Owl's Nest

On "People, not Parts" and Parts Language


The Community and Parts Language

When I first came into the plural community, parts language was relentlessly demonized as dehumanizing, inaccurate, and generally unwanted. It was immediately made clear to me that most people believed that any systems using it were either old enough that it was excusable as a difference in terminology, or they were being cruel and dehumanizing towards their system members. Perhaps some of this was due to the spaces I was in, but it's a symptom of a larger problem.

Parts language has become taboo in many plural spaces. I've seen people harassed for calling their system members "parts," and sometimes it's been as extreme as driving them out of a space for their language choices, or sending them a paragraph of personal insults under the guise of concern for their system. Even when it doesn't extend to outright harassment, there's a general sense that the plural community is very uncomfortable with parts language, particularly outside of medicalized circles. There are also certain assumptions that seem common about those that use it: that they're disordered systems that have overly bought into the mental health system, that they don't regard their system members as equals or are trapped in denial, that they're median or polyfragmented, that they're not inclusive of different system types, that they're older and learned different terminology, and so on. People shy away from discussions when parts language is the wording of choice, and the word "parts" seems to be frowned upon in larger spaces.

This is a problem.

Overlaps and Gray Spaces

Not all systems see themselves as separate people. To be plural, the only requirement is being more than one unified person in some way. Some systems absolutely do see themselves as different people, but many I've met do not. There are systems sharing a common identity with subselves beneath it, systems with no discrete people composed of ever-shifting fragments, systems with people that merge together and break apart at will, systems that fluctuate between multiple and median presentations, and all sorts of other variations that do not fit the concept of separate people. Identity overlap, blurriness, and general screwery in the area of identity seems very common, and I've seen very few systems that perfectly fit the mold of "100% separate, clear-cut people with absolutely no overlap or shared identity pieces."

Many systems use people language, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. The language one uses to refer to their system should be what's most comfortable for them, and emphasizing separation is often the most comfortable approach, particularly in a world that tends to dehumanize systems and denies their existence. Recognizing individuality can make it easier to work with one's system members as a team. The problem arises when a system is most comfortable using parts language for themselves, but feels unable to do so because the plural community so strongly discourages that choice. In that situation, the most comfortable option becomes inaccessible because of fear, and a system that should be supported by the community finds themselves at least partially outcast simply because they choose to use a word that others disapprove of.

Parts language does have unpleasant connotations for some. When forced on a system, it can become a way to dehumanize them and strip them of their individuality, if not deny their independent existence altogether. It certainly isn't a term you call others without their permission (a habit that psychology needs to consider changing). That does not excuse throwing it away wholesale. For some systems, calling themselves parts is affirming, healing, comfortable, accurate, or otherwise feels right for them. By denouncing the term, these systems are indirectly being told that their language choice or way of being is wrong, and this isn't acceptable for a community that claims to be accepting of diverse experiences.

People, not Parts

The motto, "people, not parts" has become more and more common over the time I've been in the community, and there's been a growing push for psychology to universally recognize the individuality of system members. "People, not parts" is a great phrase when it comes to getting singlets to recognize systems as individuals. When someone's essential idea of what makes people separate from one another is physical separation, telling them that all system members are separate people forces them to re-conceptualize separation of identity in order to understand how more than one person could share a body. This is a good thing on the surface, but what "people, not parts" misses is nuance. It misses the overlaps, the blurriness, the times of not knowing who's in front, the systems that don't fit the idea of total separation. In teaching that all system members are individuals, it excludes those that do not want their individuality emphasized, or that do not want to be referred to as people. It forces systems to fit a mold of separation and clear-cut boundaries, one created by the singlet understanding of what it means to be a person. "People, not parts" is wonderful for first teaching a singlet that system members are separate. Where it fails is that it doesn't convey that it's not always that simple, a critical step in ensuring that all plural experiences are accepted by the learner. If someone is taught that being plural means having multiple, completely separate people in one body, it stands to reason that they might not accept the more nuanced experiences as "really" plural. At the least, some sort of follow-up is needed to ensure that less overtly multiple systems are recognized, but the problem runs deeper than that.

The Overwhelming Focus on Separation

There's a sort of supremacy in the plural community. Being more multiple is glorified, and being closer to singular is devalued. People choosing to pursue fusion are harassed and perceived as betraying the community and themselves, and are publicly grieved regardless of their own wishes. Multiples are taken more seriously than medians because they have greater academic recognition and are more visible. Overt systems get more attention than covert systems, and are taken as better authorities on what plurality is. Less differentiated experiences of plurality are buried and pushed aside, and resources often assume the reader is on the extreme end of multiple. If you're not a completely overt, perfectly multiple system with severe amnesia and communication problems, odds are you've been told you don't exist at least once, possibly by another system.

What we need to do is change this. Every experience of plurality is different, and there's no reason why one particular experience should be as glorified as it is beyond appealing to singlets. Denouncing parts language, pushing "people, not parts" universally, and shaping the larger plural community such that apparent experiences appeal to singlets more than those actually in the community only enforces a dynamic of glorifying perfect separation. The community as a whole needs to support those in-between more than we do. We need to remember the nuance in different experiences, to stop assuming that others are perfectly multiple simply because that's the norm the community has created. We need to listen first and trust people about their own experiences. We need to permit individual choices in language and presentation, and encourage authenticity rather than conformity.

This is ultimately why the push for "people, not parts" and the denouncement of parts language is a problem. It embodies emphasis of extreme separation and perfect individuality, and it misses the overlaps and nuance in so many experiences. It ostracizes those that don't fit the concept of separated people and those that don't want to be seen as individuals (a more sizeable population than one might expect- I've met several people diagnosed with DID that wanted to be regarded as a single person rather than several). The phrase has its strengths, and the sentiment is an important one, particularly regarding psychology's tendencies to dehumanize systems and deny their realities, but I feel there must be better ways to go about its goals. Something needs to change.


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