This post describes the thinking and feeling behind our new zine Triangles (and Circles) of Selves.
It takes the form of an interview between the self who created it – Fox – and another self – James. If you haven’t read one of our plural blog-posts before and aren’t sure who these people are, feel free to check out our other Plural Selves zines, and our free books about Plurality. But hopefully you don’t need to get that part in order to find the content here interesting.
Location: Fox’s favourite cafe.
Food: Poached eggs, avo, halloumi brunch, with black americano
TLDR: Fox has made a new zine about plurality and they’re very excited about it. You can find it here.
James: It has been a while since we’ve done one of these.
James: So I did. Readers could be forgiven for thinking that our plural experience has lessened since then, given how most of our blog posts have been written from a collective ‘I’, rather than as dialogues between us.
Fox: Not at all. If anything, our plurality has become even more vivid, and more of a central part of our everyday life, work, and relating. But we’ve been working deeply with our two most traumatised selves – Robin and Morgan – in the kinds of ways we wrote about back in 2020 and 2021. It felt too vulnerable to share from – or about – them very openly while we were doing that work.
James: An important aspect of ‘no part gets left behind’: ensuring that everyone feels comfortable with the level of sharing. But you did manage the Plural Selves 2 zine this time last year, and now this new zine: Triangles (and Circles) of Selves.
Fox: I did! It feels helpful to us to track our own plural experience through these zines: from 2017 to 2022 to now. And it shows how we’re all always a work in progress: all of us. Hopefully it’s also useful to share with others what we’re learning about plurality, which might be helpful to them as well: whether they have a vividly plural experience like us, or just as sense of containing different parts or subpersonalities that they want to explore more, and everything in between.
James: I want to ask you more about all of that. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
Fox: That can happen with me!
James: Very true *smiles* So help me out here with a bit of a plan before we begin.
James: I want to ask you about the zine: why you wrote it and what it means to you. Then I want to ask you about your creative process because I know you love that.
Fox: It makes me feel like a proper creative type!
James: Which you are. Plus I’m intrigued about the directions our creativity is going in with you. And finally I want to touch on the picture we’ve used to illustrate this blog post: your latest image of our plural system.
James: Alright then.
Fox: Let’s do this!
The Triangles (and circles) of selves zine
Fox: Okay. So the Plural Selves 2 zine, which we wrote this time last year, was a very visual comic-type zine about the kinds of selves we’ve found in our system, and how people might explore whether they have similar kinds of selves themselves. But since then, we’ve come across a number of plural ideas which have helped us to understand ourselves – how we were formed and the roles we play – even better.
James: It’s not a completely different set of ideas to Plural Selves 2 then?
Fox: Not at all. But it has this idea of a core triangle of selves at the heart of it, which a lot of people have found helpful when we shared it with them.
James: That’s why you wrote this zine really, because so many people in our lives kept asking if there was anywhere they could point people to, to explain these ideas.
Fox: Right, and there is this book Being and Becoming, by Franklyn Sills, which is where we found out some of these ideas. But that’s quite a dense book aimed at therapists, and it also doesn’t cover all of the different ideas I wanted to explore.
James: Basically you noticed that these kinds of triangles kept showing up in many of the different things we were reading: from literature on developmental trauma, to writing about relationships, to Buddhist teachings, to recovery community resources, to autism articles, to books about the politics of trauma and traumatising cultures.
Fox: Yes, so I wanted to make a zine to show how all these triangles map onto each other, at all levels of experience from existential, through sociocultural, relational, and internal bodyminds.
James: This is the post-humanist kind of model you were playing with in your Queering Creative Health zine: the idea that we’re always inevitably embodied, entangled with other beings, and embedded in the wider world. So we need to understand everything about ourselves at all those levels of experience.
Fox: And we’re existential: because we’re beings who know they exist – and have to figure out how to be given that – or something!
James: Something like that. You explain it all very well in this zine.
James: So you’re saying you were motivated to put something out there explaining all these triangles and how they map onto each other, because others were finding it helpful when we shared about it.
Fox: Exactly. That’s why this zine is really a long essay with pictures. Or a lot of little essays. Not a comic like most of my zines are.
James: We’ll get to that shift in a moment. Could you just explain the main idea of the triangle model simply, so people get a sense of it.
Fox: Okay right. The idea is that – for all kinds of reasons existential, sociocultural, relational, and internal – people tend to create a singular self, who they present to the world, who is trying to perform everything they’ve learnt to think of as ‘good’. But doing this means pushing down into the shadow or unconsciousness, two selves who are seen as ‘bad’ in different ways: A needy/vulnerable self who is constantly yearning for love and connection, and a rejecting/rejected self who holds all our ‘bad’ experiences and sees the ‘bad’ in others.
James: And where do the circles come in?
Fox: *laughs* you know where they come in! It’s you: You and Ara.
James: For our readers!
Fox: Okay. So our sense is that we needed two other selves, in order to bring those unconscious selves out of the shadow, and to free them to enable them to be what they’re capable of. We see the two other selves as the top and bottom halves of a circle which can go around the triangle, containing it.
James: And how would you describe these two halves?
Fox: The top half is a kind of witnessing self. She can hold the others in a big enough space for them to bring themselves in fully, and she can see them with a loving gaze.
James: And that vital bottom half? What’s that like?
Fox: Oh I don’t know. Nothing very important really.
Fox: Okay, the bottom half – who we might or might not call James – is like a grounding self, who can hold everyone steady. He can do the everyday life stuff while the top half of the circle is helping everyone to feel their old pains, and free themselves of their old patterns.
James: He sounds great.
Fox: Doesn’t he though?! Obviously the genders of these selves will be different for different people. But in us the witness is a she and the grounding is a he.
James: Right. And the zine explores a whole bunch of different ways in which we might understand the triangles, and the circles.
Fox: Yep. This zine is really focused on the ideas, while our other plural zines were a lot about the practices we use to get to know, and love, all our selves.
I guess we had struggled sometimes with all the different models of how people work and relate. You know like the trauma 4Fs, and the shame compass, inner child understandings, attachment theory, and all of that. I saw the triangle as a kind of constant through all those ideas. Maybe, like us, people might find it a useful touchstone to draw on all of those understandings – and others – instead of getting freaked out about which one is the ‘right’ one or something.
James: I see. It’s a way of weaving together all these understandings, so they stop competing with each other and start working together. Any of them can then be a helpful way into this overall understanding of how people work.
Unique or Universal?
James: That brings us to something I know you’ve struggled with. Is this a universal theory that applies to everyone?
Fox: Ugh, it’s such a paradoxy question. Like absolutely not, because nothing good ever came from imposing universal theories of how people work on everyone. And, at the same time, kinda yes, maybe, because there are some similar patterns that seem to show up in all these different understandings of how people work – from micro to macro – and across very different philosophies, faiths, and spiritualities.
James: It’s something we think about a lot isn’t it? What’s unique and what’s universal?
Fox: Right. It goes back to the levels model really. If we think about our experience of plurality: that idea of creating a ‘good’ self and disowning the ‘bad’. Some of that – we reckon – is an existential thing that many – if not all – humans do in order to deal with things like the fact they are going to die, and the way that the world around them tells them how they should be. But some of how it works for us is due to our cultural context: growing up, and living now, in a white imperialist country which bases pretty much everything – laws, education, healthcare, media, etc. – on this rigid set of ideas about what it is to be a ‘normal’ ‘successful’ individual self.
James: Right, so some of how we experience ourselves could be really different from how people experience themselves in other cultural contexts: Less individualistic cultures, for example, or cultures which readily accept that a number of selves, souls, or spirits, can share a body/mind.
Fox: Exactly. And then, going down another level, some of how we experience ourselves is due to the specifics of the way we were treated growing up in this culture. Like the kinds of developmental trauma we experienced, or what it was like to be a being who didn’t fit neatly into many categories.
Fox: Boy/girl, gay/straight, working/middle class background, northern/southern, and – related to our undiagnosed autism – abled/disabled, stupid/smart… So many really.
Fox: So some of our experience will likely only resonate with others who grew up in a similar time and place, or those with similar kinds of developmental trauma and/or neurodivergence, or those who have similar experiences of being between or beyond binaries, or of challenging normative classification models in some way.
James: And that relates to the inner level.
Fox: Exactly, some aspects of our plural experience are probably completely unique to us: to the ways in which our particular bodymind has been shaped – and continues to be shaped – by all these things.
James: So what does that mean for how we present these ideas?
Fox: I guess I always want to ensure that we present them in an invitational way. I think it is helpful to present our particular experience of plurality, because it does seem to resonate with a lot of people we speak with, and because it brings to life how people might do this kind of plural work themselves. So much writing on plurality doesn’t really ‘walk the walk’ in that way. You can be left, after reading it, wondering: yeah but how does it actually feel to be plural? How do you actually relate with each other? How could I explore my own plurality if it’s all unfamiliar to me?
James: Those are the kinds of questions we’re trying to help people with, by showing them how we work, and telling them about what’s worked for us.
Fox: Right but invitational. Starting with that sense – always – that some of this may be helpful to everyone, some to people only of a similar cultural context, some to people only of a similar relationship background, some – perhaps – only to other autistic, plural systems, who carry the same kinds of developmental trauma that we do.
James: And some is just our own unique team MJ way of experiencing stuff.
Fox: Our own particular weirdness.
Fox: I guess I hope that even that could be helpful. Like it could give people permission that of course it will all work in particular weird and wonderful ways for them too, and that is something to be celebrated, not resisted. That’s part of the problem, isn’t it? The idea we should all conform to some universal, or cultural, or community, ideal of ‘normal’.
James: Right. And one gift of plurality is that you know that – even internally – you can’t possibly conform, because you are however-many-number of different selves, or parts, who see the world in radically different, often contradictory, ways.
James: Okay, so nearly done with the zine. Just tell me something about how it relates to our book project.
Fox: Right, so we hope to write a book, over the next year or more, called Incorrigibly Plural. In a way the zine was my first attempt to write the core of that book: The set of ideas that we’ll be playing with there.
James: How will the book differ?
Fox: Well, I hope – if you all feel up to it – that you’ll each write from yourselves, about what it’s like to be each of those selves: the needy/vulnerable self, the witnessing self, and all that.
James: So there’ll be all of our voices in there, maybe some dialogue between us all too.
Fox: Right. Telling the story of how we’ve done this: each self’s journey, and how we relate together.
James: Anything else?
Fox: Well the book will also be more practical than the zine, including a lot of the creative, therapeutic, spiritual, relational, and somatic practices that we’ve found helpful for doing this kind of selves work. And pointing people at other people’s work as well.
James: And I guess we’ll cover this universal/unique issue in more depth.
Fox: Absolutely. One thing I want to do is to emphasise this sense that both complementary-ness and contradictory-ness are helpful: That we can hold sameness and difference. So, like, we – our plural selves – have a lot of similarities in our values, passions, that kind of thing. But, like you said, we’re also very different. One thing we’re learning together is how to be alongside each other in that difference instead of in opposition.
James: Nicely put. What do you mean?
Fox: Well like, we could see it as a problem, when we contradict each other. Like pulling in opposite directions, someone’s always going to lose out. Or we could see it as a gift of plurality, that we can always see every situation from at least five different perspectives. That enables us to get a way fuller picture of everything that’s going on. And then we go through a process of deciding how to engage with whatever-it-is which brings all of us along with us. That feels amazing, when we can do that. And it maybe helps us learn something about how people, or groups, could manage to be alongside each other in their sameness and difference too.
James: So being with where we complement each other and where we contradict each other.
Fox: You’re looking very dapper today James, but I don’t completely agree with your choice of socks.
James: I see what you did there. Personally I think these socks are an excellent choice. Very cosy for a Winter day.
Fox: Not colourful enough.
James: Sadly a problem with so much of our wardrobe when you are the only self in our system who likes bright colours.
Fox: Sadly, sadly. I’m still campaigning for more orange.
James: You want to do the same thing with ideas in the book right? Complementary and contradictory.
Fox: Yes, thank-you. The zine could give the impression that all these ideas – all these triangles – just complement each other perfectly. But there are also contradictions between them. I want to get those across in the book. Like, again, it’s not a problem that there are very different stories we could tell about the way our plurality manifests. If we can hold multiple truths as valid then we can learn from the dialogue between them, instead of getting stuck trying to find the one right, true answer.
James: How’re you planning to do that?
Fox: I think we’ll present the zine ideas in the book, and then give – like – twenty different stories through our experience, from different perspectives. To show how it can be helpful both to find those common threads – like the multiple triangles that map onto each other – and to voice all the contradictory stories and hold all of them as valid and valuable also.
James: I like it.
The creative self?
James: Okay moving on from the zine and the book, I can’t help noticing that you seem to be leading on all of our creativity these days.
Fox: It does seem like that doesn’t it?
James: What d’you make of that?
Fox: Good question. I guess I need to start with a bit about who I am.
Fox: Our sense is that, when we stopped trying to present a singular ‘good’ individual self to the world, that made space for me to come forward more in our system. I feel like the self we were – or maybe could have been – without trauma: just open to experience, curious, present to whatever is happening.
Fox: At first we mistook that for me being some kind of ‘child’ self, because I have childlike qualities. So I kind of took the lead on drawing pictures, like in the monster feelings zine. I still feel very committed to the idea of presenting ideas in formats other than words – and explaining things simply, and visually. But more and more I seem to have been the one of us who gets excited about all kinds of creativity. This year I wrote that Queer Creative Health zine that we were commissioned to produce. Then I was the one who wrote this plural selves zine, even though it is much more writing than my previous zines. And just recently I wrote a purely written chapter, for Alex’s new anthology: Trans and Disabled.
James: Which also explores some of the ideas we’ve been discussing here.
Fox: Out next year!
James: I guess writing used to be the job of our central/performing self, back when we thought we were a singular self.
Fox: Right, and there were risks with that. Like it might come from a singular voice and perspective, when now we know the value of drawing on all of our voices and perspectives. Also the central/performing self is very invested in demonstrating they are ‘good’. There’s a risk that writing from that place could come across as too self-deprecating, or too defensive, or as having something to prove. All of that gets in the way of that invitational way of writing that feels so important to us now.
James: A style where people really feel permission to read it if it resonates, and not if it doesn’t. And where they can feel able to take what works for them and leave the rest – as Alex says – no implicit pressure from us for them to agree with us.
Fox: Right. And that’s all the more important now we recognise that everyone reading our work will also be as multiplicitous and contradictory as we are. Different people may relate to our work, or not, but also different parts of the same person, or selves in the same system. In the book I want us to directly speak to different selves – or parts – in the reader, as well as speaking from different selves in us.
James: You’re welcome.
Fox: *Grin* What was the question again?
James: Um, oh yes, so you were saying that we used to write from the central/performing self. What happened next?
Fox: After our plurality became more vivid, I gradually took over the picture-based kind of stuff, and we did a bunch of those blog posts as dialogue that are now in our plurality free books. But when we had to do serious writing, you mostly took that on: as our everyday life kind of self.
Fox: How was that for you?
James: It was okay. I liked that I was writing informed by all of your experiences. It felt like a way of honouring what you were all doing. And you know I have a sense of myself as in service to the rest of you. So it kind of fit with that.
Fox: I sense a but coming!
James: Heh. Yes, I guess it didn’t feel like my forte. I think I enjoy being of service in other ways more. I enjoy doing the practical life things so the rest of you can get on with your spiritual, therapeutic, and creative work, and with connecting with other people. And I enjoy looking after you in that grounding way when one of you is struggling, and gentling you up in the evenings, hearing about your days.
Fox: You’re excellent at all of that James.
James: *smiles* Writing felt like… I could do it, but it wouldn’t be as heartfelt as if any of the rest of you were doing it. I’m not so big on feelings.
Fox: Except feeling for all of us.
James: I am big on those feelings.
Fox: Morgan tried doing some of our writing too. It probably means the most to her because she is the one who is so committed to truth-telling: the one whose voice has been so silenced through our lives. But she’s also the one who holds the inner criticism so it can be so painful for her. It’s hard for her to not keep questioning whether it’s good enough, or to struggle with the contradictions, or with being invitational rather than imposing.
James: You and I are more relaxed about such things.
Fox: We just sit down in a cafe and write about all the weird stuff that we think about all the time!
Fox: Sometimes we have the image of me with a clipboard. Like I’m running around everyone else watching what they’re doing, jotting down what they’re saying, and then I can write a report on it all.
James: Which is kind of what you did with the monster feelings zine. Most of them were not your feelings.
Fox: Except for the fizzy creative feelings!
James: Except those. You listened to Robin and Morgan describe their feelings and then turned them into pictures. It was a lovely process.
Fox: And now I’m expanding that, to write for others based on all of the things I’ve jotted down on my clipboard.
James: So do you think you’ll be the key author of our plural book?
Fox: I’m not sure. Ara wrote for the first time the other day – just her – and it was beautiful. Like she can write from that place of seeing us all, and everybody else, with that loving gaze. And. of course, in the book I’m hoping that everyone will tell their own stories, and write in dialogue together too.
James: Watch this space then?
James: Which brings us to the last thing I wanted to ask you about. This picture you drew of us all yesterday.
Fox: Yes! I loved drawing that!
James: Tell me what it means to you.
Fox: Well I’ve drawn a few comics and cartoons of us in the past – or we have – but I guess I took it on after a while as the main drawing self.
James: Right. We even wrote a whole paper about comics and plural selves before that didn’t we?
Fox: Oh yes we did! Anyway, we hadn’t drawn ourselves for a year. And there have been a few important changes in our system since then.
James: Tell us about that.
Fox: Well a huge one is we’re now five instead of seven.
James: What happened there?!
Fox: Heh you know.
James: For our readers.
Fox: Well, as we focused on Robin and Morgan’s journeys we had the sense of the self we called Max gradually emptying out. We could still talk to her but it was like she was up in the hills somewhere most of the time. She always seemed very relaxed and okay with it. Like she was the previous central/performing self who just didn’t have to be anymore, and that was a huge relief. We also felt the self we called Jonathan around less and less, only really coming forward to do the cooking, and even then he didn’t really like it if we asked him how he was doing or anything.
Fox: It struck us that perhaps Max was an aspect of Morgan and Jonathan an aspect of Robin. Like trauma had split Morgan into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ halves (Max, and the one we used to call Beastie), and Robin into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ halves (Jonathan, and the one we used to call Tony). It felt like the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in both of them were coming back together. Like we could feel how Morgan encompassed the kinds of energies we used to associate with Max and Beastie, and Robin those we associated with Jonathan and Tony. It took a while, and it was sometimes confusing – and sad – to lose those selves who we loved so much. I guess that’s one of those contradictions, James. It’s true to say that we lost nothing, because we still feel them in Morgan and Robin. And it’s also true to say we have lost them, and that we feel the grief and sadness of that loss, alongside a relief that the five-system feels more balanced and ‘right’ than seven ever did.
James: At one point years ago we thought we might be nine. There was a similar relief when we realised it was seven, not nine.
Fox: Mm, which does not necessarily mean five-forever. We always want to be open to different selves emerging or merging. We still sometimes have a sense of these wispy fragments of Robin and Morgan’s shadow selves: like the worst possible versions of them floating around a bit untethered. And we feel it is vital to welcome them wholeheartedly every time we feel their presence, even though they’re very into trying to scare us with just how monstrous and unacceptable they are.
James: No part gets left behind.
Fox: Exactly, and it is so important to us to recognise that – just like everyone – we contain the capacity to be harmful, to do the worst things that humans are capable of. The path towards causing less harm comes from accepting that with great honesty, not by denying it and shoving those little ghosts and demons back under the rug.
James: Well put. More of that in the book I suspect.
Fox: Oh definitely.
James: So you were saying. One big shift in our system was to being five instead of seven, because we recognised Robin and Morgan as incorporating the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ boy and girl, respectively.
Fox: Mmhm. The other big shift is even more recent. Ara came in way more fully.
James: She did!
Fox: We weren’t expecting it. She’s been available all the time since summer 2020. Like if any of us wanted to be with her we could, any time. But we visualised her as sitting in a field somewhere that we could go and visit, or on the stoop of our imaginary house. She wasn’t quite one of us, in the way the rest of us were. I guess we thought it’d always be that way, given that she’s the witnessing self. Maybe she needed all that solitude and space in order to be able to hold us when we went to her.
James: But she started to be more present, on long walks particularly.
Fox: She walks. A. Lot. More. Slowly. Than. The. Rest. Of. Us.
Fox: Then she had a session with our therapist, talking as herself: as Ara. And after that it was like she was embodied fully. One of us. Hopefully she’ll share all of that more in the book, but for us it was like we could engage with her way more readily in our everyday life, and she was having a lot more of her own experiences.
James: And I could let go of some of the holding and hearing that I’d been doing. She took it over.
Fox: You’re, like, a gentleman of leisure now right? I do the creativity, Ara does the holding…
James: There’s still plenty to do. And also, someone has to hold you and Ara when it’s been a lot.
Fox: You’re doing brilliantly. You know that right?
James: I do okay. You know me, just steady steady, step by step through the day; through the life.
James: So this picture.
Fox: *Grin* So I guess we’d never really known what Ara looked like before. I’d drawn her in a certain way, but it was kind of a mash up of people we’d felt compassion from in the past, rather than a real sense of what she feels like – the way I draw the rest of us. When I did the latest picture she came out looking like she feels. She’s a bit more like I used to draw Max, with the short white hair, but her face conveys the feeling that I used to convey in the more mash-up pictures of Ara.
James: She also has a nice cosy looking coat on.
Fox: That just felt right somehow.
James: So why this picture this way?
Fox: Well people might have noticed that it’s a riff on the poster from the 1980s movie ‘The Breakfast Club’. We were out walking the other day – fast not slow because it was me walking and listening to our tunes – and ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ came on, which is the song from that movie. And suddenly I thought we mapped onto the characters in that film, now that we are five.
James: One of our favourite games: who would each of us be from this movie, or that TV show, or that book?
Fox: It is one of the most fun plural games.
James: So what appealed about ‘The Breakfast Club’, exactly?
Fox: Well it wasn’t precisely the characters. I mean a little bit in the way there’s a character who is a sad, angry girl – the way Morgan can be – and there’s a character who is a scared boy – the way we can experience Robin. But the other characters, not so much.
James: So you don’t think you bear any resemblance to a princess then…?
Fox: Hey! I mean I guess I am here being treated by you to brunch and an extra hot chocolate. But other than that not at all. I mean (1) I’m not gendered, and (2) I wear orange, not pink. At least when I’m allowed to…
James: Alright, alright. So what was it that amused you about us being the characters from ‘The Breakfast Club’?
Fox: Well the set up is that they are five school students who are all shut in detention together, and they are completely different: ‘A brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse’. And by the end of the movie they’ve learnt how to get along.
James: Spoiler alert.
Fox: Dude it came out in 1984. It’s an iconic John Hughes movie. Anyone who is going to watch it has already watched it.
James: Heh you’re feisty today.
Fox: Know your place serving man.
James: *laughs* very well prince/ss? Your honour? Majesterial majestical monarch.
James: Anyway, you’re saying you like the idea of us as five very different selves locked in together, learning about each other: what we have in common, and how to relate across our differences.
Fox: Exactly. You could say that’s the situation of our lives – born into this bodymind together. Or you could say it’s what happened from 2020 onwards. Like, literally, locked in, the five of us together.
James: ‘They only met once, but it changed their lives forever.’
Fox: Like ‘The Breakfast Club’ if they all decided to move in together after the movie.
James: Personally I like that I occupy the position of the ‘rebel’ in our version of the poster. Looking pretty hunky and moody there too.
Fox: I wouldn’t make too much of it, Ara is in the position of the ‘jock’ which is hardly her is it?
James: Way to burst my bubble: the brooding hero, James.
Fox: Maybe in a parallel universe.
James: I’ll take it. Anything else to say?
Fox: I don’t think so. Just that the title of the picture – ‘Incorrigibly Plural’ – is the title we’re playing with for the book. And we’ll be writing more about that in a chapter we’re writing for a new anthology on neuroqueer: what it means to embrace being incorrigibly plural.
James: Perhaps we’ll share some of that here when that chapter comes out.
Fox: Plan. Thanks for this James.
James: Right back at you littlest.