29. May 2016 · Write a comment · Categories: Post

About a year before starting this blog, we began to understand ourselves as transgender. We had started HRT and were connected with local trans community. Our experience of being transgender began with an abrupt switch of our internal self-image shortly after some significant (and arguably traumatic) events. This was actually the beginning of experiencing our plurality more overtly, though we didn’t understand that at the time.

When our binary-female identity (Ellie) first emerged in a more permanent way, we believed she was our one and true “authentic self”. This is a narrative frequently described both within academic literature and by transgender individuals themselves. It actually describes a type of plurality with the development of two selves: a false self displayed to the world, and a true (cross-)gendered self which is hidden. We believed, along these lines, that we needed to embrace our true self and deny our non-female selves as inauthentic, eventually allowing some of their traits to integrate into our true female identity.

This seemed neat in theory, and certainly fit our experience at the time: a switching back and forth between a male and female identity. Over the following year, however, it became evident that there was more to our identities than a “true” female self, and “false” male self created as a defence and due to (inappropriate) socialization.

Kids emerged. First a young girl about five years old that was hyper, weird, and curious. Then a more complex part, Micah, about 12 years old (agender/female) that has since worked to solidify their own individual existence. The male and female adult identities switched with some, but not many, of the switching symptoms often associated with DID. Switching to the kid parts, however, included almost all of them. There was no room in typical transgender narratives for such experiences.

 

During all this time, we were coming out to friends and family as transgender, switching our hormones, and legally changing our name and gender where possible. We knew there were people who changed their mind about transition due to difficulties they faced transitioning or uncertainty regarding their gender, but Ellie felt (and was) very real to us and being transgender was the only framework we had for understanding that at the time.

Thankfully we eventually encountered plurality as a framework and many resources including online community (for both non-pathologizing plurality as well as DID). The more we accessed these resources, the more our understanding of ourselves and our experiences shifted from “transgender” to “plural”. This, admittedly, has been a bit awkward. Being trans is continually growing in acceptance and we are fortunate enough to live in a location which is generally trans-friendly and has good resources for trans folks. Even our family came around in a relatively short period of time; it wasn’t long before I had them using my new name and female pronouns. However, our evolving understanding of our identities was beginning to make this new name and pronoun almost as uncomfortable as our name and pronouns assigned at birth. We were then faced with finding a new way to navigate our collective identities in a world where our experiences, our very existences, were not considered legitimate.

Doing this has been more difficult and involved a lot more compromise. While some close friends and certainly those in plural community have embraced our new collective and individual identities, many including family have stopped moving forward with us on this path of greater understanding. They remain using the now uncomfortable female name and pronouns. Others are on board with our new name and pronouns, but continue to engage us as a singlet. Being plural is too far from their experience (of themselves or others) to think about us in that way. This has resulted in a continuous trail of different understandings depending on where the person we know has stopped evolving with us.

 

The evolution of our self-understanding goes further than this. We no longer understand ourselves as transgender. We don’t think collectively it is a concept that makes sense. Transgender, defined as “not identifying [all the time] as the gender assigned to us at birth” does work if you consider us as a single being with fluid or switching identities. But even that understanding is feeling less and less comfortable. As we begin to experience more co-presence of identities, we are not straightforwardly a single being with switching identities, we are multiple beings. In this understanding, or even seeing ourselves as “not one”, “not many”, but “somewhere in between”, considering ourself as transgender feels misleading. We are plural first, with multiple parts: some are fluid, some are discrete, some exist alone, and some exist with others. Some of these parts are transgender in that they are not male which is the gender we were assigned at birth; but we don’t have a sense of coherent existence from birth to present, so our inner-world experience (where we may exist and interact with each other) does not include “assigned at birth” as a concept. This makes cis or trans as concepts inapplicable.

The other aspect to identity which makes us identity with “plural” more than “transgender” is due to invisibility and marginalization. I believe it is typical that our identities form around aspects to ourselves that are the least visible and/or most marginalized. If we don’t experience an aspect of ourselves as invisible, marginalized, or oppressed, it may not form a strong part of our identity. In a TED talk, sociologist Michael Kimmel describes a conversation between a white woman and a black woman:

…the black woman says to the white woman, “When you wake up in the morning and you look in the mirror, what do you see?” And the white woman said, “I see a woman.” And the black woman said, “You see, that’s the problem for me. Because when I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror,” she said, “I see a black woman. To me, race is visible. But to you, race is invisible. You don’t see it.” … “That’s how privilege works. Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” [Video or transcript (starting at time 1m33s).]

When it comes to being cis or trans, this means that a trans person is more likely than a cis person to experience their gender as it is more often felt grating against how society is structured and what is considered acceptable. We, however, are living in a place and time where being transgender (such as it is for us) does not cause us significant problems in our work, social, or family life. It is, rather, our experience of plurality (or DID) that is invisible and ignored, and when we assert it somehow, it significantly and problematically grates against others’ expectations and is called into question as illegitimate. Because being transgender is a relatively smooth and unquestioned experienced compared with our plurality, it is plural community and resources that we seek out for support, and it is plurality that is most felt as a self-understanding or identity.

What began as an almost typical transgender “journey” soon had us running into contradictions with the expected transgender narrative, and seeking out different understandings. Despite being plural (or having DID) being much more invisible and questioned in society, it is still the more accurate framework that best allows us to understand and navigate our experiences.

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