Multiplicity and the Media
by A. Temple & J. GreenwillowLast Update: Monday, December 23, 2013 1:04:39 am
"Please, doctor, my difference is not my sickness."
There are no programmes or commercials depicting multiples who are perfectly normal and don't behave like lunatics of one kind or another. Multiples are either invisible, or they are something to fear or ridicule. A fine cultural role model, that is. Anthony Temple, 2005
Multiplicity is a state of consciousness as natural as being a single personality. A multiple group (system, clan, family, collective) is a group of many minds who live in one body. They may think and act very independently of one another, and have their own ways of experiencing the pleasures and frustrations of everyday life.
Some of these groups may find themselves in distress due to inadequate inner management, or someone in the group being disruptive or destructive. In Western society, people with this kind of problem are told to go into psychotherapy.
There, unless they are extremely fortunate, they will run up against a prejudice so ingrained and so ancient that its adherents don't even know it's there; they're used to taking a singlet reality for granted. It is a prejudice which takes the form of a diagnosis. That diagnosis has been a death sentence for hundreds of multiples with active careers, families and friends. It can give family courts a reason to take your children away from you, your boss an excuse to fire you, your friends to shun you like a leper.
"Multiple personality disorder" is the label used to describe the condition, not of being a group of persons in a shared body who happen to be experiencing an upset situation or need of improved communication, but rather of being multiple.
"Dissociative identity disorder," the current label, describes the delusion that one has multiple personalities. According to the treatment guidelines issued by the ISSD, "It is important for clinicians to keep in mind that despite the DID patient's subjective experience, the patient is not a collection of separate people sharing the same body." The experience is supposedly caused by a dissociative delusion arising when trauma causes a child to fail to develop a personality.(1)
In other words, all multiples would be singlets if they had not been traumatized in childhood.
Modern psychiatry still has not matured enough to the point that they can accept and respect personal, subjective experience; they are (with rare exceptions) still stuck in the industrial model in which there is one reality, and any deviation from it is a fault which must be corrected.
Some therapists will still work with people in multiple systems, trying to accept the persons involved on their own terms. Some groups work out cooperative systems independently, and require little or no therapy. But these types of systems, the cooperative, non-disordered groups, are never covered in books, television documentaries, or films on multiplicity. The only systems one will find there are a few very badly damaged who obviously have other, drastic mental problems. Healthy multiples stay in the closet for the most part -- and for damned good reasons.
Labeling multiplicity as a mental disorder caused by having sex with children was the worst mistake the APA could have made. It catered to tabloid fantasies and the worst excesses of the entertainment industry. It enabled the media to portray multiples as helpless victims, but also as murderous, vengeful killers. As insane. As out of control.
This seemingly harmless sensationalist ratings-booster has wrecked countless lives. For multiples, the situation today is roughly equivalent of that of a pre-80s gay or lesbian. (Not too long ago, psychiatrists believed that being gay was caused by childhood molestation or other trauma.) Those who are outed, or who simply find it difficult to hide the fact of their many selves, soon find their legal rights have all but vanished.
We can lose custody of our children if a family court judge learns that we are multiple. We can be fired if management finds out we are multiple. We are regarded as damaged goods, as untrustworthy, and as more inclined to criminal behaviour than singlets. Inability to gain or hold employment encourages the popular view of multiple groups as dysfunctional, mentally ill people.
How does this help multiples who are really ill? How does it help those who really are victims of sexual abuse?
Some people in multiple groups believe that multiplicity is not a viable way of life. They really do want to fuse together, seeing that as the ultimate goal of healing. Others live very successfully in a cooperation of many selves and minds. Some don't wish to disclose for personal reasons, rather than fear of discrimination. But while discretion is always wise, we should not be afraid to disclose. Otherwise, multiplicity becomes a shameful secret. For many of the groups we've talked to, being multiple, not trauma or abuse, was the shameful secret of their childhoods.
Whether it's "Dissociative Identity" or "Multiple Personality", the APA still brands us with that D, for DISORDER, that is, chaos, lack of control. Since the mental health industry dictates legal standards of normality, all multiples are considered abnormal. This encourages the media to focus on lurid details. The public view of multiplicity is a stereotype derived from inaccurate, falsified media portrayals.
At times, psychiatry has actually had a direct hand in creating that media image. Cornelia Wilbur, the psychiatrist who worked with Shirley Mason, arranged to have the case fictionalized and published as a novel, rather than presenting an educated report in a peer-reviewed journal. It was quite consciously marketed as the tale of "a woman possessed by sixteen personalities", The Exorcist having made its mark a couple of years previously. Wilbur was careful to secure film rights immediately, and of course the film was produced in a style immediately recognizable to the average viewer as a horror- movie -- the music, lighting, special effects, even the sets and costumes. This is all that most people know about multiplicity.
And again, sexual abuse victims and multiples who really have a disorder and need help are not served by this.
Multiplicity has been a subject for horror novels and films ever since Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the 1950s, a spate of psychological dramas such as Three Faces of Eve and Lizzie portrayed multiples as depleted, neurotic losers who would periodically turn into fun-loving carousers, scared children, or angry harridans. And, invariably, as women; that is, in female bodies. In terms of objectification and degradation of women, Sybil existed at the bottom of that trash heap.
By the 1990s, with multiplicity a hot topic in the news, male-body multiples were acknowledged to exist, although considered "rare". Dr. Frank Putnam, a singlet and an acknowledged authority on MPD, in the early 1980s had made the offhand suggestion that while female multiples were to be found in strip clubs and whorehouses, male multiples should be sought in prisons -- because, of course, men always relieve stress by committing violent acts. Women always cope by acting out sexually. This bit of bologna is mild compared to some of the recommendations made by Putnam and his colleagues.The film industry caught wind of this odious stereotype and presented viewers with such lofty contributions as Raising Cain, Batman Forever, Identity and Session 9. Meanwhile, television graced us with One Life to Live and the despicable Melrose Place. These productions firmly established multiplicity in the public consciousness as a disease spawned by child abuse, and its victims as helpless pawns of their own shattered brains, likely at any moment (particularly if in a male body) to turn savagely homicidal.
In 2011, we have Stephen Spielberg's ghastly United States of Tara, in which an attractive woman has "alters" who are nothing more than cardboard stereotypes engaging in irresponsible, dangerous behavior. "Buck" grabs women's asses and points guns at people's heads; "T" the teenager hits Tara's sister (intentionally) with Tara's car. "Buck" had an affair (with a woman), and "Gimme" indulges in hysterical temper tantrums in public. Lovely. This is, as the Desired Constellation group put it, "the equivalent of blackface: multiplicity, as mental health issue, as gimicky showy flashy song-and-dance."Tara was never about multiplicity. It was about what a handful of singlet writers and an egotistical singlet doctor wanted people to think about multiplicity, as played by a singlet actress. No multiples were involved in the making of this series. It was insulting, objectifying drek from start to finish.
I'd like to add in a word here to those who are preparing to write books or screenplays "about MPD/DID", or which feature "a character who happens to be multiple."
Writing a novel or a film which perpetuates stereotypes about multiple personality is like writing an old-time, cowboys-and-Indians western. You can say "it's just a movie," and such entertainments seem relatively innocuous on the surface, but the way they portrayed Native Americans contributed -- and still contributes -- to the institutionalised racism that affects every Native American living today.
You're not talking about a harmless fantasy. You're not even talking about taking old mythological stories and dressing them up in new clothes, as some of today's fantasy authors do.
You're talking about people who live and breathe and work and love in this real, present world. We are people with dreams and aspirations and desires just as yours. The biggest mistake anyone, singlet or multiple, can ever make, is to think that the persons in a multiple system are not real. As though, owing to the fact that there are several of us sharing a body, we are less worthy of equal dignity, equal respect, and equal rights. (Even though the Milligan decision created case law precedent for persons in multiple systems to have equal rights and responsibilities under the law.)
Yes, your viewers or readers don't know any better. But does that make it right?
And the same to journalists, or what passes for journalists today, when you go to write up the script for a story about a person "with this rare, baffling disorder."
Multiplicity only makes it into the news when a member of a multiple group has committed a crime or has been a victim of crime. Multiplicity is being used as a legal defense, with a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, despite the fact that multiplicity is not insanity according to the mental health industry's own criteria. The media, unconcerned with trivialities such as facts, continue to connect multiplicity in the public consciousness with criminal or dysfunctional behavior. The media blitz surrounding the recent Herschel Walker revelations is only one example.
There has never been a serious media depiction, either in dramatization or the news, of a multiple system which is highly functional and successful in the real world. The Fox show Herman's Head remains the only media depiction of a functional, gainfully-employed group, and the effect was significantly diminished by its sitcom trivialities.
In a personal email in January 1998, one of our website's visitors stated the following:
I think Hollywood people in denial of their own multiplicity are probably the single greatest reason for unsympathetic portrayals of dissociative people.
I have never seen such a cogent and powerful comment on the current state of affairs.
What is worst is the effect of Hollywood misportrayals on young multiples who have no other frame of reference.
There are plenty of books on going crazy -- none on plurality as a natural human state. There are no films showing multiples as healthy, functional human beings. There is no model for non- pathological plurality in Western culture.
It's clear that any persecuted group will have its agenda, and be resistent to the idea that there is any link between their condition (whatever it may be) and antisocial behavior. As a homosexual (and a cannabis user), I am well aware of the feelings behind such agendas. My colleague Ms. Nicholes, who is African-American, had this in mind when she wrote the following commentary (updated in 2008):
"Advocacy groups have educated the public on a variety of minorities, and conditions that were once considered unspeakably bizarre.
Originally, we included a list of possible actions that could be taken in order to help improve this situation. We should like now to ask the readers' opinions. What do you think should be done?
The treatment guidelines for DID state that multiple personalities are "a failure of normal developmental integration caused by overwhelming experiences and disturbed caretaker-child interactions during critical early developmental periods leading to the development and elaboration of discrete, personified behavioral states." To them, the very existence of these behavioral states is what is abnormal and must be cured.(back)
Other Essays by Anthony TempleMultiplicity Is Natural We have been sold a bill of goods about a "mental disorder".
On Integration Why it is neither necessary nor desirable... and may be impossible.
No More.. A tirade on multiplicity as sickness.
Our Truth For those who would help us recover from denial.
Removing Diagnostic Labels Multiple personality does not belong in the DSM.
The Kaycee Nicole Thing On the Internet, you are who you say you are.. use it wisely.
Validation and Language in Multiple Personality An answer to the often-asked question "Does this happen to anyone else?"
Why Activism? We strive to educate the public because other people tend to make it their business -- "You need HELP" -- when a multiple comes out of the closet.
By CollegeVicki of Vicki(s):
Anthony Temple and Jade Greenwillow are members of the Astraea multiple system. Let them know what you think Click here to send email.