Sunday, December 02, 2007

Single white female

At the Observer, Louise France has an extraordinarily interesting piece about a pair of identical twins who were separated at birth:
'You look like twins,' I tell them. 'But do you feel like sisters yet?'

The reply is complicated.

Paula: 'As soon as we met it was clear we were sisters but it has taken time to figure out what that means.'

Elyse: 'We knew we were linked by blood but what did it take to make us family?'

They describe their first meeting as 'falling in love at first sight'. However, over time the elation of recognition was replaced with something more fraught. Their bond seemed to be muddied, not simplified, by the similarities. Separately they both cite the psychotic character played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in the film Single White Female - someone looking and acting the same way can be spooky, unnerving and overwhelming. 'If we had been united as sisters,' says Elyse, 'it wouldn't have been so hard. There wouldn't have been all these assumptions about each other.'

The conventions of sibling relationships didn't seem to fit - they fantasised that they had found their soulmates but at the same time they did not have the easy banter that comes from growing up together. The notion that they might not be unique was distressing but any differences between them felt like personal failures. In a culture where women have more choices in life than we've ever had before, we may not own up to comparing ourselves to one another but we do it all the time. Suddenly each twin had someone with the same DNA to measure themselves against and both felt as if their choices and achievements in life - everything from whether to have children to their taste in shoes - were amplified.
Paula and Elyse's book is Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

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