Why Dissociative Identity Disorder Isn't an Act

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s husband.

Understanding someone who has dissociative identity disorder (DID) can be difficult and quite confusing for people. The initial reflex is to discount the reality of the disorder – he must be faking and putting on an act. I think the next most common reaction is one of curiosity, wanting to see a switch and meet the alters, almost like the whole thing is a circus act. And from there, there’s an irritation — an “OK, that was entertaining for a bit but just stop it now already.” Which is really just full circle back to disbelief.

Sometimes there’s fear. What is someone, who claims at times to not remember who he is and what he does, capable of? The flashes of rage witnessed when a protective alter is present – what if he acts on those horrible things he’s saying? The intensity of emotion and absence of rational thought pushes all but the most resilient away.

Mostly, there’s just a general overall lack of understanding. In my husband’s situation, since he is a comedian by trade and often “acting,” his DID has some additional layers to complicate things. For example, his act is replete with characters and impersonations but more recently, the female alters have developed a character of their own and when they perform, it is no longer my husband as a character but rather the alter as a character. The alter is female and performs a female character, yet an outsider may observe the act and draw the conclusion that my husband is the one performing. The questions come fast and furious – is he a cross-dresser? Is he gay? Trying to be a drag queen? Or is this just another character?

And if it is just another character, is he mocking transgender people? Is this a convenient way to push the envelope of today’s politically correct culture, delivering material that would otherwise be frowned upon as homophobic, misogynistic?

The female alters spend countless hours working on their material, shopping for their costumes, makeup, wigs (and my, are there ever a lot of wigs!) They take untold numbers of selfies and videos. Preparation to leave the house for a show is not unlike an average teenage girl on prom night.

However, they reside in the body and are attached to a moniker that creates a barrier to acceptance even in today’s rhetoric of tolerance. Shunned from an all-woman show? No problem. They just promote their own. A rift in the community – pick him or us – not realizing the choice is actually her or them… no problem, she’ll just cry herself to sleep and the protector alter will make sure all who have betrayed her know he wants them to pay.

contributor's husband dressed as woman black wig makemakeup

The “he” and “she,” “him” and “her” are not some continuum of gender identity. They are as separate from each other as you are from me. But in a mirror, the reflection is of one, not many, and so how can a person tell what is real and what is “just an act?”

May I suggest it doesn’t matter? That you can assume it is all real and treat them always with kindness, dignity and respect. That all you really need to know to be true is that under the clothes, makeup, hair – on any given day, there’s a human being who feels with an intensity to an unknown multiple, seeking love, forgiveness, patience and acceptance.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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