The Importance of Community
EDIT (July 15, 2016): this article is not very good as is and needs to be rewritten. It was transformed into a talk which is a much better version of this article. Read the speaker notes for the improved version of this: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1tyCJe_LG5OBLOv8tQ310xCSM28omdo4OQHA9HkVtahY/edit#slide=id.p
The ISSTD treatment guidelines for Dissociative Identity Disorder strongly imply that anyone who embraces the existence of their headmates and their identity as plural does not actually have DID. Under the section about “Misdiagnosis of DID”, the guidelines state, “Among other symptoms, patients with this kind of pseudo-DID tend to be characterized by an enthusiastic embrace and display of their “identities” that is contrary to typical DID patients’ pervasive pattern of disavowal”. The authors are careful not to state that anyone who embraces their plurality does not have DID and instead settle for strongly implying it.
This idea is harmful because it ignores the value of community. Thanks to the existence of plural communities, people are able to explore their plurality from a position of strength. Whether it is through tulpa communities, soulbonding communities, daemon communities, DID communities, or other plural communities, people are able to explore their plurality on their own terms during periods which they actively choose to do explorations of self. Being able to do this allows people to catalogue the various parts of their systems, build intra system communication, and learn how to work together during periods of good mental health. This contrasts with first discovering one’s plurality when a medical professional says they have DID. In this case, the first someone learns about their plurality is when they are doing sufficiently poorly that a doctor is able to diagnose DID. The difference between exploring plurality on their own terms rather than after being told “you have a severe disorder where 67% of patients have repeated suicide attempts” by a doctor is immense.
This is something the trans community knows well. Various trans communities provides a safe space for people to explore gender at their own pace. A common scenario is for someone to spend months to years thinking about their gender and only once they have reached a certain threshold of certainty, begin to talk to doctors about transition related medical care. Here, trans people are able to safely explore their gender from a position of strength, surrounded by others with similar experiences, including others wandering down the same path as them and role models whose past experiences leave paths which others can follow. Gender exploration begins with people reaching out to existing communities, not by a doctor saying “I am diagnosing you with gender dysphoria, a condition with a 41% attempted suicide rate”. Just as with plurality, being able to explore gender on their own terms is incredibly important and trans communities provide the opportunity for this.
One of the major benefits of communities is that they act as support networks. When something bad happens, whether or not it is traumatic depends on the resources available, both internal and external. For example, a 5 year old is more likely to find spending a stormy night alone traumatic than a 25 year old because 5 year olds generally have far fewer internal resources available. This same 5 year old is more likely to find spending a stormy night alone traumatic if they cry out to their parents for love and affection the next day and receive none than if their cries are answered by loving parents. In the second case, the 5 year old has access to significantly more external resources and is able to get the love and support they need to process the potentially traumatic memories of the stormy night.
This is important for trans people because simply being trans results in many scenarios which are potentially traumatic. Dealing with doctors when trying to get on HRT, navigating through gatekeepers to get approvals for medically necessary surgeries, dealing with the TSA while flying, handling an actively hostile family, and actively or passively hostile bosses and coworkers are some of the things trans people commonly have to deal with. All of these scenarios can be immensely stressful and can be traumatic if the internal and external resources are insufficient to handle these situations. When those who share a common identity come together to form a community, they can pool their shared experiences navigating commonly encountered stressful situations and provide empathy to those currently experiencing them. The community serves as a powerful external resource which can help individual members survive and process potentially traumatic situations. The end result is those with access to a community are able to handle more stressful situations before the threshold for it to become traumatic is reached.
Other disadvantaged groups including those who are plural, those who are LGB, those who are disabled, and those who are otherkin are all disproportionately likely to encounter potentially traumatic situations as a result of others being actively harmful about a person’s membership in a disadvantaged group. People in these groups must choose whether to bear the cost of repression by hiding their identities or the costs of expression by opening themselves to the hostility of others by being out. Regardless of whether repression or expression is chosen, this causes people in these groups to, on average, run much closer to their full capacity managing day to day activities than their counterparts who are not members of disadvantaged groups. As a result, people in disadvantaged groups have less spare capacity for handling unexpected stressors and this significantly lowers the threshold at which a situation becomes potentially traumatic. This makes finding community even more important for those who belong to disadvantaged groups.
In the communities we belong to, we see many beings struggling. Many have had to quit a job or go on disability for mental health reasons, both inside and outside tech. Many have been on disability for many years because managing their day to day existence consumes such a large portion of their energy that there is not enough left over to hold a job. Community is vital to survival for those barely getting by and incredibly useful to those who are fortunate enough to be able to do more than barely survive. For everyone, decreasing the risk of being incapacitated by trauma through external resources provided by a community helps to create a higher quality of life.
So please, find a community where you belong. A place where people accept you for who you are, a safe place where you can simply exist. Find a place where you can be comfortable being you. Whether it is outerworld, an online chat, a forum, or any other space, having a community which you can turn to for support is an incredible experience. We understand that being able to find a community is a privilege and not everyone will be able to find one, but many many people who do not currently have a community will be able to find one by searching. Take care of yourself, both by caring for yourself directly and by asking for help from others when you need it.