We've been wanting to write something about plurality for awhile now. Something sort of like our Otherkin FAQ. (You've read it already, haven't you?)
There are two problems with this, though. The first one being that there's already a detailed FAQ about plurality here. (They call it multiplicity, which is a word we avoid because we feel that it excludes median systems, but still.) The second one is that we don't feel as qualified to speak about plural issues as we do about otherkin-ness. Finding our kintype and identities has taken an awful lot of reading, soul-searching, and seeking validation from other people, sort of like realizing we were transgender.
Being a plurality, or a median system specifically? Not so much. And if we had to guess why, we would say it's because we haven't encountered nearly as much pushback about it as we have for being otherkin or transgender. So we've never felt the same need to justify our existence as a plural system, which means that we haven't gone over and over the explanations in our head and in essays and stuff, the way that we did with the other things.
Having said that, other people have experienced discrimination, as a result of being open about being part of a plural system. And we keep feeling like we ought to write something about plurality in our own words, if only to serve as a resource for readers and friends.
So if you've ever asked yourself questions like "WHY DOES SHE KEEP SWITCHING BETWEEN 'I' AND 'WE' IN THE SAME SENTENCE FFS," read on!
Words words words
First off, let's define what we're talking about here.
Plurality, or being a plural system, means there is more than one person inside someone's head.
Multiplicity, or being a multiple system, is when those people are separate and distinct.
Median systems are fuzzier around the edges, and have personalities that are separate enough to count as plural but kind of mush together in places.
Finally, "singlets" are people who aren't plural systems.
So many words
When you hang out with plural systems, and they're talking about their plurality, you'll find that they use the words "headspace" and "fronting" a lot.
Fronting is being in control of your shared body and/or its social interactions. This is usually a consensual thing, and personalities which are better at certain things tend to front when those things come up.
Headspace is the place between your ears where everyone in your system lives. It is not the same thing as headcanon, which is a fandom term that means "my personal interpretation of how the movie / comic book / video game / other thing's story actually works."
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's go over some misconceptions.
Being plural is neither a kink nor a religion
Plurality is not the same thing as "plural marriage," a phrase Mormons use to refer to their early leaders' and members' adultery, polygamy, and child solicitation. It is not the same thing as "polyamory," which is when consenting, mature individuals are in more than one committed and equal relationship. It is also not the same as religious pluralism, which is the idea that there is no "one true church" or belief system and you don't need to feel threatened by people who believe differently from you.
You may have encountered ideas about plurality in religion (or on Star Trek), but it's not specifically a religious thing, nor is it role-playing or make-believe. It's also not a thing you can join, or that's seeking recruits. Correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know, people don't decide to be part of a plural system. They just are.
Being plural is not mental illness
A plural system or its members can be mentally ill, though. It may also be possible for a healthy singlet to become plural as the result of intense trauma. This idea is controversial among pluralities, because most of them are not like that and they feel that it unfairly stigmatizes them. But it may, in fact, be how our system came into being, for reasons that I will go into.
At any rate, whether or not it can be caused by trauma doesn't mean being a plural system is itself pathological, any more than being a singlet is. (How can you live all alone like that? Isn't it scary?)
For the record, our therapist is aware of our plurality, and has not indicated that she feels that it needs to be treated or diagnosed. This is probably because it doesn't actually cause any problems for us, in our day-to-day functioning. So if you were thinking to yourself "why doesn't she just get help for what's obvs schizophrenia, jeez," you can stop now. Unless you really believe yourself qualified to diagnose random strangers over the internet, using pop culture works like Outlast instead of the DSM-V.
Speaking of which,
Being plural is not lycanthropy
Which is to say, having multiple people share the same headspace doesn't mean one of them is a monster. It's not impossible, but it also isn't impossible that one of the people you brushed shoulders with on the street yesterday was a rapist. In fact, the latter is statistically much more likely.
We're sure you've read books and watched TV shows where people have "multiple personalities" that are completely separate, to the point where they can't remember what the others do. We're sure they were scary to watch. We don't recommend using sensationalized, fictional portrayals as a guide to what real people are like, whether they're plural systems or not. Especially when those portrayals are written by a homogenous group of authors who live in LA (or work for EA).
There's a reason why white girls and black kids feel like crap after watching TV.
So WTF is being plural???
Again, please visit the layperson's guide here. These people appear to know (most of) their stuff. They've given a lot more thought to their explanation than we have, and they've apparently consulted with more people outside their head, too.
There are only two things we can tell you with any authority. One is what plurality isn't, and you just read that part. The other's what it is for us. Our experience is not representative of other plural systems', and in fact there are big ways that it's different from what we've heard from most people in them.
What are those ways? To find out, let's start with a horror story.
It was a dark and stormy night
Let's say you're a Mormon kid, about ten years old. Your family is uber-religious, and has homeschooled you pretty much your whole life in between your dad's military deployments. Your mom was a Bible Belt Christian before converting to Mormonism, so imagine Vision Forum catalogues spread out on the table, Rush Limbaugh books on the shelves, and cassette tapes with kids singing happy songs about which organs are in the body. Also reciting the Preamble to the United States' Constitution (and adding "In God We Trust" at the end when it's not actually there).
They also -- we also -- sang about how God put parents in charge of their kids and church leaders in charge of parents, and how awesome it is to obey. Here is a verse from a song that you'll sing every week or so while you're at church:
Now we have a world where people are confused
If you don't believe it, go and watch the news
We can get direction all along our way
If we heed the prophets -- follow what they say
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet
Follow the prophet; don't go astray
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet; he knows the way
The tune is somber and solemn. The song itself is a reminder that you live in a Mormon world, where the Mormon prophet really is called of God just like Noah, Moses, and Joseph Smith were, and all the scary things you've been warned about that are outside your church really exist. Like homosexuals, fornicators, adulterers ...
You haven't read Frank E. Peretti's blockbuster Christian novels This Present Darkness or Piercing the Darkness yet. But you know that Satan and demons are out there, just as surely as God and His angels are. And you haven't seen Michael Ballam's cheese-tastic portrayal of Satan in the 80's Mormon temple ceremony, since you're too young. But you do know that -- just like he said to your parents, when they went to get "temple married" -- if kids don't do everything God and their parents tell them to, "they will be in MY power!!1!"
So, to recap: Mormon God is real, Mormon Heaven is real, Satan is real, and he owns everything outside the Mormon church (and maybe a handful of Christian churches). He also owns little Mormon kids who don't obey their parents, because he's the one who tells lies to them and gets them to have stuff like boundaries and self-respect. Rebellion is of the devil, goshdarnit!
Unfortunately, your parents aren't exactly encouraging you not to rebel against them or their church. Because in between building you up with praise about how you're a "genius" and a "prodigy," mom yells and screams and cries at you and your brothers and threatens to put you all in public school, where the liberals will teach you sex ed and how to be gay. Meanwhile, dad gets furious at you when you disrespect mom, and shouts "RUN!" as he stomps down the hall towards you and then beats the crap out of you (he calls it spanking).
To make matters worse, despite your inflated ego you are actually autistic and shy. Frankly, you're weird, and the explanations you give for your weirdness (like saying you're really an animal) aren't endearing you to most people. So your brothers are having fun playing with neighbourhood kids outside, in between being grounded, while you're spending a lot of your time playing on the computer and resenting everyone else.
Things come to a head(space)
What finally triggers it? Who knows? Something sets off that part of you which doesn't obey cheerfully all the time, which resents being picked on and bullied and kicked and laughed at and cried to and smacked. And one day, that part of you speaks to you, on its own.
In a growling voice coming from deep in your throat, it says something like:
They're all inferior. They are nothing. Everything they do is worthless.
You are the superior one. You. You.
In that moment, you are that part of you that feels this way. But in the next, you are not. And you sort of blink your eyes, and catch your breath, and are like "Oh my goodness, I've got a demon inside of me. Heavenly Father, please help."
Will it blend? Answer is "yes"
As you grow up, you learn to recognize which of your thoughts belong to which person, and when each one is thinking. And you'll alternate between thinking that you are possessed, and thinking that "all these human monsters are worthless."
But the thing is, you have to live this way, with each other. Both of you. And both of you think you're the real jewelfox, or at least you feel like you are. Both of you are even Mormon! The "demon" side doesn't see itself as a demon; it sees itself as a believer, and it believes the church leaders. When they blame children for misbehaving, gays for wanting to have sex, and women for tempting men by existing in public.
It's just that it also hates you ... which really means you hate the other part of yourself. Because the other you is so weak. It wants to obey, but it can't. It doesn't have boundaries, but when it's pushed it does nothing. You jealously guard your boundaries against Worldly people, like all the kids who made fun of you and who play outside and suchlike, or even the kids at church who have "lower standards" and listen to ungodly music. But you let your Church leaders and parents tell you what to do, and then lash out at both sides of yourself when you are unable to obey their contradictory instructions.
Pseudoscience versus religion
When we were twelve or so we read in Omni (I don't even remember how we got a copy of that magazine) that people could be "left-brain" or "right-brain" dominant, or could even be "mixed-brain" or "integrated-brain." They had a quiz to see which one you were, and we got integrated the first time and mixed when we retook it later. We spent a lot of time thinking about this, and trying to figure out which of us was which half of our brain, because it seemed to explain our experience.
The people around us weren't very supportive. One time our dad got us ice cream at some fancy place where they mix up the soft serve with toppings in front of you, kneading it with their hands and all, IIRC. Doing that triggered our cleanliness OCD, which made passive!Jewelfox all o_o; and aggressive!Jewelfox all |<
aggressive!Jewelfox took over, since passive!Jewelfox was being passive, and when the soft serve was ready she said "No." But this was incredibly rude, and there was no good reason to do it, or at least that's what we thought since kids don't have a say in what goes in their bodies. So we tried to explain to our dad "see, my right brain was in charge when I asked for ice cream, but then my left brain was all like-"
Dad told us this explanation was "garbage."
We never brought it up to him again.
To make a long story short
Does this all sound confusing? Messy? Inconsistent? Yeah, that's what it was like for us, too.
Because no one told us how to be plural. We didn't even know the word. And as we got more and more miserable, later on in our life -- dealing with stuff like gender dysphoria, and having no friends, and living in a breakfast nook with bugs and mice in rural Georgia with no way to get out of the house -- the "demon" that passive!Jewelfox lived with got more and more bitter and cruel.
We started arguing, when no one else was around. It's like she held all of our anger at how unfair everything was, and she blamed us for it since no one else would admit any wrongdoing. It was unhealthy. It was like living with an abusive roommate, who would not (and could not) move out.
So what did we do to resolve things? Did we go to therapy and try to "integrate?" Did we get an exorcism from a Melchizedek Priesthood holder? Did we stop "making stuff up" since this is all obviously a fantasy?
No. What happened is I, meaning "passive!Jewelfox," started becoming more self-aware, and stopped ignoring aggressive!Jewelfox and everything else people told us just couldn't exist. Like a bunch of social issues, and how gay and trans people were hurting and our church was making things worse, and eventually our own autism and dysphoria. But let's not go into all that right now, and just talk about how the plural thing went.
When she lashed out at me, I'd disarm her with silly comebacks. And when she started actually opening up and expressing her feelings to me, albeit angrily, I took her concerns seriously and even apologized to her for things. It helps that, because we're connected to each other deep down, we could empathize with each other perfectly.
We have a much better relationship now, and have actual names for ourselves (Taryn and Claire). We began to discover and appreciate what we each added to the person that "Jewelfox" is, like how Claire's passion fueled much of our writing and gave us the strength to stand up for ourself. We even discovered a third member, Rei, who we hadn't realized was around. Because she's the least assertive and has the most tolerance for stress, and only fronted when the rest of us had shut down.
So, how can you help your plural friends?
If you really want them to "get help," that is. Because the above probably still sounds scary and confusing to you, since singlets make horror movies out of it and since the idea of not being able to get away from someone who hates you really is scary. We should know.
Here is what we suggest:
Ask them questions like "who am I talking with right now?" Help them come up with ways of identifying that without having to go out of their way, like using different icons on Dreamwidth the way we do.
Ask them the names of their system's members. Make the same effort to learn them that you would your in-person friends. Call the person you're talking to by name.
Above all, listen to them when they tell you about their experiences. Don't just insult them because you don't like what they're saying, or call it all "garbage" the way that our father of origin did.
Because while you, if you are a singlet, might be able to just ignore plural systems and make them all go away like that, the people who live in them don't have that choice. This is as real to us as having roommates, and ignoring it -- or using glib, superficial explanations out of pop science and abusive religion -- just made things worse.
What actually helped was when we learned to treat each other as people. To acknowledge each other's existence and give each other a voice, the way other healthy pluralities know how to do. Everything made much more sense once we did that, and a lot of the problems we had went away.
We have fewer "scary mood swings," now, which were what they seemed like on the outside. The inside of our head is a much nicer place to be, for all of us. And the outside is, also, since we've made friends who are comfortable with our existence. Who don't see us as monsters, but as people, each one of us.
If we're not receptive to your suggestions that we do otherwise, it's because we've already tried dismissing our own experiences and it just made things worse. If you've read this far and are going to tell us to anyway, we have to conclude that you do not care about our well-being and just want us to go away for your own personal comfort. Even though we pose no threat to you or each other.
In which case, fuck you.