Divisions in Plurality, 3.0

Kerry Dawkins, 2015

I’ve written two articles, one in 2007 and the other in 2009, about divisions within the plural community. Hess has also discussed it fairly recently in a Tumblr post where he complained about the negative attitudes towards non-medical-model plurality. My opinions about plural ‘turf wars’ still stand, but I’ve noticed some differences in the five and a half years between writing ‘Divisions in Plurality 2.0’ and the way things are now. Much of the discussion about multiplicity online, especially non-trauma-based forms, is now based on Tumblr as opposed to journalling sites like Livejournal, Dreamwidth or Diaryland, or mailing lists like Dark Personalities in the late 90s and early 2000s. The issues I’m addressing in this article refer to the state of the online plural community in 2015, as the previous ones are a bit out of date where community dynamics are concerned.

Endogenic (‘natural’) plurals and soulbonders
If you’ve read my previous articles, the soulbonders were listed as a separate camp, but things seem to have changed dramatically in the online plural communities. People who would have been called soulbonders in the past, for example, are often included amongst the endogenic (also known as ‘natural’, or systems who didn’t emerge via trauma) plurals, and the commonest models for endogenic plurality seen on Tumblr resemble the people who would have referred to themselves as soulbonders in 2006. They tend to have one or two ‘hosts’ that are connected with their presenting selves when they’re not openly plural, and several system-members that may or may not take control of the shared body and aren’t necessarily in charge of their collective life (though they may be). Systems without hosts, like ours, still exist but the current perception of endogenic plurality seems to be focussed on the people we would have called soulbonders or medians. Many members of this camp don’t express any ill-will towards classic trauma-split systems, but some do, which is not helpful to the community as a whole.

The tulpamancers
There is also a new camp to add to the endogenic plurals, the soulbonders and the classic trauma-based systems: tulpamancers. ‘Tulpamancers’ are people who deliberately create conscious entities or ‘thoughtforms’ through focussed medication, self-hypnosis and similar practices. According to the tulpamancers fully-fledged people can emerge from this process and share headspace with them. We’re not tulpamancers, and know less about this part of the community than we do the natural plurals, soulbonders and trauma-split systems, but I’ve got enough basic knowledge to understand the principles behind it. Admittedly I am a bit critical of the way some tulpamancers approach their way of doing things: they’re known for practising cultural appropriation, and they’ve been dismissive towards trauma-based systems and have tried to invalidate their experiences. The ‘tulpas’ tag on the Hydracorn system’s DID blog contains many common criticisms of tulpamancers regarding cultural appropriation and dismissive behaviour towards trauma-based/DID systems. I’m ambivalent about the deliberate creation of system-members, but regardless of their origins it’s counterproductive for people to attack people for having trauma-based origins.

Trauma-based systems and the medical model
There are still some DID systems who are invested in the medical model being the one proper way to experience plurality and criticise people who don’t view their plurality that way. There’s a blog on Tumblr called ‘This Is Not Dissociative’ that leans very strongly towards favouring the medical model over others, and being actively dismissive to people who don’t fit into it. There seems to be some tension even within the DID community itself (even between people who don’t think that integration is always necessary), with some people seeing alters as fully-fledged people, whilst others emphasise the idea that all alters are part of an overarching ‘true person’ – in these cases, they’re often called ego states or parts.

Yes, there are criteria that define what the diagnostic category of dissociative identity disorder is. Yes, trauma-based dissociation exists. No, non-DID systems shouldn’t try and make out that dissociative splitting doesn’t occur. It’s counterproductive and invalidates the trauma these people have gone through in order to experience that level of splitting.

I do think it’s important to recognise that trauma-based multiplicity does exist, and we shouldn’t take disordered forms of multiplicity lightly. There are systems who can’t co-operate, lose time, have blackouts or experience other forms of dissociation and depersonalisation that can have a detrimental effect on their functionality. The problem arises, however, when people assume that the phenomenon of experiencing different conscious entities in a body is the disordered aspect, not the functionality of a system. We can see plurality or multiplicity as a wider category whilst making distinctions between different sub-types to determine the needs of a particular plural system. This is close to the diagnostic approaches towards mental health anyway: the condition has to affect somebody’s functioning or cause distress in order to be considered disordered in the first place. People who need support after trauma need and deserve that support, whilst those of us who may not have had our system-members arise from post-traumatic splitting should also be able to have our personhood recognised. (We ourselves don’t actually know what our ultimate origins are; in the past we referred to ourselves as a natural system, but we’ve moved away from focussing on original causes, especially since we have had trauma in the past, and there is some disagreement amongst system-members about what we believe our origins are.)

Not every system gets involved with all the turf wars, of course; there are systems whose members’ existence may be put down to post-traumatic dissociation but they recognise their ‘alters’ as separate people, not as being different parts or aspects of an original person. LB Lee, a system who were created through trauma, have written about being survivors of trauma and about regarding their system-members as separate people with their own interests, skills and feelings. They don’t see the existence of their system itself as the problem, but the traumatic processes that caused them to split in the first place. We probably wouldn’t meet the criteria for DID ourselves and we don’t know our origins, but we understand that plurality may not be pleasant or easy for all systems, especially those who have emerged via trauma and haven’t worked out a good communication system or a way to manage lost time. There are also systems who may fall under more than one of those categories, like systems who may have originated in trauma may end up later on with members who aren’t specifically considered splits (LB are one of those systems, in fact), or systems that have many ‘fictive’ members, but those introjected members exist because of a traumatic experience. Everyone’s experience is different, and it isn’t our place to condemn others because of it.