ARTICLE #1 – 19TH JULY, 2021
Hello Fellow Loony Listeners!
This is Leyna, and as promised, I’m here to give you my perspective on Moon Knight as someone who has dissociative identity disorder myself (well, ourselves). I’d like to start by going back to the basics, both with Moon Knight and DID.
A good place to start, when it comes to the basics of DID, is the official criteria for diagnosis of DID in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders), which is the book that most mental health professionals use for diagnosis. These are the five criteria:
- Two or more distinct identities or personality states are present, each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self.
- Amnesia must occur, defined as gaps in the recall of everyday events, important personal information, and/or traumatic events.
- The person must be distressed by the disorder or have trouble functioning in one or more major life areas because of the disorder.
- The disturbance is not part of normal cultural or religious practices.
- The symptoms cannot be due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (such as blackouts or chaotic behavior during alcohol intoxication) or a general medical condition (such as complex partial seizures).
Now of course, that’s just, as you might say, the “bare bones” of it. The actual experience of living with DID is a lot more complex, and as varied as the human race. For instance, the identities that exist within the mind of someone with DID are generally referred to as “alters”, but I’ve heard lots of different terms from various people with DID that I’ve known, such as parts, personalities, identities, inner family, headmates, teammates, the troops, etc. Personally, we usually use either alters or parts, although we do also think of each other as an internal family. A DID system (which is the term most people with DID, and therapists, use when talking about “the sum of our parts”,) can include alters of different genders, races, nationalities, sexual preferences, religions, etc., and can even include “non-human” alters such as animals, elves, aliens, vampires, or even a certain Egyptian god.
So why do our alters take the forms that they do? Well, it all comes down to the reason why DID exists in the first place, which is trauma. Specifically, early childhood trauma, almost always severe and repeated, although I’ve heard that it is possible for a DID system of only two alters to come about from a single incident of childhood trauma. The reason why DID always starts in childhood is that our sense of one unified “self” doesn’t fully solidify until about the age of 6-9 years old or so. Until then, it is somewhat malleable, and when we are exposed to severe trauma, our sense of identity can diverge, so that one self can be present for the trauma while the other is protected within the mind. Once this pattern of dealing with trauma is established, it becomes the default method for dealing with severe trauma, and we can potentially continue creating more alters well into adulthood, but it always starts in early childhood. The forms that the alters take are not by choice, but rather a subconscious-level response to either the nature of the trauma, or the nature of the child’s fantasies that they use to try to escape the trauma. For instance, in our case, we were born in a male body, but due to the fact that we didn’t fit the mold of how a boy “should” act, we were constantly mocked and ridiculed in our childhood about being “girly”, and so as a result, we have more female than male alters in our system. Also, we often read science fiction and fantasy books and superhero comics to escape from the pain of our trauma, and so several of our alters took the form of aliens, elves, mutants, etc.
With this understanding of how DID is formed, we can begin to see that the portrayal of Marc Spector’s formation of his identities in the early Moench comics was far from accurate. From several of the conversations that Steven Grant and the other identities had with Marlene, it seems that these identities started out as just aliases that Marc was using to be able to infiltrate different types of social structures. Marlene would jokingly call him her “Schizo” (which is both an offensive slur and inaccurate, since schizophrenia is a completely different disorder from DID), but in the next breath she would express genuine concern that these aliases that Marc was using were starting to become “all too real”. If they really were aliases that Marc invented in his adult life, Marlene needn’t have worried. It’s impossible to “invent” a DID system on purpose, especially in adulthood.
However, it is possible that the “aliases” were actually alters all along, and they had been around since Marc’s childhood, and he just didn’t realize it. That’s certainly the way that more recent writers like Lemire and Bemis have handled it, and it’s not really all that unrealistic. DID is a coping mechanism that is made for hiding. Hiding our pain from others, and from ourselves. That includes hiding the truth of our multiplicity from ourselves. Many DID systems have no idea that they are multiple until well into their adulthood. We were one of the lucky ones, in that we first discovered that we were multiple when we were eighteen years old, which is younger than most.
If we assume that Marc had actual DID all along, even during the early Moench stories, then interestingly enough, even though the DID was not portrayed accurately back then, it was actually portrayed more positively than many of the later runs. The way the alters worked together was a good example of something called “functional multiplicity”. This is a relatively newer method of pursuing healing for a DID system.
In years past, the main goal for DID healing was something called either “integration” or “final fusion”, which meant fusing or merging all of the alters back into one identity. But in more recent years, many DID systems and therapists have been starting to realize that this method doesn’t always work for everybody. It certainly never worked for us, even though we tried it for about the first nine years of our therapy. For us, it was easier and more productive to pursue functional multiplicity, which means that we are still multiple, but we try to improve our communication and cooperation with each other, and learn to work together to pursue common goals for our shared life.
Moon Knight, in the early Moench stories, was actually a very positive example of this type of cooperation. The four identities pretty much had one common set of goals, fighting crime and protecting the innocent, and each of them had their own role to play in pursuing those goals. Marc Spector had the military training and mercenary experience, as well as connections with the intelligence community, such as his Israeli intelligence friend Benjamin Abramov from issues 17-20 of Moon Knight Volume 1. Jake Lockley had the street-level connections and informants, such as Crawley and Gena’s sons. Steven Grant provided the financing for their mission, and had the business prowess and social graces needed to handle those finances. And of course, Moon Knight was the final expression of that mission, as the one who was out there actually fighting the criminals. They were fully aware of each other, and worked together seamlessly as an effective crime-fighting team. Of course, if you see it as one man using aliases, it’s not surprising that they could work together so well, but if you interpret it as a DID system, it is actually an impressive display of functional multiplicity, without the tropes and stigmas of being “crazy” or “dangerously unstable” that would haunt later iterations of the character.
It’s highly doubtful that Doug Moench intended Moon Knight to be a positive depiction of a functionally multiple DID system. After all, in a text piece about the origins of Moon Knight that he wrote for issue # 15, called “Shades of Moon Knight”, pretty much the only mention he makes of DID is saying “Perhaps I created the guy too soon after reading Flora Schreiber’s SYBIL…” Ralph Macchio, the editor for a lot of these early stories, has also confirmed in an interview with the Epic Marvel podcast that both he and Moench intended Moon Knight’s identities to be aliases, not actual DID. But nevertheless, I still think it’s an interesting thought exercise to look at those stories in the light of DID, and see them as an example of how a DID system can be effective in pursuing their goals without being insane or dangerously unstable.
That’s all I have for now, but I will write again, and until then, May Khonshu watch over the denizens of the night.