by Richard Ghia-Wilberforce and Kerry Dawkins; originally written in 2009, edited and expanded in 2014
Unfortunately, society is hardly favourable to plural systems conducting themselves as such, and most systems find themselves in situations in which they must pretend not to be plural to avoid the social repercussions of being visibly plural. In some jurisdictions, the penalties are worse.
Even though we all have to do it, it presents difficulties for some systems, including ours at times. Whilst we do a good enough job of it not to be detected by people who shouldn’t know, it is still difficult to get to know people well if they don’t know who we are, as there are so many different nuances in our behaviour, skills and world-views. This isn’t universal, of course, as different systems handle presenting to the general public differently. Some can’t tolerate pretending to be a ‘default person’ at all (or very little), whilst other systems don’t feel the need to tell all and sundry about their experiences. This is written from our perspective and things can be different for you and your system – that doesn’t mean your judgement is invalid.
Emotional and psychological difficulties
Interacting socially as a closet plural system
By their very nature, members of plural groups have their own styles of social interaction. Some people here are more gregarious; some others are reticent and distant. Some of us wear our hearts on our sleeves, like Hess; others hold their emotions in, like Noël and M.D. A non-plural social role, by its very definition, demands a certain level of consistency that groups of people cannot provide without compromising their natures to a great degree.
People will naturally have their own interests, as well. When we are openly ourselves we can simply express our interests without worrying that we will contradict ourselves if we discuss our likes and dislikes, or if those interests fit into our ‘non-plural persona’. There are things that Kerry is interested in, but Richard really couldn’t care less about, and vice versa. There are things that nearly move Richard to tears, but leave people like Hess and Darwin cold.
Because of this, it may be difficult for plural groups to make meaningful friendships with those who are not aware of them. It would probably be easier for plural groups who have one or two regular frontrunners, but it’s harder for larger systems who have a large selection of frontrunners, like ours. We have found that it has been relatively difficult for us to make close friendships with people who don’t know who we are as individuals because of our fear of social repercussions. We are simply too different from one another for us to present a ‘singlet’ role with much depth.
In a therapeutic context, feigning a non-plural act does not aid the therapeutic process if individual people have different problems that need to be addressed; rather, it hinders it by forcing the system in question to ‘consolidate’ their feelings and reactions as that of one person, rather than a collection of individuals who may have specific needs. Some individuals may struggle with depression, but others might not. Different people process the same emotional stimuli differently. They may also interpret the cause of their hurt differently—some people tend to blame themselves for traumas, but others blame society or family.
Occupational and practical difficulties
Large plural systems may have people with different abilities. Ours is one of them. Some of us can do things that others cannot; for instance, Kerry, Yavari and Betony are adept at graphic design, whereas Hess and Sean are not. Richard internalises written material better than some other members of our system, and Sean and Kerry handle social situations with more aplomb than some of our more awkward system members. All these skills are not trivial, and were we to be openly plural, it would be less difficult for us to tell someone that ‘we cannot do this; Hesperus is not about.’ When we are hiding our plurality, it is difficult to explain sudden ‘losses’ and ‘gains’ in skills. If one of us was us employed in a discipline that made use of one system-member’s skills, it would be exceedingly inconvenient to the employer to hear that we had suddenly ‘lost’ a skill!
Our ‘life skills’ vary from individual to individual. There is a baseline that we all meet, but some of us are better at certain tasks than others. Noël tends to have an easier time processing visual stimuli when cleaning so he is a better choice to do such things than Hess or other people who have more problems with visual stimuli. Some of us can cook better than others, as well, like Kerry, whilst Richard and Yavari can’t cook competently at all.
Presenting as non-plural usually means that people expect you to have a consistent set of skills that you can access at all times. This means that people, when dealing with us as a pseudosinglet, expect us to have my graphic design and cooking skills, Hess’s sociability, Richard’s patience and scientific knowledge, Sean’s boldness, MD’s creativity, Carmen’s social conscience, Noel’s artistic sensitivity AND Darwin’s computer skills. Non-plurals can have all those skills together, though, but our strengths and weaknesses are often contradictory. M.D. comes across as aloof, which is a disadvantage when doing work that is primarily social in nature, and Hess tends to miss social cues that Kerry catches, but he’s better at seeming friendly than either MD or Kerry is. All those changes would be perfectly understandable to people who knew that we were separate people, but when people don’t know, it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. How can ‘[singlet name] not know how to do it? He just did it yesterday!‘
This can be particularly detrimental in a work setting, when your job is largely dependent on one system member’s skills, and that system member is not available for whatever reason (fronting difficulties; emotional distress on that system member’s part; a needed front holiday). Nearly five years ago Hess and Kerry had to take a temporary hiatus from regular frontrunning, and other system-members had to fill in our work duties. They did well, but our supervisors still seemed to miss them and the way they had done things, although they didn’t explicitly know we were plural. Although M.D. has enough practical skills via training to fill in for Kerry with writing and graphic design, there is a certain social style that they seem to want from us, and M.D. couldn’t do that, because that’s not who he is. He’s not socially awkward, but he’s formal and a bit aloof, and when we’re supposed to come across as warm and eager to teach something, it doesn’t really ‘work’ with him. The same applies to Noël; although he did the research and art portions of our position very well, he wasn’t as good as being ‘socially engaging’ in the way they expected. Noël is warm and friendly, but he speaks in a way that make him seem excessively formal. Conversely M.D. is less affected by some of the autism-related self-care issues that some of us have, so he looked more outwardly presentable than the two of us did.
In a society that was friendlier towards plurality, these skills differences could be accommodated more easily, even if a job was shared. For example, there would be more allowances for someone not being able to front and having someone else cover for them. Instead of having people think that there had just been a decline in ‘singlet-person’s’ performance, we could have just said ‘M.D. and Noël have different communication styles and Kerry hasn’t been able to front because of emotional distress.’
Ideological, spiritual and philosophical difficulties
Large groups of people will not share the exact same ideologies or philosophies. Because we cannot be openly plural around most people we see every day, we keep our discussion of political, religious and philosophical issues at a minimum, apart from issues that we have a broad consensus on. This can make us appear less profound but it also minimises the risk of our contradicting ourselves.
Most of us have widely varying views regarding religion, philosophy and politics. There are areas in which most of us agree, but disagreement is commonest when discussing subtler issues.