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.
Navigating Multiple Genders
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.
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.