(CW: brief mention of multiple forms of child abuse)
After seventeen years, we’ve finally found a way to describe ourselves appropriately.
We’ve described ourselves as a plural system, multiple, several minds in one body, more than one. But what exactly does that mean?
We’re real and fictional at the same time.
We are real in the sense that we have hopes, dreams, ideas, tastes, temperaments, opinions, and ideologies. And we are fictional in the sense that our internal lives are different—often staggeringly different—from the one we lead in the external world. Many of us existed before our stories were written—both in our head and on paper—but only after we found our stories did we become able to work together harmoniously.
Most of our stories are internally generated, though a handful of us come from other creators’ worlds—a kind of “introject,” in psychological parlance. They are relatively few “outsourced” system members here, though.
Any good writer of fiction knows that characters often get their own ideas and resist authorial attempts to force a particular storyline. So, too, do system members figure out their own background, find out how they fit into the system and in the broader world. We should stress, however, that our individual identities and backgrounds aren’t conscious choices; they’re a kind of “subconscious affinity,” as Richard put it in the past. When new system members appear, we know just enough about them—for example, knowing that Jack was British and grew up in the 1940s—to get an idea, but as time goes on, we learn more details. We have very little conscious control over someone’s background—and sometimes those backgrounds can be surprising. We are noble and baseborn, green and venerable, energetic and placid. Some of us are mainstream liberals; others are committed socialists (We had a Republican for a few months in our early 20s, but he didn’t stay too long).
Where do our stories come from? They come from our interests, outworld experiences, cultural affinities, current events, and more. All these threads come together to produce complex, rich, fully ensouled system members. Were we paper-and-ink characters, rather than sentient ones, we would be described as “round” characters who change, grow, and develop alongside the plot.
We know when a system member’s storyline fits when it refuses to budge, when we can’t change the background without unravelling the story as a whole. Mature storylines can change as the plot unfolds, but we are following a path, not forcing the process. This is the same as personality development in singletons, though in the minds of creatively inclined systems, this development can include the emergence of separate stories that exist in parallel with the system’s external life.
Our plurality is influenced by trauma, but not defined by it.
We were sexually, physically and psychologically abused by trusted adults and experienced protracted evangelical brainwashing. Judging by how many plurals we know who have suffered similar or greater levels of abuse in their childhoods, it’s likely that trauma plays a significant role in the formation of a lot of systems. It shows up in our individual stories: there are people who have experienced the same breaches of trust by adults that we did, at different levels of severity, and there are those of us who had less or no abuse and are able to take a more detached view. Recent traumatic or stressful events can also influence who arrives.
We prefer, however, not to reduce our story to medical labels. We were diagnosed with MPD in the late 1980s, but it’s more accurate to say that we are influenced by trauma, but that we do not consider ourselves entirely trauma-based.
We consider our multiplicity a feature, not a bug.
Is our plurality merely a form of maladaptive daydreaming? Absolutely not.
Being plural has given us an inbuilt support system, which was particularly useful when we had no other resources. It has allowed us to build a productive life—and it has even saved it. At the end of 2022, we attempted suicide after the COVID years did a number on our collective mental health. Most of us thought we were ready to die, but we were intercepted. Not by an outsider, but a headmate—Yavari.
We are able to see multiple perspectives at a time. A lot of autistic people struggle with perspective-taking, but multiplicity mitigates that difficulty. After all, if we can hold multiple perspectives in a single brain, we can also understand that people outside the system can have different views, too.
Related to the last point, being in a plural system has allowed us to grow intellectually, artistically, emotionally, and socially. We have spirited arguments with one another about ethics, morality, politics, language, and the meaning of life itself. We give each other ideas about how to accomplish work projects. And we have sustained each other through all manner of adversities, including political turmoil, abuse, and material want. None of this would have been accomplished if we did not have each other as an internal support system.
So, what does this all mean in the end?
Strangely, we have come full circle: in our childhood, we knew that we had complex, self-developing characters who socialised with each other—often using toys as avatars—but the idea that there were formal and informal descriptors, or a community of others who felt similarly more-than-one, was unthinkable to us. We thought we were just exceptionally creative, but that’s because we’d forgotten that we were aware of ourselves before being forced to suppress the system when we were in preschool. After we were supposedly “cured,” we were constantly yelled at by relatives for “talking to ourselves” or “seeming crazy.” We started to become aware of our plurality again in middle school and tried to broach the topic with a therapist, but neither she nor our family acknowledged it. When we started participating in autism and neurodiversity communities online (mostly on LiveJournal), we started to learn about multiplicity. Somehow everything seemed to click, even though we didn’t know how to describe our origins or why we were here. We knew the classic MPD/DID narrative didn’t fit, but we also didn’t feel right using a wholly spiritual framework in which we came from literal parallel worlds. We ended up describing ourselves as a “neurally generated gateway system.” (A gateway system is old-school plural jargon for systems who see themselves as a nexus between this world and others.) We shied away from connecting our distinct backgrounds and histories to fiction or creativity, thinking that would invalidate us entirely.
We should have known that our creativity influenced our plurality when an alternate version of Morpheus from The Sandman series appeared in our system in 2009, but we worried that treating our headspace as fictional, or acknowledging the role of the creative process, would make us feel unreal, invalid, easy to dismiss as childish LARPing for lonely and desperate young adults. Morpheus was fine referring to himself as fictional—after all, it’s appropriately canonical—but the rest of us weren’t.
It turns out that Morpheus was right, at least for us.
In a way, everyone is a character, though we don’t consider ourselves “fictional characters,” since this implies that there is a “real” person behind us who is writing this story. Throughout our lives, we try on roles to see how they fit. We do a kind of character research every time we want to learn a new recipe, pick the right car to buy, decide what vocation you want to pursue, find out the person or people you want to spend the rest of your life with. All these decisions add up and become your full story, carried with you until you reach your end—and even then, your story is not finished. Your family, friends, and colleagues will hold you in their memories long after you are laid to rest.
And our outward persona—the one with the government name—is as much of a character as any of us are. In fact, he’s more fictional than the rest of us, separate biographies notwithstanding, since there is no system member who corresponds to that persona.
For this reason, we prefer not to dwell on questions of ultimate origin, since there are several: creativity, imagination, neurodivergence, trauma, and spirituality. All these have combined to create a bold, intrepid cast approaching their fourth decade on this planet, writing their story as they go along.
Other systems may define themselves as they wish, but this is our story, our rules, our head, our life.
Welcome to the world of Plures House.
(by Vladimir Romanov and Fiona Romanova, July 2023)