A Definition of Plurality and Overview of the Community
The most simplified definition of the term plural that includes all people who take the label is “someone who shares the same physical body with other individuals.” Such a group is sometimes referred to as a system, though many plural groups use different terminology. Because plurality can take many vastly different forms, it is difficult to expand this definition without excluding someone who might otherwise share characteristics or concerns with most other members of the community. It does seem this basic trait is the only thing groups of people who refer to themselves as plural universally share. In other words, there are many, many ways to be plural, and no two systems are the same even as far as basic characteristics. There are a lot of trends in the community, however, and various types within the umbrella term of plural that seem to be subsets.
There is a prevailing theory in the community that sees plurality as a spectrum going from singlet (one person in one physical body) to median (a term describing groups that have one main member plus others who are somewhat separate) to multiple (a group of distinct individuals in which more than one person can take control of the physical body). Groups who deviate from these subsets are seen as occupying an in-between ground along the spectrum.
There are many different ways in which plurals experience fronting, or taking control of the body they share. Some groups have only one fronter and a bunch of people who don’t front or can’t. In other groups, all members can and do front. Some might primarily or always front one person at a time, but often, blending or co-fronting can occur. This happens when more than one member of a system fronts at the same time. There can be anything from a blending of personality and abilities to each person controlling specific body parts. Every group experiences co-fronting differently: some may feel confusion over who is present, a mixing of speech patterns, or conflicting emotions, while for others it feels as comfortable as fronting one at a time. Because fronting has an impact on the system’s life in the outside world, it can be an important issue for members of plural groups to work out. Many have arrangements dividing their time fairly or regulations about which members are allowed to front at all.
In addition to living in the outside world while fronting, many plurals have what is known as a headspace, innerworld, soulscape, or equivalent term. These are worlds that the people in a system inhabit inside the mind when they are not in front. Often headspaces take on the appearance of a physical location, and they can be anything: Earth-like landscapes of forests, mountains, oceans, buildings, etc, or places altogether different. They can be any size, from a tiny room to a galaxy with multiple solar systems. Headspaces sometimes contain a location that represents the front, or the connection to the body that allows one person or another to control it and act in the physical world. This can take the form of anything: a chair, a patch of ground, a room, a stone, etc, though not all headspaces have such a place.
There is huge variation in how much control the members of a group may have in altering their headspace. In some systems, people can destroy and remake it at will; in others they can only explore. Some groups have no awareness of a headspace at all, while others have a conscious awareness of everything that happens to them when they are in their headspace.
Gateway vs. Closed Systems
Some plural groups are gateway systems, which are systems who have members come and go and often, but not always, perceive their headspaces as being connected to other places, such as universes or other dimensions. The people who enter and exit the system often have ideas of where they were before or at least the sense they were somewhere, even if they can’t remember where. Some have the ability to travel between different bodies, then return. There is no consensus as to why or how this happens, as each individual has their own personal theories.
Conversely there are also closed systems, who tend to see themselves as “discovering” members who were already there as opposed to having new people walk in from another location. Between these extremes are an infinite variety of groups with both kinds of members or systems that shift between the types over time.
The individuality or separateness of the people sharing a body also varies widely across the community. Some plurals can be very distinct and recognizable in the way they think, feel, speak and act with different members in front. However, some groups feel they are more essentially connected or melded together with blurred lines between each person; there can also be people who are related to or part of others. Not all plural groups have members who are easy for other people to tell apart when in front.
Regardless, the majority of members of plural groups prefer to be treated as individuals just like any singlet. We are generally not flat characters or aspects of someone, but people with our own motivations, wants, needs, ideas, worldviews, histories, opinions, and relationships who just happen to share our heads and lives with others. However individual or interconnected they may be, the members of plural groups are like any group of people thrown together in that we might belong to a group, but that doesn’t make us the same as or necessarily similar to our headmates, or the people we share our minds with.
Identity and Appearance
Many individuals that are part of plural groups experience their mental appearance (how they actually look) as being different from their system’s physical body. Often they feel what are known as phantom limbs or a phantom body, having the feeling of a body structure slightly or vastly different from what is physically present when they front. They can identify as species other than human, and many have taken the personal label of Otherkin or therian. Dragons, ordinary housecats, trees, vampires, elves, lionesses, or any other species on Earth or off can be part of a system. There are also plenty of ordinary human beings of course. For the most part, it isn’t safe to assume that someone in a system looks just like the body, though this can also happen. Often, people who are a different species or a different sex than the body they inhabit will experience dysphoria when fronting: males may feel disturbed by being in a female form or vice versa, and non-human creatures can be bothered by lack of tails, wings or other limbs not found on a human body.
The ages of people in a system can vary widely from very young to extremely old, not necessarily reflecting the physical age of the body they inhabit. Agesliders are people who change age back and forth over a range instead of having the usual day-to-day slow aging process most singlets experience. Agesliders can often become older or younger quite quickly, as reflected in their thought processes and/or behavior, and control over the sliding varies between individuals.
In addition to identifying as a particular species or age, headmates can identify as particular people. Many identify with characters from fiction, be it written, filmed, or animated, and are referred to as fictives. These people often deviate considerably from their canon, or the source of the character with which they identify. There are also factives, who identify as people who actually existed in history. Both groups tend to struggle with self-doubt and skepticism from inside and outside of the community.
There is no apparent universal cause of plurality, just as there is no single way to be plural. The psychological diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder applies to a subset of plural groups, but many plurals do not see themselves as disordered, nor do they fit the symptom list for DID (which according to the DSM V requires impaired functioning in daily life, which many plurals do not experience). The clinical explanation for the cause of DID is severe trauma, but not only are there many plurals without trauma, there are plenty of systems who have experienced trauma that did not cause their plurality. The recommended treatment for DID is integration of individuals into a single person, which many plurals regard as repulsive and upsetting, if not impossible. In other words, some systems have DID, whether medically diagnosed or selves-diagnosed, while many do not qualify for or agree with the DID label being applied to them.
Most plurals can function perfectly well in every day life as a group and don’t feel the need to be “fixed”. There are many natural plurals, or groups who feel they have always been plural or developed plurality gradually over time. Being plural does not mean that we were abused in childhood, as singlet psychologists would have it, though this can be true of systems with the diagnosis. In any case, being plural, DID-inclusive, does not mean there is something horribly wrong with us.
Explanations for their own plurality vary not only between groups but between members of groups- some members may take a psychological viewpoint of the issue of their group’s origins while others may take a spiritual perspective. There are people who view their plurality in a psychological or scientific way, as being rooted in brain wiring, genetics or psychological effects of past experiences. They often believe all they experience, while still real, is created in their own brain. Indeed, it is possible for some headmates to be consciously created by others. For some, their plurality is a matter of spiritual faith; they choose to see their situation as having a purpose for the souls of their members, or feel they were reincarnated into the same body or placed there by a spiritual force or mechanism. Some individuals think of the situation as being somewhere in between or a mix of both explanations.
A major issue for many plurals is the tendency to doubt their own reality and existence, in addition to dealing with the skepticism of singlets around them. The stigma of being seen by some as mentally ill can be very disturbing and harmful to plurals, often causing them to hide their plurality from the world. A lot of groups work hard to seem like singlets in order to avoid being viewed as crazy or attention-seeking. Few systems are out as plural to everyone they know. Many times the pressure to be a singlet results in plurals doubting their own sanity or the existence of the people in their group, which can result in all sorts of practical problems.
The mental life of plurals can be confusing and difficult for singlets to understand, but what goes on in our minds is real to us and affects the reality of our lives. The immense variation of the human mind creates further complications in the already difficult task of making sense of being part of a group inhabiting one body. No plural can tell someone else if they are plural, know how another system is structured, or prove how any other system has come into existence. There is no formula or universal cause. No single system can determine what is true for any other because of the kaleidoscopic nature of plurality itself. The best we can do is gather together to help each other make sense of whatever we may have in common, and to find that perhaps we are not alone.
Written by E of NS