FAQ on Being an Ally to DID/OSDD Systems
Fronting? Masking? Alters? What do all these terms mean?
Consult your friendly neighborhood Dissociative Dictionary.
Should I ask who is fronting?
This is a common question. You might default to asking who is fronting to try to be a good ally – thinking that knowing whom you’re talking to helps validate that alter as an individual. And for some alters in some situations, it might. However, the consensus answer to this question is that no, you should not ask who is fronting until you have established with a system that it’s something that makes them feel validated and they want from you.
If a system is not specifically talking about DID/OSDD they are often naturally masking, even if the ally doesn’t know it. Even if they’re out to you as being a system, masking is a natural defense mechanism that systems have built up throughout their lives. For many alters, it’s a more comfortable, easy, and safe feeling than unmasking. When someone asks who is fronting, it can feel very unsafe. Having your disorder called out like that can feel incredibly jarring and frightening. Remember that DID exists to be hidden! Having it brought into the light outside of the system’s own control can create panic. Additionally, if the alter who was fronting wanted to continue masking, you’ve now put them in the uncomfortable position of feeling like they need to lie to you that they’re not themselves.
For these reasons as well as others, don’t ask this question until you’ve established whether the system is okay with it. Even if one alter loudly proclaims their presence every time they’re out, that doesn’t mean the system as a whole has agreed to give you that kind of information whenever you ask.
(If you’re having a conversation where who is fronting is highly relevant, or the conversation is surrounding their disorder already, it may be a more appropriate time to ask who is fronting, but only if you’ve established it’s okay first. Respect the system’s boundaries.)
Should I use plural or singular pronouns?
Systems and individual alters will have their own preferences, so it’s always good to ask what pronouns they’d like you to use. How things generally work, though, is that the entire system is plural – it is multiple alters, and therefore, you would refer to them collectively with plural pronouns (they/them). However, when referring to an individual alter, you’re referring to a single person (he/him, she/her, etc.). This can become a little blurry with non-binary alters who may use singular they/them pronouns. When in doubt, ask.
The main thing is not to be a jerk. If you feel the person fronting doesn’t want you asking about who they are, refrain from referring to them using pronouns, or use the pronouns for the host, who they may be masking as. If an alter tells you their pronouns, though, respect them.
What do I do if I’m with someone having a flashback?
If you haven’t spoken with the person experiencing the flashback on how they prefer to be assisted, it is best to err on the side of caution. Trying to help, no matter the intent, can often cause more harm than good. Stay calm, and don’t ask too many questions. They are probably in too much of a crisis to answer them. Instead, step aside and give them space, but stay nearby. Let them know you’re there if they need anything, but then start using your phone or something so they don’t feel like they’re being watched. Be there if they choose to reach out, but leave the person alone if they are in no immediate danger.
Please, DON’T touch the person experiencing the flashback unless they have made it clear that’s okay. A hug or a hand on a shoulder may seem like it would be a comforting gesture, but the person is in sensory overload, and it may make things much worse.
What do I do if I think the system I’m with is switching?
There’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all answer to this type of question. Not only is every system different, but every alter within a system is different. There’s no consistent answer that will always be correct. In general, though, it’s best to err on the side of caution and just give them space unless explicitly asked to do otherwise.
I want to write about someone with DID in an informed, ethical way. How should I do that as someone who is not a system?
You’re not going to like this answer, but don’t, and here’s why:
While it can be okay to write about a character with DID if they simply happen to be in your story, their having DID should not be the focus of the story. That is not your story to tell.
To put this into perspective, let’s imagine a white writer decides they want to write about the experience of what it’s like to be black in America. They want to do that as ethically as possible and ask lots of questions to ensure they’re doing it right. Is that okay? No. As a white person, they should not be writing about someone else’s experience like that. They’ll never fully understand what it means to be black in America.
That said, would it be wrong for them to write a black character into their story? Of course not. Could there be moments where issues of race come up where they consult people to make sure they’re handling it ethically? Yes. But the entire point of the book shouldn’t be to tell someone else’s story.
If we replace that example with DID, this makes more sense, right? DID is fascinating to many people, and they want to write about it. Their hearts are in the right place – they see the media misrepresent us and want to do it right. However, it’s not their story to tell. Plenty of systems are capable of writing and creating their own art. Boost our voices, support our projects, but don’t try to be our voice. Sure, you can write a character who happens to have DID, but please DO NOT write about someone’s lived experience with DID. Unless you have the disorder, you’ll never fully understand. Recognizing that is the sign of a true ally.