Getting Serious about Plurality

Kerry Dawkins, 2012

The problem that we’ve seen with anti-plural hostility is the dismissal of any identity that varies from a particular norm, without any explanation other than ‘I think it’s bullshit, so your experience can’t be valid.’ There just isn’t any serious discussion happening, because people believe that it’s outside the realm of seriousness. It doesn’t help that some environments, such as Tumblr, turn discussions of identity into a sideshow, rather than actually teasing out the important issues underneath some of the bluster that appears on people’s dashboards.

Asking questions about identity, though, is hard. It requires people to question their preconceived ideas about selfhood, personhood and what it means to be ‘mentally healthy’. Since Western culture doesn’t currently have a mainstream framework for mental variance that doesn’t use the medical model, and positivism prevails in most of the social sciences, including psychology, more philosophical explanations aren’t brought in as much as they were in the past. Neurodiversity is gaining more traction in popular discourse, but it will take a bit longer before that mindset displaces the current set of ideas.

There are people who will say ‘It’s crazy! Because it’s not “normal”, something’s wrong with you.’ That those of us who are non-DID plural systems can’t have valid experiences because one model of cognition tends to be rather hostile to the idea of variance being just that—variance. Some conditions do require treatment, but variance in and of itself shouldn’t be the reason why treatment should be mandated. Unfortunately, a lot of people conflate ‘variance’ and ‘disorder’. It’s thoughtless traditionalism for its own sake, as opposed to a thoughtful stance that considers all aspects of identity.

As usual, I’ll add the disclaimer that I don’t think that DID isn’t a thing, but that plurality itself need not always be explained with that paradigm. It’s a bit like gender variance—there are ‘classic’ trans people, who have binary gender identities and want to physically change their bodies to match their identities, and there are other gender-variant people, who may or may not identify themselves as being on the gender binary, and may or may not want to change their bodies.

On the other hand, we’ve seen people come round just by knowing others who have had different experiences to them, and are willing to listen to them (that’s the important bit), even if they may not be completely knowledgeable at first.

We don’t know conclusively how we came to be separate people: some of us think that we emerged naturally; others think that our plurality may have occurred as a response to stress. Regardless, though, we like who we are, and don’t want to lose our identities to gain the social acceptance of people who aren’t willing to listen in the first place.