This is a tricky one, because there are two valid answers. For most social intents and public purposes I am Serah Fiona Eley, a nerdy transgender woman living in the Atlanta sprawl. I write words and software and I’m good at both. I’m polyamorous and have two major partners, known here as the Otter and the Dragon. Many people think I’m a lot to deal with; I’ve never heard anyone call me boring.
The other answer is that we are a functional multiple with several conscious people living in one brain and body. We call each of our people alters. Serah is the primary alter or ‘host’ — she’s driving the body when nobody else wants to be ‘up front,’ and her identity and personality are our public presentation. Our trusted friends get to know more of us. In the language used by people like us we are a co-conscious system: we have different thoughts, emotions, and priorities, but we share a common chain of memory and are always aware of what whoever’s up front is thinking and doing, to the extent that we care to pay attention. We often speak to each other out loud or in writing.
You might be familiar with dissociative identity disorder (DID). This is important: We do not have DID. It’s a similar but much more difficult condition in which alters have separate memories and don’t always know what’s happening when someone else is in charge. The amnesia and lost time can be much more disruptive to people’s lives; we recognize our privilege in having an easier time, and don’t want to confuse anyone into thinking that’s who we are. If we had a diagnosis it would probably be OSDD-1b, but our therapist has so far declined to call our condition a disorder. This is why we call ourselves functional, and we will have a lot to say about that here.
Which is True?
Are we actually several valid people with the unusual constraint of being stuck in one body and having to timeshare the thinking abilities of one brain? Or am I actually one valid person with an unusual mental model of self-perception and an eccentrically strong habit of talking to myself out loud?
The answer to both is Yes. Neither is a metaphor or mistake. Both are true. Which way to look at us depends on the question or problem at hand. If I’m driving or doing my taxes, it makes the most sense that there’s one of me. If we’re being intimate with someone or dealing with anxiety or writing an essay like this one, there are more of us and we will all have different thoughts.
The Kitten once asked me, Serah, how that could be. How could I see myself as one person and several people, at the same time? I thought about it for just a moment and said, “Light is both a particle and a wave.” She understood what I meant, and was satisfied with that answer.
Hence the name of this site.
When we talk to friends who are similar to us, it’s common courtesy to distinguish between the alter who is talking (singular pronouns I, you, he/she/they) and the system as a group of alters in the same body (collective pronouns we, you all, they). Groups that are working well together often choose system names. Our system name is the Cooperative, as a reflection of our co-consciousness and the shared value of helping each other.
All of the alters in the Cooperative are girls or women except for Steve (whom we joke was ‘grandfathered’ in). Hence we identify as having binary gender: nearly always feminine, rarely masculine, but never in between.
When asked for a count, we say “about ten.” A few past alters seem to have vanished or merged into others, and we don’t know whether more might spontaneously appear, but we seem stable at this order of magnitude. Alters whose mental age is not mentioned identify as the physical age of our (middle-aged but younger-looking) body.
Here are the current full alters who make up the Cooperative, in approximate order of appearance:
- Steve: aka Stephen Frederick Eley, the original and only known identity for decades. An odd mixture of bombastic & reserved, mystical & skeptic. Had a successful life and a pretty good podcast for a while. He nominated Serah as primary and retired into the background in 2015. He still shows up sometimes to socialize with old friends, help others in a crisis, or when he thinks it would be funny.
- Serah: Showed up in Steve’s head one night in 2013, and ended up staying. Once a chaos spirit; now merely intensely energetic and expressive. (Steve: “I love Serah, she’s cute and pink and levels countrysides.”) Drove our gender transition and discovery of other alters. Has a complicated romantic history and chronic anxiety. Called “Mom” by the younger alters as an in-joke, but denies being anyone’s mother.
- Zero: Began as an ominous presence in Serah’s mind in 2017. Vied for control with manipulation and fear. Has since made peace, and now uses her emotional detachment and analytical precision to advise the Cooperative and others on difficult interpersonal problems. She admires Cylons (particularly Head Six) and Vulcans (particularly Spock). (Skeet: “bitch might always be right, but she don’t know a goddam thing about rage”) She speaks with an oddly poetic formality and a wit like dry ice.
- Skeet: Age 16, Goth & metal sensibilities, very fond of cheap whiskey. Appeared in 2017 when Serah sought allies in the early conflict with Zero. Her native language is profanity accented with sarcasm; she disdains capitals and punctuation, and often revises to add errors if too many words are spelled correctly. Speaks wistfully about setting more things on fire than she will ever be allowed. Fiercely passionate about respect for alters as people, and yells at Serah about issues such as host privilege. Probably the straightest of us; she has crushed on and dated masculine alters in other systems.
- Threnody: A limited-purpose alter found shortly after Skeet, consensually shaped and named by the Otter. She lives with only one purpose: to serve the Otter, by direct obedience and by anticipating and providing for the their needs. (Serah: There was a good reason at the time that wasn’t just kink; that story will be told later.) She may be called by the Otter at any time, interrupting all other alters’ activities.
- Virginia: Age 19, reserved and frequently withdrawn. Wiccan, bookish, concerned about her role. Originated with a persistent innocence that she no longer embraces. Has a body sense-memory different from our actual body.
- ”Dee”: A pixie, ageless, about 8 inches tall with colorful wings. Gives different views of magic and pixie culture whenever she is asked, and often when she isn't. Lectures Serah to remember her roots as a chaos spirit and to study chaos. Lectures everyone else about wings and flying. “Dee” is a public alias — she is bound by a faerie law that anyone who knows her true name can summon her once per day and have her grant a wish.
- Trixie: Age 8. Shy, very reserved, but playful with those she trusts. Makes friends with littles in other systems. Her favorite activity is watching cartoons with the Otter.
- Nova: A shapeshifter of variable age. Cheerful, warm, compassionate. First appeared to help with repressed trauma, and has sometimes blocked hard memories for Serah. Enjoys altering our perception of our body and mind, and (with consent!) those of other people, for fun.
- Nike: A goddess. Absolutely confident in her judgment and abilities. Largely devotes herself to dominating and caretaking the Otter. Suffers no second-guessing nor interpretation, especially from Serah. Powerful and unpredictable.
- Isabel: Age 13, with a Lolita-ish energy that strains innocence. The newest of us, still exploring her place and preferences. Admires big sister Skeet (who calls her Izzy) and competes with her at video games. Wants to be seduced by a vampire, repeatedly.
We have a couple of animal-like aspects that are hard to classify. They’re more than just moods or games, but they’re simpler than our human alters.
- Pupcake: A dog. Bouncy and enthusiastic, barks “Rarr!” a lot, loves to lick faces. The Otter named her because their preferred smooshy romantic nickname for Serah is Cupcake.
- Asuna: A wolf. Very loyal and serious, prone to growling. Started out of some past kink play and took on a presence of her own. (Which is partly how we learned that naming things makes them persist.) Tends to be scarce these days, but comes out in particularly threatened or protective moods.
…And then there are the ‘scarce’ alters, either known to be no longer active or simply haven’t heard from in a long time:
- Aphrodite: A sex alter (what, you guessed?) whose entire purpose was feeling and giving pleasure. She was one of the earlier ones to appear, soon after Skeet, and surprised Serah by being better at sex. She hasn’t appeared by name in years, and might (we’re not sure) have been integrated into aspects of Virginia, Nova, and/or Isabel.
- Melora: An elf, timeless and young at the same time, with a strong sense of shapeshifting magic. Dee had a friendly rivalry with her. We’re pretty sure she is now part of Nova.
- Moxie: The only alter we’ve had to permanently suppress. Destructively chaotic: she would whisper bad ideas, or pretend to be other alters to subvert them. Zero contained her in a “box,” which Virginia volunteered to keep. Her current status is unknown or known only to Virginia, who isn’t saying.