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14 genders, 1 body: How to Navigate Gender Identity as a DID System Pt. 2

Check out Pt. 1

A man named Alex took over my* body for 6 months. (*This story is from the primary host, Marion’s perspective.)

If you’re not a system, you’re probably confused. How does someone take over a body? Was I possessed?

I have been the main person that has interacted with the world since my DID system was about 11. Most people that know my system think of me when they describe us. I didn’t realize that there was anyone else inside my head.

Following a traumatic event, I disappeared. It wasn’t a conscious choice. I got so overwhelmed and so traumatized that a new alter split.

He’s a trans man. I am not. (I’m trans non-binary, but I identified as a woman at the time)

So, you can imagine my surprise when I woke up for the first time in months, sitting in a coffee shop halfway across the country, wearing men’s clothing.

We fought for control and became more dissociated and amnesic. I wanted to identify as a woman, and he wanted to identify as a man. He had spent all summer going through the painstaking process of gender questioning, meeting other trans folks, and coming out to everyone in our life. He had been harassed for being trans and dealt with discrimination I hadn’t experienced. He had a whole life that I was suddenly interrupting. Meanwhile, he had taken my life and changed nearly every aspect.

During this time, he went into a clinic to get trans hormone replacement therapy (HRT). He was doing what every trans media and resource encouraged him to. He was pursuing his true identity and becoming more comfortable in his body.

When he went to the clinic, things devolved pretty quickly. Several alters fought to control the situation, and we became so dissociated a child alter fronted (became conscious and in control).

The doctor acted within WPATH standards of care (top trans medical standards) for dissociative identity disorder and gender dysphoria and denied us hormones. Alex and the other men in the system were devastated. The child alter was overwhelmed waking up in a medical clinic, and we ran to the car in tears.

The doctor made the right call, but Alex had worked months to get to that point. He had taken all the steps only to have his efforts destroyed at the last second.

Sometimes transition isn’t a straightforward process. That’s especially true for systems. It’s okay to wait until everyone’s ready. It’s okay to be trans and never medically transition or come out to others.

My Alters Want to Transition, What Do I Do?

If alters in your system want to transition, your system has a tough call to make. See pt. 1 for some of the considerations like what degree of transition and how public your transition is.

This is where communication is essential. Use your system’s form of communication to discuss if everyone’s on board. If you’re not sure how to do this, there are a lot of options which I discuss in Pt. 1

What’s important is that every person in the system agrees with whatever decision is made.

To resolve our conflict, we had a meeting in the headspace and voted. We texted each other (I recommend either Simply Plural app or Plural Kit Bot on Discord). We also discussed it with several friends and our therapist, who could tell us what other alters were thinking.

One alter that had a challenging time was Rose. She still identifies as a woman and now lives in a trans masc body. She was worried about giving up having biological kids, being comfortable when she’s out, and losing feminine characteristics. She loves singing and had to sacrifice her voice when we medically transitioned.

Ultimately, she decided that she was willing to give up some of her qualities for the system’s good. It was altruistic and came with a sense of grief that most trans people don’t experience. It wasn’t just losing an old life; it was losing a fundamental aspect of herself.

A few unique considerations have to be in place before a system transitions. One of the largest is how do we support alters that identify with the body’s assigned gender?

You may be trading gender dysphoria for some alters for gender dysphoria for others. It’s a good idea to be well versed in the counterpart transition to your own. For example, if you’re AFAB (assigned female at birth) and transitioning to appear masculine, you should be versed in how AMAB (assigned male) individuals transition to appear feminine.

Ways that we support our female alters now that we present masc are always having feminine clothes on hand (including feminine undergarments), negotiating as much as possible before switching in and out, keeping makeup around, and allowing them to present female when they’re out. We don’t suppress the feminine traits they express and give them space to still be women.

We’ve found that keeping a fairly androgynous appearance allows for fluidity. We have long hair, mix traditionally feminine and masculine clothing, and only accentuate masculine or feminine qualities depending on who’s fronting. This was part of our system’s compromise, so everyone is comfortable.

Find your non-negotiables. What qualities about identifying as man, woman, non-binary, etc., are crucial for alters to feel comfortable? Respect non-negotiables and work around them.

You will need to compromise with your system so everyone feels supported. Otherwise, you will enhance your gender dysphoria and may be denied trans care.

And remember that one compromise you can make is doing some medical or social treatments but not all. Many people choose to go on hormones to get some of the features and then go off. Some people get surgery without ever doing other treatments, and some people socially transition but never medically transition.

If you decide as a system not to transition, there are things that your system must do to help alters that do experience gender dysphoria.

Best Supporting Trans Alters if You Don’t Transition

If your system ultimately decides not to transition, you need to plan with trans alters.

Learn in great detail how to reduce gender dysphoria. This may mean that you need to purchase gender-affirming clothing items like a chest binder or a gaff. You may need to get clothes and accessories in line with your trans alters (I always thrift items because of how diverse my wardrobe has to be). You could learn new skills like how to do makeup, voice training, or spend a lot of time people-watching.

People-watching is one of the best tips I have for trans alters. The way you carry yourself, speak, and use body language has one of the most significant impacts on how people perceive your gender (without medical procedures). Find somewhere you can sit and observe, like a mall, and notice how men and women act differently. Practice the mannerisms you see and notice any difference in how you feel.

Another gender dysphoria busting tip is to do something traditionally associated with the gender you want to be perceived as. It was incredibly validating for Alex to go to the shooting range because he was always perceived and treated as masculine.

Negotiate with trans alters before and after you plan on fronting if possible, and keep a change of clothes handy if you think that it’s possible that your trans alter may want to change when they’re out.

Connect with local trans groups. Other trans folks may not understand your specific experience of being a system and having trans alters, but they will understand what gender dysphoria is like and encourage you to present comfortably regardless of who’s out.

Like a system that decides to transition, you have to treat your individual alters dysphoria. Make sure they feel supported and like they can be as comfortable as possible when they’re out.

And if dysphoria hits a point where you are feeling suicidal or need help, please reach out to a therapist or crisis line.

Helping the System in My Life

When watching someone go through a gender crisis, it can be challenging to see them struggle with such a big decision. If you’re a partner, you may wonder how that will affect your relationship and sexuality. It gets even more complicated when that person is a system because you may be hearing opposite things when different people are fronting.

Some of the ways you can support the system are listening and giving as much information as the system is comfortable, respecting whatever the system decides individually and as a whole, and being informed on transition.

Some systems may value talking to someone and having them help relay what other alters are saying with their consent. Others may feel that’s a breach of privacy. Ask what they would prefer.

As the system in your life is deciding, they may change their mind several times. They may want specific pronouns only used sometimes or not used at all. Respect their wishes and refer to them however they’d like. If they change their mind, respect that change. Their crisis is for them to figure out, and it’s not going to be a static process. If you’re having trouble with the number of changes, seek a therapist to talk through your experience.

The final thing you can do to help the system in your life is to be informed about transition. Look up what is typical in a transition and ways to help gender dysphoria. Be informed so that the system doesn’t have to spend the emotional labor to explain transition. It will also make them feel heard and validated. You may also look into systems experience with gender, though resources are few and far between. However, knowing more about how alters work may help shed some light on some of the dynamics.

There are groups for supporters of trans individuals and groups for supporters of systems. Seek out these online spaces to learn from others in your situation.

There is No Wrong Answer.

The last thing I’d like to emphasize in this series is there are no wrong answers. Whether you make a decision and stick with that decision the rest of your life, or whether you change your gender a million times, there are no wrong answers. There’s no wrong way to transition because your gender experience is unique to you.

I hope that some of the tips I’ve given serve as a resource for systems going through gender crises. If you have any questions or want to have a conversation, please reach out. If you’re still unsure of where you stand, feel free to revisit the questions in Pt. 1.

14 genders, 1 body: How to Navigate Gender Identity as a Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) System Pt. 1

I’m not a man. Which sounds like a confusing statement. After all, I’ve had two gender-confirming surgeries, been on Testosterone for 2 years, and lived and interacted with the world as a man for over 3 years. I use he pronouns, dress masculine (most of the time), and proudly sport a middle school quality mustache.

I don’t identify with non-binary, agender, or woman either. I am all of these and none. There is no singular gender because there’s no singular me.

I think people forget that DID affects EVERY aspect of a person’s life. It’s not just changing names and appearances. It affects your self-concept and bodily autonomy.

The current theory on DID is that it is formed from severe, persistent trauma, where the child develops alters built out of things they observe to protect functionality.

There are no rules for what these constructs are. Nothing dictating whether the new alters match the gender of the body.

In fact, approximately 50% of DID systems have a trans alter (pg.110), and approx. 66-75% of AMAB (assigned male at birth) systems have a female alter. Conversely, 30% of people with Gender Dysphoria meet the criteria for a dissociative disorder. So, you’re more likely to be trans if you’re a system and more likely to be a system if you’re trans.

So, when there are 14 people (and counting?) in one body, gender gets… messy.

When I questioned my own gender, I was surprised that there are no resources for trans systems. Most people don’t experience multiple genders which makes figuring out gender identity impossible to navigate.

For example, one of the exercises is asking, “if you had a button that when you press it would change your gender, and everyone would have no memory of you as the previous gender, would you press it?” A follow-up might be, “what if there was a button you could press to change your gender whenever you want?” The answer to the first determines if someone is trans binary, the second determines if they are trans non-binary.

For a system, the question can’t be that simple. One alter may say yes, but another may say no. One alter may be binary, while another is non-binary. Nothing instructs what to do when you can get more than one answer to that question.

For an alter that is trying to figure out their own identity, trans resources can be invaluable. But if you’re trying to decide as a system if you should transition, then you’re out of luck.

Here is the advice I would have wanted to receive when I went through gender crisis as a system.


Every member of the system needs to have a say. And every member may have to make sacrifices for the system’s good.

That’s a scary thought. Why should I have to give up my expression of myself for someone else? What happened to “be proud of who you are”?

To understand your gender as a system and as alters, you have to re-contextualize transitioning. Transition for most people feels like you either transition or don’t. But that doesn’t work for systems.

You likely have some analogy that works best for your system. For us, we identify as a family, but others classify themselves as roommates, friends, or neighbors. Regardless, you’re all living in the same “house” (body).

After thinking about my house’s appearance, I decide it should be green with kaleidoscope wallpaper. My brother, Alex, wants the house to be dark blue with a pride flag on the wall. Our Aunt Rose wants the house to look pink with a lovely white trim.

If we all try to have our way, we’re going to have to do a lot of repainting. Which isn’t realistic for us in the long run. Maybe you’re okay spending the energy to repaint every day, and that’s okay too.

The apparent solution is we have to have a family meeting. What color do we collectively paint the house? Do we get our own rooms with different colors and styles? How often do we want guests to see the rooms?

A system must communicate everyone’s wants/needs in whatever style works best for that system. Some systems keep a system log, a journal, have headspace meetings, write notes to one another, discuss their feelings through a safe person (like a therapist or friend), or communicate directly.

The important thing is that everyone gets to say what they want to happen, and there is a mutually reached decision. Otherwise, you will throw your system into chaos and dysfunction, which our system tried to do. For us, this meant greater amnesia, significant life dysfunction, and delays in transition-related treatment.

The other thing to consider is what you want to happen. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to transition. And there isn’t a “complete” transition. It’s up to each person to decide what version of transition is right for them.

Here are questions you could consider as a system:

  • Do we want a singular gender identity that we use to interact with the outside world, or would we prefer to be recognized individually?
  • Do we want collective pronouns or do we want to be referred as individual pronouns depending on who’s fronting? Do we want a mix of both?
  • If we have a singular gender identity, do we want to identify as binary or non-binary?
  • Does gender-fluid describe our experience?
  • Do we want to dress in a particular gender expression or do we let everyone choose when they’re out?
  • Do we care if people outside the body know we have multiple genders? Who do we want to disclose that to? Partner, friends, family, coworkers, classmates, etc.?
  • Are there more alters of a particular gender? How do we support alters that don’t identify with the majority?
  • Do we want to take hormone treatments? How will we support alters that may be affected negatively by those treatments?
  • If we go on hormone treatments, do we want to stay on them forever or would we prefer to go off them and achieve a more androgynous body?
  • Do we want any gender-affirming surgeries? How will we support alters that may be negatively affected by these surgeries?
  • Do we want to collectively change our name? Do we want to pursue legally changing it?
  • Will our current care providers support our decision? Will we have to seek out a specialized provider to transition?
  • How will this affect our sexuality?
  • How will we tell people around us if we decide to transition and what will we tell them?
  • Are we comfortable experimenting with different presentations? What settings are we comfortable with experimenting?
  • Are there local or online communities that may help us feel supported in our experience or gender crisis?
  • Are we in a safe context to come out? Should we wait?
  • Are we comfortable changing our mind if we realize transition isn’t what’s best for our system?
  • Do any of us plan on having kids, and are biological kids important? (Keep in mind that trans hormones and surgeries don’t necessarily affect your ability to have bio kids, but some do)
  • Do we want to change any external characteristics or are we comfortable identifying as different genders in the headspace alone?
  • How will we explain this process to younger alters or non-human alters?
  • How do we minimize gender dysphoria for any alter that doesn’t align with the body? (More on this in Pt. 2)

Results of Gender Questioning

The above questions may take a lot of time to figure out. There is no timeline for transition, and it’s okay if it takes you years.

A word of caution, do not rush this process.

I know how tempting it is to “do it anyway” when the rest of the system doesn’t agree. It’s my body as much as it is everyone else’s, and I should get to decide what’s best for me! It is physically painful to be in the wrong body and constantly reminded of it by the external world.

In a perfect world, all of us would have our own bodies. We could decide what’s best for us and us alone. But if you choose to do it anyway, you will create a power struggle. Others in the system will try to take the front back. You will increase amnesia as everyone is fighting for complete control of the body. You will dissociate more, and you will be hurting others in the system.

African American Man with eyes and mouth covered by post it notes that say "norms", "expectations", "society". Post it notes are in the background with similar words.

Eventually, you will come to a decision. I know it’s agonizing questioning your gender, and even worse when you have to factor in the complexities of several people. It can feel like it will never end and that you will never come to a decision everyone is happy with.

You will. And you’ll be so much better off once you’ve found it because then you’ll be able to live authentically as the whole system. It can be incredibly healing and may even decrease amnesia as you learn to make decisions together.

In Pt.2, I’ll discuss how to best support your system whether you decide to transition or not and how people in your life can best support you. No matter what you choose, there are resources for your system.

It’s a stressful process, but it is so worth it.

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