What Are Opposite-Gender Alters in Dissociative Identity Disorder?

September 4, 2019 Becca Hargis

If living with dissociative identity disorder (DID) is not challenging enough, it can be even more difficult and imposing when learning your system might include opposite-gender alters.

You probably know already how alters are formed in the first place, but just in case, let's refresh our memory. An alter is created in a dissociative identity disorder system when the child can no longer bear the harsh, prolonged abuse inflicted upon him or her. Alters, or headmates as I call them, develop when there is an overwhelming need for someone to undergo the trauma that the original child cannot handle.

What Does It Mean to Have an Opposite-Gendered Alter

When I refer to opposite-gender alters, I am not discussing sexuality, sexual orientation, or the topic of being transgendered, although these topics are worthy of future consideration. For the purposes of this post, we are focusing solely on the role of alters who are oppositely gendered than that of the physical body. For example, we will focus on male headmates in a female body and female headmates in a male body.

Why is this important to discuss? It has been suggested that at least 60% of all DID systems have at least one opposite-gendered headmate. These headmates that are of a different sex are formed almost always because the DID system needs safety. 

So how does the opposite-gender alter create safety? What is his or her role?

Categories of Opposite-Gender Alters

Opposite-gender headmates are divided into two categories: protectors and persecutors. All opposite-gender headmates are, in their unique way, trying to repair and undo the trauma to which the system is subjected.

Let's talk about protection first. An opposite-gendered alter might be created to protect the child from the trauma. How? When a female child is sexually abused repeatedly, the mind might develop a male alter that can handle the constant trauma because he naturally has different body parts. In the child's mind, if she does not have the sexual female parts that are repeatedly being violated, then the trauma can't exist because she doesn't have the body parts that are repeatedly violated. In other words, if you don't have a vagina, then you cannot be vaginally raped. An opposite-gendered alter is created to take on the abuse because he does not have vaginal parts. In other words, no female body parts equal no abuse in the child's mind, and that is protection.

A female child might also create a male headmate that is a persecutor to other headmates or to the currently fronting host. This male persecutor, in his attempt to fix the traumatic situation, might victimize other women in an attempt to get psychological control over the system's own traumatic circumstances. Being in control, even if it is harmful, equals protection.

Though there is not as much research on male systems which contain female headmates, it has been suggested that a male child that is being abused might create a female headmate because he needs a "mother" role in the attempt to soften what might be angry and aggressive behavior on his part as a male DID sufferer. This maternal headmate would serve as protection by mitigating the destructive emotions he might have.

The Opposite-Gendered Alter in My System

My own system has an opposite-gendered headmate. His function is protection. He provides safety and comfort when we feel the need to be taken care of. Unlike other systems, our male headmate does not come forward or ever take executive control. He stays in the background, always ready to care for us when we feel abandoned, unloved, or unsupported.  

In contrast to my system's opposite-gendered headmate, alters of other systems might encounter more assertive headmates that wish to front and take executive control. Sometimes this might pose a concern within the system because an opposite-gendered headmate might want to dress in the way he or she experiences his or her gender.

For example, a female body and its system might feel uncomfortable if her opposite-gendered male headmate desires to dress in a stereotypical male fashion, thus looking more masculine than is comfortable for the female alters.

Conversely, a male DID system might have a female headmate who wants to wear long hair, dresses, and makeup. This might embarrass the male headmates.

Supporting Opposite-Gendered Alters

Some headmates might recoil when they discover that their system contains a gender that is different than the physical body. However, it is important to remember that the opposite-gendered alter has been there all along, so it is not really news or different from how the system already functions, you just were not aware of his or her existence beforehand.

Though it might be difficult to learn you have opposite-gender alters, it is important to keep in mind that these headmates of the opposite sex need just as much compassion as the rest of the system, and they need not be feared. They were created to handle the abuse that was too overwhelming for you, and for that reason alone, they need to be supported and accepted as well as the other headmates in your system. 

For further discussion, please watch my video below as we discuss how to support the system and our opposite-gendered alters who might want the same freedom to front and exist in a manner that is different than the stereotypical forms of the physical body.

APA Reference
Hargis, B. (2019, September 4). What Are Opposite-Gender Alters in Dissociative Identity Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 17 from

Author: Becca Hargis

Becca is a mental health advocate who is passionate about ending the stigma against mental illness. She is currently writing a book on her experiences with dissociative identity disorder. You can connect with her on her personal blog, TwitterFacebook and on Instagram.

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