A multiple system, or one of its members (apologies because I will fuck up terminology here) commented on my last post about how often they face the "well, you're different, there's yer problem" attitude themselves. And it made me realize, this was one of those things I'd pretty much been skating with the prevailing wisdom on--"oh come on, you're crazy or a liar." And this was the first time I thought to question that. Here's the process I went through:
What have I heard from other people about this?
In Abnormal Psychology, we covered "Dissociative Identity Disorder" very briefly. The professor told us that it was a very strange phenomenon occurring very rarely after extremely severe trauma, and that any cases we encountered clinically were likely being faked for attention. (Doing something "for attention" is the worst in psychology. Yes, it's often disruptive or annoying when someone is "LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME" all the time, but some degree of attention is a legitimate need and a lot of people in psych treatment settings are freaking starved for anything more than "that's nice, now sit down and shut up.") And, of course, we should all be on guard for the personality that's an evil murderer, because there's always one of those.
Then again, Abnormal Psych also classified sexual sadism and masochism as terrible disorders in need of curing. Admittedly there's a little addendum about "if it is causing distress or impairment", but there wasn't any discussion whatsoever about how S/m without distress or impairment is a normal variation.
In addition, I'd run into some Internet Common Wisdom that pretending to be multiple is up there with pretending to be a dragon, as far as excessively imaginative people exaggerating their differences in order to be a Special Snowflake goes. (Being a Special Snowflake is the worst, because as in the psych hospital, it would be so much more convenient for me if everyone but me would accept their place as an out-of-focus background character in my story.)
What do people actually in this group say about themselves?
I followed the link in the comments and found--well, instead of filtering this through my own reading of it, I'll just link you directly to these FAQs about multiplicity: Ok Questions, Rude Questions.
Why do I feel differently about this?
If someone tells me that his name is Jeff and he's a man, but I can totally see he's got breasts, I don't tell him that he's "really" a woman, and if he disagrees he must have a disorder or just be some kind of attention-grubbing Special Fucking Snowflake. Or if someone tells me that his name is Jeff and he's a man and he's dating another man, I don't tell him that he's "really" attracted to women, and anything else is a mistake he made. Or, for that matter, if someone tells me that her name is Jess and she's a woman and she's working in a technical job and not having children, I sure as hell don't tell her what "real women" do with their lives.
In short, I don't prioritize my cognitive bias for having people live exactly the way they "look" over those people's rights to live their lives.
So why is this different? Why do I feel an urge to tell these people that they're "really" one person, because only one person can "really" exist in a brain? Honestly, I haven't got an answer beyond sheer familiarity. I'm used to only knowing one person per brain, and I feel like I've only got one in mine. But I'm far enough beyond infancy that "I'm not used to you, so you can't be real!" really shouldn't be a part of my worldview.
What's the worst that could happen?
The worst that could happen if I stick with the psych professor and Internet asshole's viewpoint, and go "ah hah, this person is either super crazy or just making shit up," is that I deny the existence of entire people. If it's upsetting for me to be told that some parts of my identity aren't real or healthy (fun fact: a woman who dates men can't possibly "really" be bi!), how much more would it suck to be told that I literally didn't exist? And while I'm thinking "crazy or liar," I can't treat multiple people with any kind of understanding or decency or even politeness, online or in the real world.
The worst that could happen if I accept people's own self-definitions of their minds and their lives, trusting that they know themselves better than some Internet stranger who took a psychology class? Well, I could be wrong. I could be getting suckered. And then what? I'd look a little silly. I'd be using the "wrong" pronouns and names, oh no. No one would be really harmed or discriminated against. All that's really on the line is my ego.
It's not all about a cold "well, what's the harm?" balancing, of course. Fundamentally, I do believe that people know themselves, at least better than any pompous outsider proposing to tell them who they really are inside. But it helps to keep in mind that believing someone about their identity, and being wrong, is not nearly as bad as the reverse.
So that's my journey, in one particular instance, from prejudice to at least trying to accept a class of people different from myself. I don't expect a cookie, but I do hope to provide a template. Mostly for the next time someone's identity makes me go "aw c'mon, you're not really that."