What it's Like Being Gay and Non-Gay Identical Twins
Despite sharing the same DNA and usually the same upbringing, identical twins can diverge in sexuality. We asked two Melbourne twins to discuss what that difference meant for them.
Identical twins spend their lives being compared. They share duplicate DNA (although it's expressed in different genes), as well as the same upbringing so they're generally similar individuals, notwithstanding the effort they put into being unique. And this is why I find two of my friends so interesting.
Angus and Eric Woodward are identical 25 year-old twins from Melbourne. Eric is gay, while Angus is straight, which created an interesting microcosm of individualism as they hit puberty. Discovering sexuality is a journey for anyone, but maybe more so when you've got a twin who is also your opposite. So to find out how sexuality affected their relationship, and their understanding of themselves, I asked Angus and Eric to share some insights.
VICE: Hey Eric, let's start with how you discovered your own sexual orientation.
Eric: In primary school I can vaguely recall noticing guys and feeling attracted to some of them. Then I remember by year 8 or 9, I started thinking that meant I was probably gay. I was hoping that ideally I wasn't, but you kind of have a choice at that point. You either love yourself and never look back, or something else. So I decided to love myself. And anyway, I got to be gay. I get to be different.
Did you ever wonder how you guys could differ on something so fundamental?
One of my first theories was that I didn't have much exposure to girls. I went to an Anglican all boys' school. And don't get me wrong, I loved my school, but they never discussed homosexuality in a positive way. It was never part of their public discourse, which to me said it's ok to feel anyway you want. But I wanted them to go further.
Angus, how do you think being a twin affected your identity, just generally?
Angus: Well, as a twin you're always compared, and maybe that set us on somewhat different paths. Maybe I responded by being a bit more blokey, and a bit more of a hooligan. In reality Eric was always more mature than me. I think I was always a bit more insecure and wanted to be one of the cool guys. And I do think that added to our senses of sexuality in some way.
This stuff is kind of leaning towards a nature versus nurture argument. Eric, how do you feel when people apply this to homosexuality?
I think nurture plays some role, but I think it's way overblown. As soon as you start saying things like my dad hugged me for too long, or my mum breastfed me until I was too old, I think that's a slippery slope. For me, a big moment came with a uni class called Same Sex Attraction: From God to Genes. In the lecture we heard from a geneticist who argued that genes explain sexuality, even though there's no such thing as a gay gene. This was the first time I'd heard someone with authority say, you don't have a choice.
Afterwards I asked him how it was possible I was gay while my twin brother was straight. He explained that identical twins can end up with split placentas, so each individual receives a varying amount of hormones. Therefore individuals with a genetic predisposition to a particular sexuality might be affected differently. That night I asked mum if we had different placentas, and she affirmed it. That was a big moment for me.
Angus, how did you respond when Eric told you he was gay?
Great, and I definitely got around him. I think we were about 18 and I remember the day well. He brought me into his room and I said you're gay aren't you? I was really happy for him.
Eric: Yeah but at the time I remember thinking he's just happy because he gets to be the straight one. And then he ran down the stairs yelling mum! Eric's got something to tell you. Our parents weren't surprised. I thought mum would hug me and we'd cry but there wasn't anything from them. Dad actually said I can't believe you thought we'd need to do that. It's such a non-issue. I reckon they're at where society should be. If all of society were like that, we wouldn't have to tell our parents.
Angus, what was your first awareness of homosexuality?
Well at high school there was a bloke who used to run up to me and grab my junk, all the time. I thought he was a stereotypical footy guy, always smacking me on the arse and then laughing it off. I was uncomfortable but I always laughed it off too. Then a few years after school the old twin got him out of his shell, and it turns out he might have been enjoying it a little more than I'd thought.
Eric: That guy is still in the closet though. It makes me wonder how many blokes pass off their inability to express sexuality through that touchy masculine culture. For me, from the youngest age, I was always interested in questioning how gender is defined. I actually remember when I was a kid at kindergarten wanting to dance in a dress. I do know I had a conversation with mum about it. And I insisted that I wanted to be something different.
Angus: We're very similar but we always wanted to be different. Growing up we had the same birthdays and everything, so it was always this rivalry to be different. In some ways, the fact that Eric is gay helps us to be different.
Eric: We're similar in all the same core values but we're also quite different.
Angus: I don't know bro, we're pretty similar.
Eric: Okay, fine.
Follow Julian on Twitter: @MorgansJulian