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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sybil, RuPaul and the magic closet we can all have

Many of you have seen the TV movie Sybil with Sally Field about a woman who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID (formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder.) In the film, the main character has many well developed and distinctive personalities. Similarly, you may also have heard of a woman named Truddi Chase wrote a book called “When Rabbit Howls” in 1987 about her experiences with the same disorder. Both of these women suffered terrible repeated physical and sexual abuse as children. While many looking at DID from the outside may it as a height of mental illness, if can actually be viewed as a defense against madness. One theory of DID, it was it is a phenomenon that occurs among very creative people and that this people split off as a way of not going crazy. The abuse, and the memories of the abuse and the complex emotions around them are too much for one person to handle, so the creating of different personalities is away of shuttling memories and emotions into different parts of mind so that the trauma is not to overwhelming.

DID is at the extreme end of the spectrum of a group of conditions called dissociative disorders. Very seldom do people have discreet personalities like Sybil and Truddi Chase, but a much larger group of people suffer from a variety of dissociative disorders where parts of themselves, their personalities, emotions, memories are “split” off from one another. These people may have gaps in memory, sudden mood swings or emotion disjoints, like crying but not feeling sad or feeling extreme emotion but lacking the ability to express it clearly or openly. There also people who act and even appear completely different in different situations or with different people, but they do not have fully separate personalities. These can arranged on a long spectrum from at the more functional end the closeted lesbian who is one person in the gay world and another with her family to, at the totally pathological end, the decorated fire chief who is a well respected member of the community but has a secret life torturing and killing prostitutes.

As some of you know that this week I am starting a year long extensive study in Existential-Psychoanalytic Therapy as I slowly work my way back to seeing psychotherapy clients again. I am a little nervous about the class (this isn’t light stuff and requires a lot of self analysis) but I am much more excited, than I am nervous. I am sure my experiences in that group with fuel some VERY interesting blog postings during the coming year.! What interests me it the approach of this professor and this group is the philosophy behind this class. We will be exploring what we call mental or psychological disorders as very human ways of seeing the world. Not all ways of seeing the world are equally healthy or functional, but nevertheless they are human. Some are personality styles, common differences among people, but others, like those on the disassociate disorder spectrum can paralyze peoples lives and stop, hinder or blunt lives. Some people learn to split themselves off so well, in a way that is so natural to them, that it is almost second nature. At an extreme, thesen people aren’t even sure what their real self is because they are so split off they stop being able to imagine themselves as whole. When these get extreme and limit the way people function in life or block their ability to be happy, therapy and sometimes medication are good and necessary aids to helping people get their lives back under some control.

Yet, from styles to disorder, there are things we can learn from trauma and disassociation. Don’t we all have memories or bit of memories we don’t understand? Haven’t we all had trauma and suffered some abuse in some way? Don’t we get depressed and have mood swings? Don’t we all split of parts of ourselves, consciously and unconsciously, at different time with different people?

So why am I concluding my closet series talking about this?

I think we all are different selves with different people and I don’t always think it is a bad thing. I might talk about them same topic at work, with my mother and with my friends in very different ways. I “perform” the roles of son, co-worker and friend in different ways. Different clothing or costumes both change the person wearing the clothes and may change how people who see them treat them. Clergy people learned long ago that their vestments can allow them to feel powerful and holy and radically change how people treat them.

Of late I have been slightly addicted to two shows created by one of the most famous living drag queens, RuPaul, on LOGO, Drag Race and Drag U. I am not a drag queen and have never felt a pull toward that, yet I love these shows! They show that, using clothes and makeup people can access and express parts of themselves that they don’t normally. While Drag is different for different people, for many effeminate gay men, drag is a way of taking the very thing that they were teased about and turning on its head and creating strong, clever, sarcastic and powerful characters for themselves. They come bigger than life. The show Drag U is a very interesting show because the whole objective is to invite biological women, who have felt ugly and powerless, come on the show enroll in “school” to have drag queens can teach theses women how to create a drag persona and become more powerful and confident, to find their inner Drag queen. Drag takes the idea that women are weaker and powerless and turns it on its head to create powerful, almost superhero-like human beings.

As I stated in the other postings on this blog, I think in general the closet is a terrible place. Not being able to be who you are is destructive to the closeted person and those around them. However, there are many ways that being different things to different people at different times is very functional and a very good way to explore different part of yourself that aren’t always easy to access. Drag is only one good example. So is dressing up or down in ways you aren’t used to. If you are always in T-shirt and jeans type, look for something dresser that you like, and try that once in awhile. If you are never in jeans or t-shirt, try that! Institutions create dress codes and uniforms because they understand that you can push people into both behaving differently and have people treat each other differently just using clothes.

Clothes, however, are not the only way to access different parts of the self, there is makeup, voice, ways of walking, posture…in other words, theater! If you have something scary you have to do in life, pretend you are a strong confident person, create a character, give him/her a name, a history, a walk and an attitude. Pretending/performing/acting are actually ways to explore even more real parts of ourselves, of our potential. If you walk into a situation pretending to be confident, acting like a character that is different from how you normally think of yourself, that act of that performance is actually a part of the real you!

The closet can be a locked prison where people are trapped in or lock themselves in or it can be a place of potential liberation filled with magical options that make life more interesting and powerful.

1 comment:

  1. I should have ended this with my RuPaul quote at the right:

    "We all came into this world naked. The rest is all drag.”- RuPaul