United States of Tara

I’m often asked what I think of this show, and it’s not an easy question to answer. It’s a highly divisive topic in the multiple community and I’m always mindful of very strong feelings for and against by a lot of people who feel pretty disempowered and marginalised already.

Personally, I’ve watched the whole show. As a television show, I think it works. It’s interesting and funny and thought provoking. It’s entertainment. I laugh through it. As a multiple and mental health activist passionate about multiplicity, I have mixed reactions. I love that everyone in Tara’s family has ‘issues’. She’s not the wreck in a perfect family. I love using humour to talk about big important issues- although I also recognise that for some other people, this feels painful and humiliating. Personally, I’ve plenty of funny stories about the complications of life as a multiple and I’m glad I can navigate things with a sense of humour. I like that they consistently treat the multiplicity as ‘real’ and show the confusion and distress of not having it treated as real. I think it’s good that there’s a clear childhood trauma link established. Raising awareness of the experience of multiplicity is a good thing.

But there are also things that deeply frustrated me about the show. I find Tara’s switching actually painful to watch. It’s hard to communicate how deeply uncomfortable it makes me, the best analogy I’ve been able to come up with, is to try and imagine how it feels to watch a close relative stripping… just… ugh! This representation of switching isn’t inaccurate, although it is misrepresentative. A smaller percentage of multiples switch like Tara, very obviously, to a small, stable set of highly recognisable parts. The majority of multiples switch covertly. The transitions are subtle and hidden from most people, or only occur when they’re alone/in therapy/with their closest friends. Making me feel uncomfortable is not a criticism, but what really bothers me is that Tara’s presentation of multiplicity is not put into a context. It wouldn’t have been difficult to write in brief interactions with some other multiples who have different presentations, whether she met them in person, read about them in biographies, or talked with them online. Presenting Tara as a typical multiple is frustrating for someone like me. I have to contend with the sideways glances as people try to catch me switch. I have been asked by shrinks or support workers to switch on demand. I also have to manage the typical reactions of people who are permitted to observe an obvious switch, which is usually fear and fascinated voyeurism.

This brings me to my next major concern about Tara. The show brings up some of the greatest fears experienced by multiples or by the general community about multiples. ‘Younger’ parts making sexual advances to a young person. Parts being killed off or disappearing. Parts who embody an abuser. A multiple who cannot be trusted to care for an infant. I’m not saying these things never happen, but when the public understanding of multiplicity is based on Tara, Sybil, and numerous serial killer movies, this makes me angry. This is not representative of multiples! I have never ever put a child at risk, been sexually inappropriate with a child, and none of my system are abusers, violent, sociopathic, or sadistic. Multiples watched this series, saw some of our worst fears brought to life, and we’re left without answers, without assurance, and for many of us, without any other resources or supports in our lives. I feel this is shortsighted at best and unethical at worst. So many of us are so alone, so afraid of ourselves, so stigmatised, labouring under books of rigid advice about how we should function, stuck with a medical model that construes multiplicity as a sickness, and treated by the wider community as serial killers and freaks. I think conversations and depictions of multiplicity need to be sensitive to this context, and to maintain hope, honesty, freedom, diversity, and respect. I think Tara starts this conversation but falls a long way short of the hopes I had for it as a resource and tool to advocate on behalf of multiples.

For more information see articles listed on Multiplicity Links, scroll through posts in the category of Multiplicity, or explore my Network The Dissociative Initiative.

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