Non-Plural Privilege

Kerry Dawkins and M.D., 2009
There’s been a lot of discussion about many forms of culturally sanctioned privilege, including white privilege, class-based privilege, male privilege, cisgender privilege, able-bodied privilege and heterosexual privilege. Unfortunately, there has been comparatively little discussion of the privilege that non-plural people experience, mostly because the very idea of plurality is still not accepted by mainstream, non-plural society. We believe that much of the prejudice levelled towards members of plural groups originates from non-plural privilege, in a similar manner to how oppression of other groups stems from privilege.

Non-plural people, unless they belong to other groups who are oppressed by virtue of how they identify, do not have their identities called into question constantly. They can say who they are, without having it scrutinised and torn apart, or dismissed as a mere delusion or idle fantasy. People in plural systems, however, do not have this privilege. If your identity is not entirely congruous with your body’s appearance or history, you can expect to have that identity questioned. The idea that a subjective appearance or history can simply be subjective, and does not require further explanation, does not register to those who speak from non-plural privilege. To them, you must be your body, and your history, because that is simply what they have dealt with themselves, and it is what is exposed to them through the surrounding culture. We’ve run into this ourselves with some people who seem to find it difficult to understand the idea of subjective histories and appearances. It is not enough for us to say ‘I am Kerry and I look like this, and experienced these things’, or ‘I am Richard, and my past was like this’. We must always have an answer ready for the non-plural people who simply cannot grasp subjective experiences as they are.

Plural people don’t have the privilege of having their self-descriptions taken for granted. Non-plural people are automatically assumed to be what they are, because people ‘are’ their bodies, and plural people must all make do with one. Because plural systems don’t have any visual signifiers of plurality, it is sometimes difficult for non-plural people to address plural systems as separate individuals when interacting with them face-to-face. It is also hard for them to accept self-described appearances as valid when they’re drastically different from the body. This, in our opinion, is a privileged stance, similar to the way some cisgender people react to transgender people. ‘I can’t call you “he,” because you look so pretty.’ ‘I can’t call you “she” because you look so masculine.’ ‘Oh, I can’t call you “they,” because you only have one body and one brain, and you can’t look different.’ Even if plural groups do share brains, brains are powerful enough to support subjective worlds and appearances. If they were not, then dreams and imagination could not exist. This is not saying that plurals’ subjective worlds, histories and appearances are imaginary, but that it is entirely possible for a human brain to contain that level of complexity. There is no need to be reductionistic about someone’s existence when they do not wish it.

Perception in society
Cultural stereotypes for plural systems exist that do not exist for non-plurals. For example, plural systems are treated as though they are insane, delusional and unstable. They use the examples of Shirley Mason, Truddi Chase, Chris Costner-Sizemore and Billy Milligan as examples of all plural systems, even though all of these systems had similar, trauma-based origins, and their behaviour would be considered bizarre by most ‘ordinary’ plural groups. Even if a plural group can function in daily life—and we use a broad definition of functionality that includes finding assistance if a group cannot perform certain tasks on its own—the very idea of plurality calls up these images. For those non-plurals who do accept some forms of plurality—primarily trauma-based multiplicity—there are still more stereotypes, including the ‘magical multiple’ and the ‘sex alter’.

We find that the ‘magical multiple’ stereotype is similar to the ‘magical Negro’ stereotype—in both cases, privileged people try to throw a conciliatory bone to members of oppressed groups by assigning them mystical powers. Plural people are only given value because they supposedly have ‘mystical powers’, not because they are simply who they are. We need not be able to short out electricity in our house to be afforded respect in this society. This is just as insulting as dismissing plurals as insane or delusional, except with a patronising veneer.

There are many people—both non-plural and plural, although the idea stems from non-plural privilege—who associate plural groups with promiscuous sex. The commonest manifestation of that stereotype we have seen is the social construct of the ‘sex alter’, or a member of a plural group whose entire purpose is to seek sexual activity. This emphasis on prurient interests is reminiscent of statements about gay men and transgender women: gay men are perceived as wanting more sex than straight men, and transgender women are referred to with sexualised, trans-misogynistic slurs like ‘shemale’ and ‘tranny’. Plurality is no more sexual than being non-plural. Some members of plural groups are highly sexual, some are not. It’s no different from non-plural people.

Interacting with non-plurals
Because plurality lacks ‘cultural permission’, plural groups are forced to pretend to pass as non-plural in daily life, with few exceptions. Non-plurals, unless they are closeted members of other oppressed groups, do not have this restriction on their presentation. Imagine what it would be like for you to have to pretend that you are a different person every day, and be unable to talk about your own interests, hopes, dreams, or anything else. Imagine how stifling that would be, and how non-plural people seem to be able to discuss those things without worrying about potential repercussions. For plural groups, discussing individual interests, beliefs, political leanings and ideas may be awkward, especially if system members hold radically different opinions. It is simply not possible for us to talk about my (K.D.’s) and Richard’s atheism, Hess’s agnosticism and Imogen’s Christianity as a pseudosinglet. Nor can we discuss the nuances between individual system members’ politics, or even superficial likes and dislikes. (For example, we can’t very well say that we ‘like’ and ‘hate’ a particular genre of music.) Non-plural people are free to express their opinions without the fear of looking too ‘self-contradictory’. For systems whose ‘front persona’ is drastically different from the personalities of the people who actually exist, pretending to be non-plural can be arduous. For example, I (M.D.) do not adhere to non-plurals’ expectations of us in the slightest, and I find that I cannot mould myself to fit that role in a satisfactory manner. I find that I must stifle what makes me myself for the benefit of society, and I find this entirely unjust. Why must I hide who I am simply because another group imposes its privilege upon my colleagues and me? Non-plurals, in the main, do not have to do this: it is second nature for them to discuss what makes them them. We cannot.

Inappropriate questions
Non-plurals often feel as though they are entitled to ask plurals invasive, invalidating and inappropriate questions in order to find out more about them. We find that some of these questions are similar to the ones transgender people are asked. ‘When are you going to have surgery?’ ‘What was your name before?’ ‘Do you know any other “women becoming men” [sic] or “men becoming women” [sic]?’ Plurals are often asked things like ‘How do you have sex?’, ‘How can you have your own history?’ ‘How can you have many minds in one brain?’ ‘How can you have an appearance that’s different from the front body’s?’ ‘How can you identify with a different race or culture?’ These questions are inappropriate. If someone asked these questions of a non-plural, non-oppressed person, they would be rightly considered impolite.

We have our own histories because we do. Our sex lives are private, as everyone else’s are. We have many minds in this brain because that’s just how it’s wired, and there is no neurological study that conclusively proves that there has to be one mind in one brain. In fact, scientists know very little about consciousness, and most discussion of it is left to philosophers, and rightly so. Consciousness is ‘messy’, and we believe that it cannot be quantified so easily as to create grand theories of how ‘the mind should be’. We identify with our individual races and cultures because it matches our subjective self-perception. (There are non-plural people who don’t identify with the culture assigned to them at birth, either, like expatriates and people who see themselves as citizens of the world, rather than members of an ethnic group or a nation.) We are not a self-narrating zoo exhibit; please don’t treat us as though we are one.

Other forms of privilege and non-plural privilege
Non-plural privilege sometimes intersects with other forms of privilege, as well.

Systems who have front bodies that are not primarily white might be asked why they do not have members of that minority in their system, whereas systems whose front bodies are primarily white do not experience the same pressure to have system members who match the front body in appearance. We have had this happen to us—someone asked us why we didn’t have anyone who matched the front body’s race in the system. This implies that because our body is not white, we cannot have anyone in the system who is, or belongs to another cultural group. I (K.D.) am white. I did not choose to be white to ‘reject our roots’ or anything ridiculous like that. I just happen to be white. That privileged behaviour is similar to people who ask people of colour why they’re ‘acting white’, or just don’t act like ethnic stereotypes. Black people don’t all have to be thugs, mammies or Uncle Toms; Hispanic/Latino people don’t all have to be drug dealers, overprotective Catholic parents or Casanovas; Far Eastern people don’t all have to be otaku, submissive geisha or ninja; and Native Americans don’t all have to be medicine men or casino-owners. Nor do plurals have to match their body’s racial make-up and match the stereotypes on top of that. It’s not fair to pigeonhole nonwhite people outside plural systems; why pigeonhole nonwhite systems into exemplifying racial stereotypes? To be fair, we have heard of systems with white front bodies being ‘whitewashed’, and being accused of cultural appropriation by having nonwhite system members. The implication still exists that there should be no ‘racial mixing’ within a system, whether it involves nonwhite system members fronting from a white body, or white system members fronting from a nonwhite body.

Racial pigeonholing makes it difficult for members of plural systems who do vary from the front body to discuss racial issues, whether it is because they will be seen as ‘clueless white people’ or ‘nonwhite people trying to reject their roots’. In my case, I (K.D.) am a white person. I cannot reasonably discuss racial issues in the same way a person of colour would be able to. I don’t like being asked to discuss racial issues from the point of a POC, because I’m not. Even inside this body, I would still be speaking from the privileged viewpoint of a white person, just as a trans man, in many situations, would be speaking from male privilege, regardless of his body’s original configuration. A person of colour within a white system would still have some understanding of the oppression that their ethnic group experienced, regardless of what the front body itself has gone through. This is similar to what trans women experience; a trans woman does not ‘benefit’ from male privilege in the same way a cisgender man would, because she is a woman. In the same way, the POC is still a POC. It is even more difficult for non-human system members to discuss such issues, because they would not identify with a particular human ethnicity, and would tend to see humans as being essentially the same. This is what I (M.D.) experience.

Related articles
Asperger Square 8’s ‘Neurotypical Privilege‘ list is similar in spirit to this article, and we cannot recommend it enough. –M.D.