[Kerry] Plurality and The Experts™

It’s wearying reading ~the literature~ on plurality. The way they describe system members gets to you after a while: Parts. Alters. Alternate personalities. Personas. Fragments. Anything but ‘people’. Anything other than the possibility that plural systems may very well be composed of several people, in the Cartesian ‘cogito, ergo sum’ sense. 

I am not a ‘personality’. I am not an ‘ego state’. I certainly have a personality distinct from others’ in this system. But I am not ‘a personality’. Nobody is putting on a mask of me, only to casually discard it when they’re bored of it. Nobody retreats ‘into me’. I’m just…me. And in the same way, Hess is just Hess. Darwin’s just Darwin. James is just James. And so on. It’s frustrating to see this model, sanctioned by The Experts™, touted as the only one, even when it’s not your actual experience. 

But they’re never going to listen to you because you’re ‘crazy’ anyway. That’s just your weird, fucked-up brain talking. How dare you actually assert your personhood and individual identity? 

Maybe I’m sensitive because we’ve spent our entire earthly existence receiving messages that we are somehow ‘not really people’. Racism. Ableism. Homophobia. Transphobia. Classism. Misogyny before we transitioned. It messes about with your self-image, even when you know deep down that your existence is as valuable as anyone else’s is. And speaking up for who you are, regardless of what it is, is being uppity. It’s challenging something that people consider self-evident. I’m not, of course, conflating plurality with more obvious oppressive situations. I am, however, criticising the idea that if you belong to a ‘target’ identity, whatever you say is invalid, because your experiences aren’t being filtered through ‘experts’, who are invariably outside your community. It’s like those nonautistic ‘autism experts’. Rich and middle-class social workers who are out of touch with the people they work with. I’m not trying to bash allies, but there’s a difference between an ally who actually listens to you and an Expert™ that tries to impose their narrative on you. 

I’m not even claiming that our plurality can be absolutely, 100% empirically proved. I am saying, though, that identity is complex and it’s silly to just dismiss stuff out of hand because it doesn’t match your experience or doesn’t fit into your ‘pathologise everything that doesn’t fit into our idealised norms’ mentality. (I’m going to add a disclaimer that I’m not claiming that DID/MPD don’t exist. I am, though, saying that they’re not the only ways in which plurality can exist.) 

It’s frustrating, because these ‘experts’ don’t know our lived experience. They don’t listen to our lived experience. It’s just CURE PATHOLOGY CURE PATHOLOGY CURE PATHOLOGY over and over and over again, and the constant hammering on about how there is One True Good Brain. 

And when you’ve got a ‘bad brain’, it’s hard to fight against it. You’re never sure if you’re going to be listened to. After all, your view is ‘less valid’ because you’ve got a ‘bad brain’, right? 

Our plurality is part of what helps us to function. We don’t know whether we arose to assist in dealing with the world or not, but regardless of our origins, our separateness is beneficial. We are, however, more than simply a ‘coping mechanism’; we’re people. More importantly, the relationships we have with each other are important. To try and ‘integrate’ us, to act as though we’re all parts of the same mythical individual, to be eliminated for the sake of an imagined idea of normality, is to crush something that simply doesn’t deserve to be crushed. 

I know I’ll never convince your run-of-the-mill troll posing as a ‘sceptic’ that atypical identities are valid, or the outsider Experts™, but this blog is not for those people

[Kerry, James and Darwin] Articles that you should probably read.

[Kerry] Trauma, Autism and Guilt

[Content warning: abuse, trauma, war, natural disasters, other potentially upsetting or triggering material] 

While we don’t consider this a ‘survivor blog’ in the classic sense, sometimes discussing trauma is relevant. I don’t mean in the sense that any of us would run through long, exhaustive lists of things we’ve gone through; we’re quite private about most of the specific traumatising events that cause us to have strong responses. But over the past few years, we’ve been grappling with internal questions about our relationship to trauma. (Some of this does have to do with system origins for some people, but none of us believes that the ‘host and alters’ paradigm applies to us.) There are things that we consider traumatising that other people wouldn’t, and there are things we’ve gone through that might be considered traumatising to anybody, but sometimes there are a lot of weird, not-quite-properly-pieced-together feelings about the entire thing. 

One thing that many of us cope with is guilt for feeling traumatised in the first place. That we’re ‘weak’, or that we’re overreacting and our trauma wasn’t ‘real’ in the first place, because we were never in a war, and we were never in the direct centre of a natural disaster. This ties into our being autistic, because there’s a stereotype that some autistic people are less mature or resilient than non-autistic people, and are prone to overreacting. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the ‘Spock’ autistic stereotype, but it does apply to the model of autism more frequently applied to women and girls. (I am not saying, of course, that all autistic people who have more intense emotional responses are women and girls; I’m referring to the stereotype.) Some of it is coping with the ‘badness’ that I mentioned before: overreaction is a sign that we’re ‘bad’. That we don’t know how to control ourselves. That we’re not remaining meek and humble in the face of things that we perceive as a threat. Even if that overreaction is internal and nobody even sees it except for people in-system. 

I mean, there’s no doubting the traumatic reaction: the emotional flashbacks (I don’t endorse everything in this link, like the talk about inner-child therapy, but the description of an emotional flashback is spot-on), the repeated nightmares, the constant looping thoughts and memories of certain incidents or clusters of incidents. But when your experiences don’t leave physical scars, there’s always this doubt about whether it was ‘really’ traumatising. Even if those experiences took years for you to recover from. (Because, you know, your trauma’s not big enough to require that kind of recovery. You should just suck it up!) Even if you’re still thinking about it weeks, months, years, decades later. 

Of course, it’s not people’s place to determine whether you’re ‘really’ traumatised or not. For some people, it takes natural disasters or seeing a war firsthand to produce triggers; for others, being emotionally abused at home or bullied at school can traumatise them. Just because something isn’t perceived as ‘big’ doesn’t mean that it can’t be traumatising. And I wish more people would realise that. That just because something may be disappointing or upsetting for some people can be triggering to someone else because of their own experiences. I’m not expecting people to know our triggers. But I know—we all know—that they exist, and affect our outlook. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult not to feel lost when you look for resources on coping with trauma, and they all assume that you’ve gone through something ‘big enough’, or they’re written in a way that doesn’t seem to deal with your neurology well enough. 

I wish I could end this with some grand, sage advice, but I can’t.  but I will say this: Your emotional reactions to an experience you consider traumatising are real, regardless of what happened to you. Some people react differently to different things, and far be it from me, or anyone else, to determine how you ‘should’ react to an event, as long as you aren’t out to hurt others. 

[Kerry] Bad.

[Content warning: Verbal abuse and bullying]

This is admittedly a hard entry to write, but I think it needed to be written, since it’s been weighing down on me. 

When we were growing up, there was this pervasive mindset that we were inherently bad. This isn’t because we usually set out to do anything malicious, but there was this narrative about our behaviour and the way we moved about the world that implied that we were. After all, we (mostly Hess) were packed off to detention when we had shouting, crying meltdowns because of bullying, sensory overload, or desperate attempts to communicate a desire, only to be brushed off. We were shouted out at home because we were acting out, and the response was always criticism, verbal abuse and punishment, not legitimate attempts to understand what was provoking our negative reactions. 

People saw our behaviour and didn’t try to find out the reasons behind it, and didn’t make the slightest effort to try and see what we were trying to communicate when we didn’t have the words to step outside the meltdowns or other bothersome behaviour (bothersome to them, desperate attempts to communicate for us). We internalised it, because we didn’t have another framework to allow us to accept ourselves. We had read parenting magazines and books and noticed that parents were supposed to show more empathy, but we dismissed it, because we were told otherwise at home.

We didn’t have problems because people were hurting us or misunderstanding us. We had problems because we were bad. The flaws were in us, not in others. It’s almost as though they acted as though we chose to be autistic and have difficulty communicating things to them. Like we were trying to be obstinate on purpose

In contrast to us were ‘good’ children, who were frequently chosen to do things that we weren’t. We were left behind, because we didn’t deserve such things, or we were too ‘different’ to truly fit in. While we were in ‘gifted’ programmes, we were often left to do things by ourselves, and we were excluded from a lot of programmes and events that other people were invited to. We felt as though we were tainted and inherently flawed in a way that others weren’t. We had the impression that teachers liked ‘smart’ people, but the ones they liked better were more compliant and did things in a more typically acceptable way, so we believed that our abilities themselves were illegitimate. We responded to this stereotype threat by not investing ourselves as much in our education as much as we should have when we were younger, because we would never be ‘good’. Top universities were not Where People Like Us™ Belonged. We would never be in any honour societies because we were Bad. Teachers would not praise us because we were tainted. Why try to get sky-high grades when you’re bad anyway?

Of course, we did have positive influences growing up, and there were people who saw beyond our ‘badness’ and encouraged us to do as well as we could. We are eternally grateful to those people, and we are incredibly fortunate to have those voices interrupt the stream of self-hatred brought on by unwarranted stereotyping. But for years—even as recently as last year—we’ve subconsciously sabotaged our own success because we ‘don’t deserve it’. Because we’re ‘bad’. It’s definitely not intentional; it’s a product of years of negative messages that we’ve received.

It didn’t help that our younger sibling was ‘good’ too. 

When we feel desperation or frustration now, or when something disappointing happens to us, there is still that potent voice at the back of our head, telling us that we’re ‘bad’. We don’t listen to it as much as we used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s been expunged. There are still events that bring up the old messages, and this year was full of them. I won’t go into details in public, but for a few months, we felt as though we were eleven again. It seemed as though more ‘typical’ people were rewarded, and our efforts were invalidated. Fortunately, things did work out for us, but we still have triggers from the worst bits of this year, because they took us back to this space of ‘badness’. 

I wish that it were easy for us to stop thinking of ourselves as ‘bad’. Some of us, like Noël and James, tend to struggle with it less than Hess or I do, but that baggage is still there. We’ve got over our resentment that we used to have of so-called ‘good’ kids years ago—we tend to resent situations, not people, these days—but we still worry, deep down, that we actually are ‘bad’. 

I wonder how many neurologically variant people have similar relationships with ‘badness’. 

Is it something I personally want to reclaim? There’s too much baggage in being ‘bad’, I think, and I don’t want to imply that I support things that are actually bad, like abuse or murder. I can’t speak for anyone else here, though.

[Kerry] Ur Doin It Rite, or Imposter Syndrome Strikes Again

To add on to Em’s post about ‘invisible effort’, there’s also its converse, the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome‘. That is, when you find out that you did get a particular opportunity, you wonder if you don’t deserve it, if you somehow ‘fooled’ HR, or if the people on the admissions committee just feel bad for you and want to help, rather than respecting your abilities. And before you find out, there’s often this worry and catastrophising: for instance, thinking you failed a statistics test when you ended up getting an A. (True story! I literally thought we’d get a test returned to us with an F. Turns out it was a 96.) 

It’s irrational, but when you’re used to situations more like what Em described, you have a hard time believing that people do want to give you—and your work—a fair chance, as opposed to immediately zeroing in on the stereotyped ‘perfect employee/student’ with untarnished grades or work histories. 

Imposter syndrome tends to affect people who belong to a community that isn’t historically associated with culturally recognised achievement: that is, people of colour (except South and East Asians, who deal with a different set of stereotypes as the ‘model minority’), women and people with disabilities. Before our transition, we dealt with the triple threat of racism, ableism and misogyny, which all contributed to our own ‘imposter syndrome’ issues. Nowadays, ableism and racism are still factors, and while we don’t deal with direct misogyny any more, the memories are still there, and its effects still exist. (DISCLAIMER: I’m not trying to claim that trans men are ‘men lite’, but that cis men and trans men’s upbringings may be different because of the added stereotyping.)

But if you’re Black, for example, and go to a school where you experience stereotype threat (that is, teachers have a lower expectation of you because they think Black students are less academically capable), you may start internalising it and thinking that you are a poor student, even though you have the ability to excel beyond what anyone has ever predicted for you. The same applies to women, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers; girls are frequently steered towards the humanities and social sciences, because as Barbie said, ‘maths is too hard’. Many women feel that they shouldn’t get involved in STEM careers, and a lot of women who are in STEM disciplines feel that they’re not as competent as men—not because they are less competent, but because of the stereotypes they’ve heard from Day One about how boys grow up to be engineers, physicists and computer programmers, while girls grow up to become schoolteachers and social workers. (There’s nothing wrong with being a schoolteacher or a social worker, of course, but society places a high premium on being a STEM employee.) People with disabilities are often marginalised too, especially those of us who had the misfortune of having spent time in special-education classes as children. If you’re in a classroom where the teacher is telling you (whether implicitly or explicitly) that your disability will make it so that you’ll never amount to anything, you’re probably not going to have the best self-image. You’ve already been considered the ‘dregs’ of education; why the hell would you want to proceed further? 

This is where imposter syndrome comes from: the idea that particular groups are less capable than others, and you start internalising it and start questioning when things go right. (And when things go wrong, you feel that it’s ‘proof’ that you suck.) 

[Em] Invisible and Visible Effort

Sorry we haven’t been blogging much; we’ve been incredibly busy with school-related stuff. 

For a lot of autistic folks, their effort is “invisible”—that is, even though someone is trying their very hardest to do everything they possibly can, it still doesn’t look like enough. 

And because it’s not physically visible, people may jump to the wrong conclusions at first. That we’re slacking off, that we don’t care, that we’re just “not putting in enough effort,” when that’s not the case—it’s more like, there’s a certain “module” in our head that’s failing, and it’s hard to keep everything else up, so things become harder and harder to make sure that everything looks as though it’s in its proper place. I’m not trying to make excuses, and I can understand where people’s disappointment comes from. But at the same time, it still sucks, because you feel guilty, and feel that you’ve let folks down. 

People may see you coming in late for class (because it’s hard to get out of bed, much less trek the seven blocks or so to get to your bus stop just to find it pulling away from you, and the next one’s coming in 15 minutes), or turning in an assignment a few days late, and they may interpret it as your not being fully invested in what you’re doing. What they’re not seeing is the amount of effort you’re putting out for other tasks—for instance, day-to-day tasks may be harder for some people than academic work. It’s really hard for us to get the “spoons” together for cleaning, and we rarely cook these days, but we’ve been known to knock out nine- and ten-page papers within the course of about twelve hours (and that end up getting good grades). But people aren’t seeing the inertia that’s keeping you stuck in bed 30 minutes longer than you actually wanted to be; it just looks like “procrastination.” 

This isn’t an excuse for unreliability; however, it’s placing certain things into perspective, so that people can find a situation that is more appropriate for their needs. 

There are a few amazing articles that I think handle this issue well: Anonymous’ “And People Still Fail to Get It, Again and Again,” and Joel Smith’s “You Have It So Good.” 

You might also get in an unhealthy habit of comparing yourself to nonautistic people who seem to effortlessly do things that you would never have the time or energy for. We struggled with this a lot at high school, for instance: there were these people who had perfect grades, were involved with a million extracurricular activities, and were able to hold down a job. Honors project here, tons of presentations there, 4.5 unweighted GPA, not a single C, D, or F, cozy with administration. For us, it never worked out that way: we could either study all the time, or we could do extracurricular activities, or we could work. We did have a bunch of extracurricular activities during the last two years of high school, but the price for that was burnout. Crashing in bed at odd times. 

It usually leads to folks like that getting chosen for stuff (jobs, admissions at university), and our not being considered—not because we’re not intellectually capable of handling the work, but because there’s this stereotype that “good students” are supposed to expend inordinate amounts of time just to pad their freaking résumés, or that “good employees” need to have certain kinds of jobs with no gaps on their résumé (even during a recession!). Actually, that’s kind of snarky; I do think that most of these people are actually sincere about wanting to get involved with stuff. The playing field is levelled a bit if we’ve got a relationship with someone and they’re recommending us for something—then they’ve seen our work. We’ve gotten some awesome opportunities that way. We’ve seen proof of that over the past few weeks. (I don’t want to go into significant detail, because we prefer to keep our offline life and our blogging separate, but.) But if we don’t have folks vouching for us and we have to compete against Super Employee/Student™ with no blemishes on their record? We’re just not going to luck out, there.

And when you get turned down for that opportunity in favor of the person who seems to do everything “right,” you wonder what the hell is wrong with you, even if you’re not actually doing that badly, by most people’s standards. We tend to feel messy and broken when that happens, even though we know intellectually that we’re not “broken,” but that there are certain structures in place that make it harder for people in our situation to stand out among the people who seem to do everything right. You start feeling inferior even though your situation is just flat-out different, and your needs are different. But since nonautistic people are intrinsically “superior” to autistic people (note the dick quotes; I’m just talking about society’s fucked-up attitudes), if you end up getting the short end of the stick, it’s because YOU are flawed, wrong, and broken. But when you’re in the midst of that depression, you’re not seeing the structures; you’re seeing “oh god here we go again. I must SUCK. HR probably laughed at my cover letter!” You start feeling you’ll never measure up to people like that. It’s this constant feeling of starting from behind. It’s kind of obnoxious. It’s one of the reasons why job-hunting freaks us out unless we get it through someone we know. Yes, it’s easier for anyone to get a job through their friend or their old professor or their uncle or whoever. But for people who may not look as good on paper as the aforementioned Super Student™/Employee™, it’s even more vital. 

And so you end up invisible again, even though you could do the work

[Kerry] Plurality and Scepticism

Philosophically, I’m a sceptic. I don’t believe in God (of any sort); I tend to believe in naturalistic explanations for both psychological and spiritual phenomena, and I critically evaluate people’s claims, especially if they can’t be empirically tested.

You may wonder, then, why we identify as plural, and why I have a strong attachment to my individual identity, even though I don’t have a visible physical manifestation.

I tend to have a philosophy of ‘materialist dualism’, in which nonspiritual philosophy is combined with the idea that there can be a distinction between someone’s external presentation and internal self-perception. I believe that the perception of that distinction occurs in the brain, at least for us. I don’t see there being a contradiction at all between being our identifying as separate people, and having many sceptics in the system, like Em, Yavari and me.

No, you can’t directly test our personhood in the same way that you can measure REM sleep or other brain phenomena that are less complicated. I think that the reason why the personhood of members of plural systems isn’t always recognised because we have differing operational definitions of personhood. People who don’t conceptualise identities as existing outside the body may see personhood as embodiment—and those people also tend to have gender-essentialist views as well, in which trans people are not ever ‘really’ the gender they identify as, or aren’t so until they’ve had The Surgery™. That philosophy leads to rigid definitions of selfhood, identity, gender and other cognitive constructs that are simple for some people, and complex for others. Those of us who have more fluid conceptualisations of identity allow for these differences, and can recognise that a mind-body problem may exist for many people.

The fact that operational definitions for personhood may vary across schools of thought doesn’t mean that being plural is inherently pathological. It means that some people tend to view identity in a rather simplified way that doesn’t account for the variations in self-perception that people actually experience. This occurs in behavioural science sometimes; there are some schools of thoughts that see people as complex, and there are others that simplify us into black boxes that are solely defined by our behaviours, and there are still others who believe that we are primarily driven by our biological urges. In general, though, the most effective psychological, sociological and anthropological approaches are those that look at people holistically, rather than turning them into DNA strands or black boxes.

Materialist dualism is a holistic philosophical approach to the mind-body problem: it recognises the difference between subjective and objective truth, does not make claims about the objective world that can’t be verified scientifically, and recognises the identity and personhood of those whose identities don’t have a one-to-one correspondence with their exterior physical manifestations. I know that my individual identity is subjective, and that when I move through the world and interact with people who don’t know we’re plural, they’ll see something different, and I’m fully aware of that. But at the same time, I have a strong sense of who I am, and that’s where my motivations, worldviews, likes and dislikes come from. It’s not a classic ‘delusion’ or ‘pathology’; as I said, I’m aware of its subjectivity, and our plurality doesn’t make us dysfunctional. Rather, we’re able to support each other emotionally and lead a halfway decent life, so no, it’s not dysfunctional. It’s a variation from the norm, but we view it as a positive adaptation that’s served us well, for the most part.

[Kerry] I’m completely amazed.

To put it bluntly? Paul Lutus, you are full of shit.

Over the years, Lutus has written articles about the purported nonexistence of Asperger’s on two occasions: in his ‘Asperger’s by Proxy’ article, and in ‘How to Raise the Asperger’s Child’. He also discusses mental conditions more generally, in ‘The Myth of Mental Illness’. While I appreciate Lutus’ interest in deconstructing some culturally bound attitudes towards mental difference, his extreme behaviourist approach, reductionism and complete ignorance regarding the autistic spectrum are things I just can’t support.

Many of his posts, including ‘Asperger’s by Proxy’ and ‘How to Raise the Asperger’s Child’, include readers’ responses, which he intersperses with his own commentary. The most irritating responses have to be to the mother who wrote back to him about his ‘How to Raise the Asperger’s Child’ article.

He fallaciously assumes that autistic people have no interest in maintaining interpersonal relationships, and the fact that his correspondent’s son does demonstrate interest in relationships ‘proves’ that he isn’t on the autistic spectrum:

You are aware, are you not, that that is NOT an Asperger’s symptom? If (1) Asperger’s was real, and (2) your son had it, he would simply not care about having friends, and he certainly wouldn’t throw a tantrum about losing a game. Those “symptoms” arise in normal development and have nothing to do with either Asperger’s or autism generally.

Autistic kids cannot sustain relationships, don’t understand why that is important, and do not express the kinds of emotions you describe. Conclusion? Your son doesn’t have Asperger’s. (from the responses to ‘How to Raise the Asperger’s Child)

Incorrect. Autistic people may struggle with relationships, and may approach them differently, but like all other individuals, they each individually have their own ways of approaching other people and building relationships.

He also repeatedly refers to the autism spectrum as being a ‘mental illness’. Autism and Asperger’s aren’t considered ‘mental illnesses’; they’re developmental disorders, which are approached differently by both the DSM and by therapists in general.

Additionally, Lutus misinterprets the removal of Asperger’s from the upcoming DSM-V: rather than declaring Asperger’s a myth, the new DSM will view autism in a more nuanced way, rather than declaring that everyone who previously had an Asperger’s behaviour is now a poorly behaved, but intelligent, NT. They’re saying that Asperger’s is autism, not that it doesn’t exist. They’re criticising the name, not the existence of the condition. It seems as though he’s only read the New York Times article he linked to for its title, rather than actually examining the story attached to said title:

Above we read that Allen Frances, editor of DSM-IV, freely acknowledges that most current Asperger’s diagnoses are nonsense. And by reading further, we discover that psychologists now realize their mistake, and Asperger’s is being removed from the next edition of the DSM. To see how so many people could be misdiagnosed with Asperger’s, how Asperger’s could morph from an uncertain mental illness into a certain fad, we need to examine the field of psychology, the source for the condition and the diagnosis.

For someone who wants to declare baldly that his correspondent’s children don’t have Asperger’s, Lutus shows a profound lack of knowledge of both autism spectrum conditions and psychology in general. I’m not pretending to be an expert, but unlike Paul Lutus, I have firsthand experience with diagnosed, lifelong autism (I’ve personally been here for ten years, but right now, that’s beside the point). He doesn’t live our life, nor does he know us (or his correspondent), and has no place dictating the way in which another person’s brain functions, especially when he’s obviously ignorant of it.

[Kerry] Normality and ‘Deviance’

(crossposted from personal Tumblr account)

A lot of destructive philosophies that marginalise certain oppressed categories of people begin with the idea that people considered ‘deviant’ are not inherently different, but are altered ‘normal’ people. The way to deal with deviance under this philosophy is to restore ‘normality’ to these people, and cast deviance as either a pathology or sinful choice.

Let’s use plurality as one of our examples. The current medical paradigm for multiplicity implies that all plurality comes from an original person splitting because of extreme emotional trauma, and breaking off into several different sentient entities, often referred to as ‘alters’ and ‘personalities’. Only the ‘original’ person (commonly called the ‘host’ or ‘core’) is considered a ‘real person’. Another strain of thought, more popular in the 90s, asserts that splitting cannot occur, and that any perception of splitting is a delusion generated by the patient and doctors invested in the ‘multiple personality fad’. Both of these schools of thought operate on the idea that there is always an original ‘normal’ person who underwent a form of mental pathology; neither affirm the individual personhoods of plural systems, and neither challenge the ‘one body, one mind’ Western construction of personality. This isn’t to say that no multiplicity is trauma-based, but that the assumption that ALL plurality is trauma-based is fallacious. Also, both of the pre-existing paradigms imply that even within the accepted trauma-split paradigm, people who split cannot actually be people.

Things have changed for the better over the past few years, though, with many therapists willing to work within the plural paradigm without attempting to ‘normalise’ (that is, integrate) trauma-based plural systems.

For LGBT people, it’s a similar situation. Gay men, lesbians and bisexuals are fallen heterosexuals, fallen into a life of sin. Trans people are cast as diseased or sinful members of their coercively assigned sex. Transphobia extends beyond the fundamentalist paradigm—there are many ostensibly ‘progressive’ feminists who hold similarly transphobic ideas, with the same implication that trans people are ‘altered members of their coercively assigned sex’.The idea that LGBT people could be born queer is anathema to these people, because it destroys their worldview. How could people sin simply by existing? How could a corporeally-based feminism work when women can be born with any genital configuration? Instead of accepting the challenges, people retreat and claim that anyone who doesn’t fit their paradigm doesn’t exist, by definition.

A twist on this theme occurs amongst pro-cure ‘autism parents’—a lot of their rhetoric around their children involves mawkish stories about how their supposedly normal child was TAKEN BY AUTISM!!!11. Their entire life is about longing for typical children, and having a typical life, and making their autistic kids feel like shit. (Because, you know, even if some autistic people can’t speak, it doesn’t mean they don’t understand! Or have feelings! Sigh.) Our system is on the autistic spectrum. When we lived with the biofamily, we were constantly guilted for being autistic. Some of us, especially Hess, developed a lot of weird neuroses around the way our brain worked that we were only able to counter in adulthood.

The problem is that so many people place a premium on belonging to a majority group, rather than expanding their definitions of identity to include people who haven’t traditionally been included. The problem facing activists working towards the acceptance of marginalised identity groups is dealing with majoritarian ideas about conformity and personhood, and creating space to allow other identities to exist within mainstream society comfortably.

[Kerry] Subjectivity.

I wrote about this two years ago, in articles entitled ‘“Weird” Identities and Being Special’ and ‘It’s All in Your Head! (and that’s okay)’. There seems to be renewed debate about non-‘standard’ personal identities, at least in the internet circles we’re spending most of our time in these days. Most of the uproar is about ‘otherkin’ identities, or ones in which people subjectively perceive themselves as being nonhuman.

Admittedly, I’m a sceptic. Not in the sense that I think that otherkin are ‘deluded’ or ‘crazy’, but that their nonhuman identities are subjective and a product of their own neurones, or something like a religious or spiritual belief. That doesn’t render the identities invalid, but I do tend to disbelieve people who claim that their bodies contain nonhuman DNA, or anything similar. There’s a line, I think, between ‘this is how I personally identify’ and ‘my body literally has dragon DNA’. Even if you do view it as totally imaginary, what’s the problem with having a subjective identity that’s different to your exterior presentation, especially if you aren’t harming anyone with it? I don’t see how these things necessarily need to be placed within a medical model, just because they make you feel personally uncomfortable.

I don’t see subjective identity as being problematic, but I do think that there’s a cultural opposition to it, especially since Western culture is quite rooted in this idea that the mind and body are wholly unitary, and when there is a discrepancy, it needs to be explained with medical language, rather than philosophical or spiritual language. I’m not a spiritual person, so I don’t invoke that language to refer to my own identity within the system, but I do discuss philosophical subjectivity. Recognising subjective identity as an acceptable thing requires reinterpreting brain, mind and body, and viewing self-images that diverge from the physical body takes a significant effort to conceptualise, especially when you’ve been brought up to believe that it’s either idle imagination in children, ‘phases’ in teenagers, or madness in adults. If you’re a writer, actor or artist, you may have fewer problems with it, but if your career or general mindset is divorced from subjectivity as an important element in your life, it’s going to be a bit more difficult.

I think that a lot of these identities are formed through subconscious (or conscious, in some people’s cases) affinities that develop in the brain over time, and become part of someone’s self-representation inside their own heads. I think that’s how my individual identity was formed, and that doesn’t make me any less real: obviously, I can think; I have separate emotions and reactions to my headmates; and I perceive my headmates as ‘non-me entities’. I know that our separateness isn’t directly scientifically observable, but I consider matters of selfhood to be beyond medicalisation, in most cases. I think that modern society has shunted off too much to medicine, in the same sense that premodern societies attributed social differences to ‘Satan’ or ‘demons’.

Also, I think that there’s this…cultural impulse, at least amongst some people, to seek out the oddest-seeming people about and mock them (or ‘diagnose’ them over the internet) because of their own insecurities. It doesn’t make you look ‘normal’ to obsessively focus on others’ beliefs and practices; rather, it just makes you look irritatingly obsessed with what others are doing, and unwilling to mind your own business.

[Kerry] Outdated notions and incivility.

Yes, I’m talking about good brains and bad brains again. It’s been a perseveration for the past few weeks, thanks to some of the jerky, clueless behaviour I’ve been seeing both on the internet and off.

This entry is in response to a few people who have been waging all-out war against trans people, plurals and others whose identities don’t quite match up with their bodies. They’re known trolls (or just hardcore conservatives), but even so, they’re repeating a lot of standard transphobic and anti-plural tropes that should be addressed, no matter where they come from.

The guy who seems to be the loudest voice in this debate was, at one point, actively going around and telling trans people and plurals that their experiences are ‘delusional’, and they’re sick and need help to make them ‘normal’ (that is, singlets or members of their assigned gender). This person flat-out ungendered at least two trans people to their faces, and told many people that they didn’t exist.

Delusion? You have got to be joking. If someone recognises that a phenomenon is subjective, it’s not a delusion. If you’re saying ‘it’s in my head’, then how the hell is it a delusion if you’re able to point to it and recognise it as a subjective phenomenon that can’t be tested objectively, but has some reality to you, anyway? Delusional is saying ‘hello, my body is LITERALLY, PHYSICALLY, a fucking cabbage’, not ‘we perceive ourselves as being separate people because that’s how our brain fucking works’, or ‘my gender identity is male because that’s how my brain works’. Before you throw psychiatric terms around, you should at least know how to use them.

I’ll admit that both transgender identities and multiplicity are in the DSM-IV. However, the consensus amongst psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists is that the ‘treatment’ for GID isn’t reparative therapy to force trans people back into an ‘assigned gender’ role; it’s affirmation of those people’s identities. Even recent psychological literature doesn’t deliberately use incorrect pronouns and gender designations—the only people who do that are either totally ignorant of how gender identity works, or are blatant bigots, like this guy. Forcing people to present as a gender other than their own is generally unsuccessful and unhealthy for the person you’re trying to ungender. If you seriously think that reparative therapy is going to fix those poor, sick, deluded trans people, fuck you; you’re wrong, and you have no business even attempting to try and talk about how it’s a psychiatric problem when you don’t even understand the current protocol or Standards of Care for dealing with transgender identities. Not that the WPATH guidelines are spectacularly awesome; they currently are really not effective for nonbinary people, and are more difficult to implement in more conservative areas in which endocrinologists will be less likely to co-operate with trans people seeking hormone regimens, but they’re better than ‘shove those freaks back into the closet and treat them as their birth gender’, which is what these people are suggesting should happen. Again, reparative therapy DOES. NOT. WORK.

Where multiplicity’s concerned, it’s complicated; there are some therapists who still think that all multiplicity needs to be stamped out, and that everyone should integrate, but there’s an increasing number of therapists who think that it’s more effective for multiple groups to co-operate and work together, rather than forcing themselves to combine into a meta-host. The latter position is the one our therapist takes, herself, and it’s the position that many others take. Integration Evangelism is like reparative therapy, in a sense: it doesn’t work for everyone, and it isn’t ideal for everyone. Some systems do feel that integration is the appropriate path for them; others don’t. In our case, it would be, well, not a good idea, especially considering that we’re pretty discrete individuals, and each of us is a complete person, and it wouldn’t make any sense to smash us all together. Psychological care isn’t just about making people ‘be normal’; it’s about helping people to work with what they have. We were dealt a certain pack of cards with this brain, and we’re working with it. We’ve gone through about twenty years of this ‘must act normal’ bullshit; it’s over. Pretending to be normal gained us no friends; it gained us no self-respect; and it gained us little understanding of how our brain actually fucking works. Now, I’d say we’re pretty functional, and we have a lot of things going for us—but all of that came after we dropped this ridiculous idea of forcing ourselves to fit into people’s narrow little mould of what ‘normal’ is, and embracing ourselves for who you are.

It’s not a cut-and-dried situation of ‘the psych establishment needs to cure you’, especially when even the psych establishment itself is less hell-bent on ‘curing’ us ‘freaks’ as you are.

I’m pretty much convinced that people who talk like this are less concerned about getting anyone ‘help’ as much as they are completely unable to accept that people’s brains may work differently to theirs, and that it’s okay. Maybe it’s insecurity. Maybe it’s just plain meanspiritedness that they’ve picked up from being around communities in which you get brownie points for being a prat. Either way, it’s an unhealthy and divisive way to view and treat others. No matter what you believe, there is absolutely zero fucking excuse for people to go out of their way to harass people just because they happen to be different, especially if their difference causes them to experience marginalisation and discrimination in society.

Why am I wasting my time writing about these people? Well, it’s not directed straight at them; I’d rather not get into an internet flamewar over whether I ‘actually exist’ or not; it’s about the principle of the matter. I’m just one of those people who feels the need to say something when this kind of thing happens.

And for all the plural and trans people out there: you’re worth it. These jerks are out of touch with, well, everything. They don’t know you, or your situation, and it’s not their place to tell you what you should do.

[Kerry] Good Brain, Bad Brain

There seems to be this deep-set misconception that brains can’t possibly be wired to have more than one person/conscious entity using them without there being an underlying problem, either with the way the system’s brain functions, or as a response to traumatic experiences.  Or if you’re autistic, you’re BROKEN and need to be CURED of the TERRIBLE DISEASE from which you SUFFER! The dichotomy is between ‘sick’ and ‘healthy’. I think that this is an incredibly oversimplified way to view identity and how it can form. Seriously, brains don’t all come in one way, and just because yours doesn’t work in a predefined ‘right’ way doesn’t mean that you can’t function, or don’t exist. If you’re not neurotypical, your brain is ‘bad’. You need a ‘cure’ for existing.

According to that paradigm, we’ll never be ‘healthy’, and never have been—after all, we’re autistic and plural. Clearly, we need to be ‘fixed’ because our brain is ‘broken’ and needs to be NT and nonplural in order to be real, valid people with the right to self-determination. There’s no way to rewire our brain to fit that mould, so people like us just get written off as having bad brains. We’re weird. We’re abnormal. We’re an unwanted deviation from what we’re ‘supposed’ to be, so it needs to be stamped out for our own fucking good, or something.

It’s difficult to engage with people who have these deep-set views of ‘good and bad’ brains, especially when it’s clear to them that your brain is ‘bad’. If they already think that the way you’re wired is wrong, they’re going to completely write off everything you say as being ‘crazy’, rather than being valid for its own reasons. Because of this, we generally don’t prefer to engage people directly about plurality, except in the context of our websites, which people can just come across themselves. I mean, what do I tell these people? ‘LOL, sorry I exist?’

This isn’t saying that mental disorders don’t exist; it’d be hypocritical. I’m not anti-psychiatry. We don’t consider the autism or plurality to be inherently disordered, but the panic stuff definitely is. This also isn’t saying that trauma-based systems don’t exist; we know several of them, and while their origins are different to ours, and while they feel that the psychiatric paradigm describes their experiences more accurately than it does ours, that doesn’t mean that their experiences are less valid or real than ours. I’m just questioning the idea that being differently wired, in and of itself, is bad.

And here we are back at privilege again. Because your brain is seen as generally being ‘okay’, you have the privilege of having your words listened to. You aren’t continually being written off. People don’t try and meddle in your lives to fix you, or to make sure that you’re absolutely capable of functioning in society. You know you aren’t going to get hit with a battery of tests year after year to prove that you’re able to manage stuff. You’re not poked and prodded. People don’t act as though they own you, your life and your experiences. Those things are a given for you, but they aren’t for those of us who are labelled or perceived as having bad brains.

Our brain isn’t ‘bad’. It isn’t ‘broken’. It is what it is, and our functionality is based on being the best people we can be, rather than shoving ourselves into an uncomfortable box or looking for an imaginary ‘cure’.

[Kerry] Thoughts on panic issues.

Most of this is from my personal point of view, although the panic affects everyone. I can’t speak for my headmates in that deep sense, although I’ll try and generalise.

We have a formal diagnosis of Panic Disorder (received sometime in 2010; only found out about it recently, as it’s in our DSPS records for college), which has been honestly pretty fucking awful to deal with. In the past, it made us more unstable, and made it difficult for us to trust, engage and talk to people.

For me, it’s this constant tingling feeling in your body. Chills, the occasional shake, the feeling of a knife in your back, a metallic sensation in your mouth. Before the hormones, crying was part of it, too. A pervasive fear that everything is going to fuck up, and that you’re fucking up, and that everyone thinks that you’re a fuckup. That you’re the most disgusting, horrible being on the planet, and absolutely repellent. A fear that you’ll end up in a situation that will bring on more panic attacks, and scrambling to avoid those situations. For Hess, it’s similar, but I know that he tended to lean more towards the teary and angry side as opposed to the chills, tingling and shaking.

Because we were so consumed by the panic and its effects on our brain, and because we struggled with social judgement in the first place, a lot of…stuff that people honestly regret happened. Add being involved with people who were either emotionally volatile or extremely sensitive, and it was a recipe for social disaster. There was a lot of unfiltered anxiety that came out in conversation, and it was hard for people to separate rational self-talk from irrational, panic-induced talk. ‘You must REALLY think that I suck’, etc. ‘I muck up everything.’ ‘I don’t deserve to be alive.’ Being around us back then was…honestly more difficult than it probably is now. We felt bad about the way things were coming out, and about the miscommunications and the panic-fuelled conversations and frantically searching for reassurance, but we didn’t know what to do about it, back then, and I know that it contributed to rifts in some relationships.

I hope that some of those people that I clashed with in the past are willing to forgive and give me/us another chance, but I’m really not holding my breath; I know these things can be…incredibly fucking difficult. Some people have, and I’m thankful for that.

In October 2009, after a series of painful events, and major shifts in our lifestyle—we’d gone from existing in a ‘shutdown’ state to becoming full-time students and doing an internship in the course of a few months—we could no longer pretend that we could handle the effect that the unchecked panic and anxiety had on us. We felt ourselves falling off the deep end, and it had to stop. M. went to our psychiatrist and he prescribed us Celexa to handle the anxiety/panic issues. He was one of the few Plures-members without residual bad feelings towards psych meds, SSRIs in particular.

We’ve now been on Celexa for about a year and a half.

Celexa has some side-effects that aren’t great, but the tradeoff is that it reduces the severity of the panic attacks, and it also helps us to separate out rational interpretations of events from the irrational ones. When an irrational thought like the ones I described earlier floats into someone’s mind, they’re able to go ‘hey, no, this is irrational; let’s rewrite the thought so that it’s logical and not ridiculous’. There’s less need for external reassurance that an irrational thought is, in fact, irrational. This doesn’t mean that bouts of depression don’t still happen, but they’re less likely to be expressed in a way that comes across as unstable or hurtful to others. It’s more of an internal phenomenon, and depressions resolve themselves more easily. The looping thoughts might happen, but they can be compartmentalised and dealt with—people don’t give voice to those thoughts in the same way. I’d say that we have a lot more internal resources to handle stressful situations.

Biochemically, emotionally, physically—we’re not the same people years we were two, or four, years ago. These shifts, along with some philosophical realignments over the course of 2010, led us to change our system name to ‘Plures’, which we announced last month. It wasn’t an act of hiding from our past as much as it was symbolic of growing from it, and changing to become better, healthier people.

Why the hell am I posting this publicly instead in one of our private, friendslocked journals? Well, I don’t know if I’m quite ready—paradoxically—for this to be posted there to show up on people’s friends lists. There’s something a bit cathartic about writing about this sort of thing publicly.