in many camps ourselves, being a (probably?) natural-origin system with frontrunning and non-frontrunning fictives, and some system members who have had strong connections to fictional characters who have never become full-fledged members of our system. What are we, then? An aberration? We know other systems that have felt alienated by the sharp lines that are drawn between different types of plurals, whether those systems are trauma-based with some non-fronting fictive system members; systems with a main frontrunner and several fictives who only frontrun occasionally; groups who are primarily natural-origin, but have trauma splits; originally trauma-based systems who have had natural-origin people and fictives join later; or natural plural groups who are mostly or entirely composed of fictive members.
I think that it’s important to take these differences into account when discussing specific situations, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to constantly draw sharp lines between systems for the purpose of defining ‘who is really plural’, or ‘who really shares a body’. If there is any experience of sharing a body, thought-space or brain, then that constitutes plurality, in some shape or form. The particulars may vary, but it is still plurality. If we ever want to achieve some sort of cultural recognition of plurality, we cannot continue to try to draw sharp lines between each other. It will get us nowhere and it will inevitably result in groups who cannot fit into those lines being pushed away.