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Politenesses to make it easier on friends
By members of the Blackbirds, the Hondas & Astraea
August 12, 2002

So you've just come out to your friends/social circles/pet dog, and they've been polite enough to not use terms on you that you don't like or they're willing to follow the plural preferences? Great! But what about things your group can do to make it easier on them?

1. Be patient when people ask questions. We've invited questions via the Layman's Guide; it's our responsibility to make it easy for them to ask, and to be patient even with things that may seem ridiculous or obvious to us. Remember, this is a very different way of thinking for most singlets. They need maximum exposure to plurality as an open, friendly, human state of being. Set an example by providing thoughtful, courteous replies to all questions. If you don't know the answer, say so, and take the extra time to help the person find out, if possible.

2. Try an online group journal, diary or blog. Online journals can be useful to familiarize people outside the group with those they might not speak with directly on a regular basis. By reading entries by different persons, they can be better prepared with an idea of the person if they ever meet them.

Individuals should sign their entries, if at all possible. Some groups do so at the end of entries, while others do it at the beginning. Livejournal is preferred by some groups because it allows you to use small, customizable images (see below on the use of icons) to identify yourselves. In Livejournal, these images are viewable only if you are being read on another person's 'friends' page or if you go into the individual entry ("comments") section, but they are still a good thing to have.

3. Use icons with pictures of individuals and names.
In an online environment, images are a strong means to help communicate information without breaking the flow of a paragraph, as well as a simple identification tool. If a person sees a picture such as a Livejournal userpic or AIM icon, they can instantly associate the words written by that person much more strongly than if they had only a name without a picture.

You can use a simple graphics editor to create pictures with names merged in, so that readers have a visual marker from the beginning. Livejournal icons are 100x100 pixels: AIM's are 48x48. You'd be surprised what you can get into such a small area, with a little ingenuity.

Such icons are invaluable for settings such as AIM, when many people may step up and back during a conversation. Many groups report feeling awkward over identifying themselves, or might simply forget to do so when someone steps out fully enough ("Hi, this is ___"), so the subtler marker of a named image tag is very useful indeed.

Icons can help give an idea of a person's general appearance, mood, or atmosphere, depending on choice of images and text. You can also make general icons for the group -- with just the group name on them -- when many people are out or an individual does not feel comfortable identifying him/herself. This way, others know they are speaking with someone other than whom they're used to, even if an individual's name is not given. People feel more comfortable online if they have an image to relate to. This can become especially useful for persons in the group who have nonhumanoid bodies. If you are a sentient octopus, by all means find a nice octopus graphic and put your name on it.

Trillian, the free program that operates five different chat clients, can use 48x48 "buddy icons" for AIM. It's also possible to create "weemees" or other types of avatars in AOL Instant Messenger and other messaging programs.

Here's some examples:

IM Icons LJ Icons

4. If possible, Keep a fairly consistent staff of frontrunners, and keep others informed of changes in the staff. It's not always possible for every group to do this. But if you can, it's wise to keep a consistent general group, at least at first, with whom outsiders can come to expect to interact. It creates a sense of familiarity and security. This way, even though there may be many dozens of people around, outsiders can count on the presence of at least one person they know and will feel comfortable speaking to.

Many functional groups have no particular subgroup of frontrunners. Some don't have a lot of co-consciousness or in-house communication, and even some groups who do communicate well, such as Astraea, cannot control who's up front at any given time. These things don't prevent a group from being functional. If your group doesn't operate in such a way as to allow for a consistent frontrunning staff, there are other things you can do. Whoever comes up can introduce themselves. In writing emails or online diary entries, you can identify yourself in the subject line, and sign it. In chat, you can use named icons, as described above.

By providing an open platform of stability, you allow others to continue feeling they can rely on you even when they do not know all the details.

5. Identify names of persons in your group, and distinguish people in your group from people outside it.
While the phrase, 'X of [Group]' is still in use, it can get confusing sometimes --particularly when you are referring to many people in the same group. Also, many groups have people with names in common. Readers will better understand who you are referring to when you are able to distinguish which Ruth you are speaking of, for example.

One means is to identify plural status in a name by stating an '&' symbol after either the group name or the individual's name. For example, in speaking of the group of the Blackbirds and an individual named Lucas within it, you can use either Blackbirds& or Lucas& if Lucas is currently speaking for the group but wishes to be directly addressed in replies.

For speaking of individuals within the same group as the speaker, the '^' sign can be used before the name. A person in Lucas' group who is talking about Lucas would refer to him as ^Lucas. If a person outside his group wished to refer to Lucas in terms of his group, it would be Blackbirds^Lucas. Since there are people named Lucas in other systems, you can also use this to distinguish between Army^Lucas, Blackbirds^Lucas, etc.

In practice, it would work like this:

Lucas and Luka are in the group of the Blackbirds.
Jay and John are in the group of Astraea.

The Blackbirds refer to Astraea as Astraea&, Jay&, or John& depending on whether they're specifying the group in general, or an individual in terms of her group.

Luka would refer to Lucas as ^Lucas in her writings because they are both in the Blackbirds.
John would refer to Lucas as Lucas in his writings, because Lucas is not in Astraea group.

If Astraea needed to identify Lucas to a third party, they would refer to him as Blackbirds^Lucas; if the Blackbirds spoke about John to a third party, they'd say Astraea^John.

The [group]& convention translates in speech to "[group]-and", or just the group's name, while individuals using ^ retain the old designation "[name] of [group]", or occasionally "[group]'s [name]" (Lucas of the Blackbirds; Shaytar's Jeren). Some people use a name-group @ designation, e.g., Lucas@Blackbirds.

It sounds complicated, but it becomes easy quickly. Use this or any other means you are comfortable with, as long as people can understand who and what you're referring to.

6. Do not go to lengths to prove the existence of others by introducing a number of people at once.
Plurals who come out to their friends wish to assure them that this fact will change little about their basic friendship. The desire to prove or provide details for nonplural friends has been known to unsettle others with the feeling that everything is completely different with the number of people they must become accustomed to.

In the experience of many groups, most outside the group usually only interact with a handful of people. Even if those relationships remain strong, non-plurals sometimes report feeling as if they have "lost the person they were friends with" as they suddenly become aware of many others. They may also feel as if the individual they knew was somehow unreal, since what may have appeared to be one person may actually have been several working together. Rather than disturbing their mental footing, let outside people go at their own pace. Some friends would prefer to continue interacting with the specific individuals they know, even if they understand and respect that those individuals are part of a group.

6. Do not expect automatic respect because you come from/are/etc. In any case, we should expect others to behave toward us with common courtesy no matter what we are, but not expect to be treated in the earth world with the kind of reverence we may get back home, unless we are able to demonstrate that we deserve it. It may be hard for us to remember that others don't always see who we really are. In our own worlds we may be Gods, princesses, guardians, mighty hunters or whizbang journalists, but nobody's going to see that out here unless we bring some of those traits with us into the earth world, which is very hard sometimes.

The wisest thing for us to remember whether we're angels, aliens or aristocrats, is always to behave with courtesy and self-respect, which will hopefully earn us the same in return.

"But aren't we asking for special treatment simply because we're plural?" No. What we're asking for is common respect. Right now, we have none. Say "multiple personality" and the public thinks of impossible mental cases. A web search turns up one crude joke after another, people make casual reference to plurals as sociopaths, TV and movies show us almost invariably as serial murderers. This public fear and ignorance is what must be overcome. Every minority has had to fight for public acceptance and an end to invisibility. Now it's our turn.

You can write to Pavilion at pavilion@ karitas . net. Back to the library
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