Diverse gender identity can overlap with experiences of dissociation and multiplicity. This does not necessarily mean that people have a mental illness. Having an experience of diverse gender identity is simply part of the normal variation of human experience, and occurs in cultures throughout the world. ‘Transgender’ is often used as an umbrella term for the many different ways a persons gender identity may be different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. It doesn’t mean anything about who a person is attracted to, it’s about their own sense of self. For more about sexuality and multiplicity, see Sexuality and Multiplicity. Some trans people strongly identify as male or female when they’ve previously been identified as the other. Some trans people don’t feel comfortable about the gender binary of only male/female. People may prefer other terms such as non binary, genderqueer, agender and so on.
Trans people often experience significant forms of dissociation, particularly where severe gender dysphoria, trauma, abuse, or anxiety are present. For many people, access to peers, safe places to live and work, and connection with accepting communities are key to reducing the chronic stress that drives these experiences. Tools to manage dissociation and language to communicate about it can also be very helpful particularly when people are in distress. It’s extremely important for mental health resources to be trans-friendly without pathologising the experience of being trans, or the perfectly normal dissociative responses to transphobia.
It can also be extremely helpful when trans supports are aware of the vulnerability of anyone experiencing trauma, shame, identity confusion, and isolation and are able to provided tailored support for these issues, or work in collaboration with mental health and trauma recovery organisations. For more information about dissociation and strategies to manage it, see About Dissociation or our Crisis Page.
Many trans people experience no sense of multiplicity whatsoever. Many people with multiplicity have no trans experiences at all. However, it’s not uncommon for both to be present together. Some trans or queer supports are aware of this and extremely helpful, but others can be limited and cause distress, particularly when only one gender identity is treated as ‘real’. There are many ways gender diversity and multiplicity can be experienced, for example
- Some people have a sense of a male and female versions of themselves
- Some people have different personalities who identify differently with regards to gender – perhaps someone who is non-binary, 3 men, a boy, a child who doesn’t identify with either gender, and a woman all sharing the same system and body
- Some people find that their sense of gender identity is fluid, changing from day to day, in some cases because of co-conscious switching between parts
There’s quite a spectrum! It can be helpful to be aware that trans experiences are common for people with multiplicity, and multiplicity experiences are common for people who are trans.
The presence of multiplicity may change the needs of someone who is trans a little, but it doesn’t have to be a bad or frightening thing! There’s many different ways this can be experienced, explored, or resolved. Some people find that their sense of multiplicity reduces as they accept and begin to live congruently as their real gender. Sometimes a part may be a social construct – a kind of mask worn due to social pressure rather than an authentic separate self. Sometimes different gendered parts may agree to allow the part who is out to use their preferred pronouns or to present the way they feel – male parts wearing male clothes, sometimes multiples permanently transition to allow their primary day to day part/s to feel most comfortable in the body. Sometimes a trans part is integrated or retires and is no longer a independent self sharing the mind or body.
Common myths affecting people with both multiplicity and trans experiences:
Myth 1: Any part who identifies with the same gender as the body/as the person’s assigned gender is the ‘real person’ who should be supported to be out all of the time and manage all life functioning. Trans parts should be suppressed or integrated.
- This is a common approach for people who are being treated for multiplicity, and it can cause a great deal of harm to the relationships between parts.
Myth 2: Any part who identifies with the same gender as the body/as the person’s assigned gender is merely a social construct, an old habit, something holding a trans person back from transitioning and living their life.
- This approach is common for people who are being supported as trans, and it can be very harmful, leading to a lot of confusion, internal distress, and trying to cover up differences and present in acceptable ways.
Myth 3: Hormone therapy, surgeries, or other transitioning processes are always wrong if there is any level of multiplicity present.
- While the needs, desires, and stability of every part are extremely important for the system or group to consider, transitioning should not be ruled out on the basis of the presence of other parts. It’s not uncommon for multiplicity supports to presume that ‘recovery’ means a person will stabilise to a cis-gendered straight individual, whereas for some systems, transitioning is a deeply important part of creating safety and strength and living more authentically. Sometimes therapists working with people with multiplicity form the easiest relationships with the parts they are most similar to, and will more readily support the preferences of those parts rather than parts who are diverse.
Myth 4: It’s not possible to be trans with some level of multiplicity. All real trans people have a single sense of self.
- This is sometimes a requirement to access trans supports! Trans supports that police what it means to be ‘a real trans’ can be very excluding of people who are non-binary, who’s gender identity and gender expression are different (eg a woman who prefers to present as a ‘tomboy’), gender-fluid, or multiple. Multiplicity is not the dominant framework, not mutually exclusive, and not the only way of understanding a person’s experiences. Trans and multiple experiences (or diagnoses) can exist size by side, each important, relevant, and deserving of support. One experience does not invalidate or obliterate the other.
How advocates and support services can be better allies to the people who are trans, or experience dissociation and/or multiplicity:
Understanding that some level of dissociation is a common experience and talking about it. Helping people to find a language to discuss experiences that can be frightening and strange and difficult to put into words. Helping people find others with similar experience and discover how common and normal these experiences are. However, not making any form of dissociation an essential aspect of what constitutes a ‘real trans person’.
Understanding that some level of multiplicity is a common experience It does not necessarily mean that trans people have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or any other mental illness, or that all multiplicity approaches or resources will be useful. Some trans people find the sense of multiplicity spontaneously resolves as they process their situation and make choices that are meaningful for them. Others experience deep conflict or confusing changes between different senses of self. Not pushing people to have a single sense of self to be regarded as a ‘real trans person’ is very helpful, as is an awareness of the diversity of experiences of multiplicity. For more about this see About Multiplicity.
Committing to support trans parts even if other parts in a system are cisgender and not planning to transition. Minority trans parts can be extremely lonely, suffer severe gender dysphoria, and are sometimes treated as irrelevant, demonic, or a nuisance to be managed in clinical or religious approaches to multiplicity. Trans parts may not be allowed by other parts to wear even small tokens of their gender identity, especially if the person is not out about their multiplicity in daily life. They may be very vulnerable to rage, self harm or feeling suicidal as a result.
Reaching out to any local multiplicity or mental health supports and letting people know that trans resources are available that are appropriate for people with experiences of mental illness or other things going on.
Being comfortable exploring different experiences of multiplicity with trans people, particularly in the context of peer support, to normalise and reassure people that the experiences are common, not necessarily indicative of a problem or mental illness, and can emerge or resolve in many different ways.
Ensuring that trans supports are diversity friendly and appropriate for people at any place in the fields of gender diversity and multiplicity. Not requiring people to conform to a particular model, goals, or presentation to be considered genuinely trans. Being comfortable including and supporting people who are confused or uncertain and who may change their minds along the way.
Ensuring that multiplicity supports are diversity friendly and appropriate for people at any place in the diverse world of multiplicity and gender identity. Not requiring people to conform to a particular model, goals, or presentation to be considered genuinely multiple. Being comfortable supporting people who are confused or uncertain and may change their minds along the way.
Some trans supports and activists are multiplicity friendly already! Here is one example: Buck Angel – trans and diversity.