What It’s Like to Have an Identical Twin

Last week, Gracie commented on a Man Repeller story about being best friends with her identical twin. Leandra asked her if she’d be open to talking to me about that, and about being a twin in general. To my delight, she graciously agreed! Below is what she told me. 

We grew up in Brooklyn. We were in the same classes, shared the same friends and did the same things. When people asked me or her to hang out, they usually expected both of us. If they didn’t, they’d have to specify that.

There were times when I wished we were treated more like individuals. Seen as different people. But I don’t think that I ever wished I wasn’t a twin, not really. My mom was always very good about not lumping us together. Sometimes our teachers would try to do one parent-teacher conference for the two of us, but she would insist they gave us our own slots.

After high school, we went our separate ways. Her to Chicago, me to Portland, Oregon. It was a really big decision to go to different colleges, but it wasn’t necessarily intentional. When we were visiting schools, we just ended up liking different places. I remember thinking, Maybe we’re more different than I thought. Throughout college, some of my friends didn’t know I had a twin. Occasionally it was fun, but more often than not I’d think they were missing out on a huge part of my personality.

After graduating in 2015, she moved back to New York. In a couple of months, I am moving back to live with her in Brooklyn. I’m excited to live with her again. We lived in the same bedroom for 18 years; we’re 23 now. I’m an actress and a director and am moving back to go to an acting conservatory. She’s in graduate school at Pratt, but she’s also doing a lot of improv and comedy. For a while it seemed like we were going down different paths, but now we’re both performing again, so maybe not. When we were younger, we used to do improv comedy together. We can play off each other very well. She’s very funny.

I’m a little scared to move back to New York, even though I grew up there. She has a leg up, having already lived there for two years. Even though we’re the same age, the traditional older/younger sibling roles still apply. I make a bigger deal about our one-minute age difference than she does, but I still feel like the baby for some reason. We can be competitive, but lately, when I’ve been feeling that, I’ve started to take a step back and remind myself that I really want her to be happy. That just because she looks like me doesn’t mean she’s going to take opportunities away from me.

As far as twin stereotypes go, we fulfill a few. We have screenshots of times we’ve texted each other the very same thing at the same time. When I started college — my orientation was a week or two before hers — I was so nervous that I was sick to my stomach for like a week. She was also sick to her stomach for a week, because she was nervous about me starting college without her. But all twins are different, and when people ask us if we have telepathy and stuff, I tell them no.

Sometimes people are like, “When you look at her, is it like looking in a mirror?” And I guess so, but I don’t always think about what my face looks like, you know? Sometimes when I look at pictures of us, I think, Oh yeah! We look really similar! We have the same face! Julia has curlier hair, or rather, she’s embraced her curls, while I spent many years straightening mine because I liked it better and it differentiated us. Our faces have a slightly different shape. Mine is kind of heart-shaped, while she has a squarer jaw. Otherwise, we look very much the same.

I think having a twin has helped my style. There was a time where she was wearing a lot of flowy black dresses, for instance, and I remember being surprised by how good they looked. I thought you were always supposed to flatter your waist or something! She just ordered a pair of jeans online the other day and I was like, “You have to tell me if those are good because I might order them, too.” Sometimes I’m in a phase of working out more, sometimes she is. It can be hard if one of us feels less “in shape” than the other. That can be a weird dynamic and it can be challenging to communicate in those circumstances.

One time I asked my boyfriend if he was attracted to her and he was like, “Well, I’m not like attracted to her, but I don’t find her unattractive because she looks like you!” He didn’t really know how to answer. It was funny. Julia’s beautiful. There’s no need for her to ever feel bad about herself. Obviously it makes sense that we should not ever hate our own appearances if we think each other is beautiful, but that would also mean that body hatred and poor self-image is rational. But it’s not. In my moments of clarity, having a twin has helped me realize that if I feel bad about myself, it’s not based on reality. It’s in my head.

I really wished we’d switched places more as kids, but we were too nerdy. Even now, I’m too scared to do it. She did recently use my headshot for an audition for her improv group because she didn’t have one. All my friends were like, “You can’t do that! You guys look different!” And I was like, “I don’t think you know how quickly people glance at headshots!” It was fine.

I love when she comes to see things that I’m acting in or that I’ve directed because she’s my number one fan. I’m always performing for her. People in shows with me get confused when she’s in the audience. I love confusing people. One time she was visiting me in Portland and one of my housemates came downstairs and starting talking to her like she was me and I just popped up behind her. He literally yelled. It was really funny.

Being one person seems kind of boring. I feel lucky. It’s an icebreaker. Especially when I’m out meeting people. People will say, “So there’s another you wandering around!?,” or mention how jealous they are and how cool they think it sounds to have a twin. People have occasionally stopped Julia on the street in New York and been like, “Gracie! What are you doing here!”

It’s funny when people ask me what it’s like to have an identical twin because I don’t know the alternative. Especially because I was born second; I didn’t even have a moment in the world where I wasn’t an identical twin. I came as part of a set, whether or not I wanted to. This is terrible — I can’t believe I’m admitting this — but if someone tells me a secret, I assume that I’m allowed to tell Julia. She’s always been my best friend.

Photos by Edith Young.

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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