Notes on Twinning

Rachel Allen
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readApr 9, 2015

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  1. Twins are two offspring produced by one pregnancy. Other definitions I’ve read: “siblings resultant from a multiple birth”; “a person or thing that is exactly like another”; “something containing or consisting of two matching or corresponding parts.”
  2. As a child I developed an elaborate theatre piece in which I played both myself and the twin my parents kept secret. Within a single play date, I would enter as “Rachel,” exit, enter as “Chloe,” exit and then close as “Rachel,” whose lines I knew better.
  3. Rachel and Chloe shared a wardrobe.
  4. A fetus that develops alone in the womb is called a singleton.
  5. I have had the same best friend for most of my life. We are both tall and blue-eyed. In high school, we had the same color hair, and whenever we went somewhere people didn’t know us, we said we were twins. Dizygotic, sororal. Drunk on my seventeenth birthday, we told every man we met it was my birthday and we were twins. None of them asked if we meant “our” birthday.
  6. Twins seemed a little less glamorous, maybe, during the period of highly publicized high-order multiples. It was hot to be an octuplet at one point; “family-size” meant very large. Still, I was always only ever here for pairs.
  7. Hyper-ovulation tends to run in families, which means that some people are more likely than others to give birth to fraternal twins. There is no known genetic link for identical twinning.
  8. The man I love is exactly the same height as I am. We stretch out along each other and our body parts match. When I fit into his crotch to sleep at night, it is, of course, a sort of womb. My love has always been a twinning process.
  9. Male-female is the most “common variation” of human twin, says Wikipedia. In cattle, male-female twinning almost always results in the female’s masculinization and infertility. Chorions fuse in utero; the twins share a circulation system; the female fetus is suffused with the male fetus’ testosterone. Once born, the female twin, a freemartin, behaves like a castrated bull. Her brother is mostly unaffected by having shared a womb with her.
  10. When I ask my cattle-farming brother about cow twinning, he tells me one of his cows gave birth to male-female twins back in November. The mother only accepted her son; the freemartin daughter has since been bottle-fed.
  11. (There was a long-standing assumption in rural areas that women with male twins would also be more masculine, less fertile.)
  12. Sylvia thought of Ted as a twin. She wrote in her journal: “Between us there are no barriers — it is rather as if neither of us — or especially myself — had any skin, or on skin between us and we kept bumping into and abrading each other.”
  13. Reviewing The Haunting of Sylvia Plath for the London Review of Books, Elaine Showalter writes, “Although [Ted Hughes’] own poetic career brings him all the fame and honor [Plath] predicted, it is overshadowed by his role as her betrayer, her survivor. She has become his phantom limb.”
  14. When one twin dies and the other survives, which one is the ghost?
  15. A woman came in to the salon where I work the other day to buy hair product for her husband. From over her shoulder, the salon owner said, “I couldn’t believe that picture of [your husband’s] brother.” The woman, Emily, said, “I know right. They’re really identical.” The salon owner, my boss, made a joke about what it must be like to date a twin, to live in fear of showing affection to the wrong one. Emily smiled and said, “You know I’m a twin, too.” Then they joked about Emily’s own children, none of them twins. “If the last one had been twins, we would have thrown ourselves off a bridge.”
  16. As soon as she left, I typed this conversation into my phone.
  17. Twinning, like taking selfies, appeals to me both conceptually and pragmatically. To be a(n identical) twin is to live within sitcomic possibility. At any moment, you could switch places. You could take acid in Sao Paolo while your twin took your meetings in Santa Fe; you could also be kissed accidentally by your twin’s spouse.
  18. Heteropaternal superfecundation = distinct ova fertilized by sperm from more than one source-body, i.e. multiples with different fathers. In Greek mythology, Leda sleeps with her husband, the Spartan king, on the same night Zeus disguises himself as a swan to seduce her. From these couplings resulted two sets of twins: Helen (of Troy) and Clytemnestra, and Castor and Polydeuces. The mythology of each twins’ parentage is inconsistent, but in most traditions, Helen and Polydeuces are Zeus’ immortal offspring, while Castor and Clytemnestra are the mortal children of Tyndareus.
  19. The Gemini (the Latin name for Castor and Polydeuces, as a pair) were half-siblings. Twinning is only a matter of motherhood.
  20. Ova aside, it is also a matter of splitting in half.
  21. My best friend and I went to different high schools and so our friend groups only overlapped in certain places. I remember — sharply — wanting her to know whomever I knew. I also remember feeling hurt whenever she did not want to share a given friend with me. (The best and worst thing about her has always been her bluntness; she would say, “Rachel, these are my friends.”) I thought love was a kind of permeability. I thought it was ceaseless sharing. I now recognize this as a kind of violence.
  22. Maybe I do not want a twin. Maybe I want a host.
  23. A term I recently learned: selective reduction. A pregnant person can or sometimes must terminate one or more, but not all, of the fetuses in a multiple pregnancy. Usually this is done to increase the likelihood that at least one of the fetuses can be brought to term.
  24. When Castor was killed, Polydeuces begged to either share or be spared of his immortality. Zeus took pity and turned them into a constellation that looks almost conjoined.
  25. Twinning, which began for me with a Lindsay Lohan remake of The Parent Trap, is filmic. Not because it looks good on camera (though it does), but because I want photos of myself like I want a twin. I’d like to have my image doubled. I’d like my image to exist after I die. The camera is the longer-term solution, but the twin is still better. The living twin is the ghost I’d like to leave behind.

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