What it’s like to be many people in one body

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Ariadne, Jacqueline, North, and others unnamed are all part of the same system. They share a single body. They take turns “fronting” the body, controlling it. And when they’re not fronting, the system members are free to roam an infinite landscape, a pocket reality that they call the “in-world.”

Photo art by Ariadne and Morgan (different person, different body)
Photo art by Ariadne and Morgan (different person, different body) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Together, they go to work every day, spend time with friends and lovers, go to shows, play video games, and live many aspects of a typical life. But when multiple people with varying interests, social skills, and gender identities share a single body, some things are tough.

It’s tough to live in a world that doesn’t understand you, doesn’t know your secrets, or just wants to diagnose you.

The system members refer to their living situation as being “plural” or “multiple.” Psychiatry calls similar situations Dissociative Identity Disorder. The system members don’t identify with this diagnosis, as it requires the multiplicity to be a hindrance. They say it’s the opposite of a hindrance–it’s what lets them survive.

Another perspective on multiplicity can be found in the work of philosopher John Perry. 1978, he published a paper called A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality which critiques popular assumptions of personal identity. This writing was brought to our attention by Barry Lam, the producer of a soon-to-be released philosophy podcast called Hi-Phi Nation.

We mailed our spare recorder to the system’s home in the spring of 2016. Over the course of several months, system members created diary entries and field recordings to share the world that Ariadne calls too “bright and loud.”

Photo art by Ariadne and Elle
Photo art by Ariadne and Elle (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Producer Jeff Emtman interviewed Jacqueline, where she also described the building process of the in-world, including the creation a spot of reverence within it–a grove of redwood trees modeled on a forest near Oakland.

Jacqueline said she hopes to move from the city to the wilderness and have dogs. Jacqueline said that there are no current plans to integrate the system.

We found out about Ariadne, North, Jacqueline et al because we asked for listeners to tell us their secrets. If you have a secret you’d like to share, please get in touch.

Content Advisory: This episode contains a brief description of sexual violence (and casual swearing too, but we don’t usually warn you about that). The description of sexual violence is short and mostly non-graphic. If you don’t want to hear it, you just need to skip ahead about two minutes when you hear us talking about the state of Georgia.

This episode was produced by Jeff Emtman and Bethany Denton. Nick White is HBM’s editor at KCRW.

Music: The Black Spot