Monday, August 23, 2004

Are They or Aren’t They?

Slate seems to have resolved the trivial issue as to whether or not Paul and Morgan Hamm, the Olympic gymnast twins, are identical or fraternal. Their parents say fraternal, citing physical differences, but science says they’re identical, citing a raft of genetic and biological reasons and going into detail that boggles the mind.

Fraternal? Identical?

I am the son of a twin – my dad has a twin brother. We – and they – have always assumed that they were identical twins. After all, when twins of the same gender were born in 1926, it was pretty much assumed they were identical, and as far as I know, no genetic testing has ever been done to determine if they are, indeed, identical.

I could always tell the difference between my dad and his twin. Even looking at photographs of them when they were children sitting side by side in matching clothes I could spot my dad. He had some of his mother’s features, and my uncle had some of his father’s. As they grew older and went on with their separate lives they aged differently, too. And my uncle’s two sons don’t look anything at all like me or my siblings, even though genetically they could be my half-brothers. So much for the Patty Duke Show theory of genetics.

I bring this up apropos of nothing other than it seems the more you look into something that you assumed to be a simple question, the more complicated it gets. All very fascinating, but a little unsettling at the same time.