These iden­ti­cal twins share the same genes and up­bring­ing, but one of them is straight and the other gay. They’re tak­ing part in a new study that aims to help us un­der­stand what makes us who we are – and why we fall for who we do


With mir­ror-image man­ner­isms and match­ing DNA, iden­ti­cal twins cap­ture some­thing in our imag­i­na­tions. They are mys­te­ri­ous – how many times have you asked a set of twins if they can feel each other’s pain or read one another’s thoughts? – pos­sess­ing an iron-strong bond that non-twins can’t even be­gin to wrap their heads around. But as so much is said about twins’ ‘same­ness’, what hap­pens when they dif­fer in one fun­da­men­tal as­pect of their lives: their sex­u­al­ity?

New re­search car­ried out by Dr Tues­day Watts and her team of psy­chol­o­gists at the Univer­sity of Es­sex seeks to de­ter­mine how and why, de­spite hav­ing the same up­bring­ing and the same genes, iden­ti­cal twins can iden­tify with dif­fer­ent sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions. A part of this work in­cludes look­ing at im­ages of the twins through­out their lives – to see if test sub­jects can iden­tify when they be­gan to ‘di­verge’ in their mas­culin­ity-fem­i­nin­ity, with one show­ing signs of gen­der non­con­for­mity, which is re­lated to sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. This study found that these twins started to vis­i­bly dif­fer from each other in this re­spect much later than non-twins.

So could twins ac­tu­ally hold the key to de­ter­min­ing the roots of our sex­u­al­ity, giv­ing us long-searched-for an­swers about what re­ally makes us who we are? The re­searchers be­lieve their find­ings rule out the idea that sex­u­al­ity is solely the prod­uct of genes, be­cause these twins share all the same DNA. They sug­gest that hor­mones and epi­ge­net­ics (the in­flu­ence of en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors on genes) could be im­por­tant.

‘All my boyfriends wanted to hang out with Rosie’ ROSIE, 29, near right, is an artist; SPADGE is a copy­writer. Rosie is sin­gle, Spadge is mar­ried and both live in Lin­coln.

SPADGE SAYS As a child, I def­i­nitely erred on the side of the Dis­ney princess. But if there was foot­ball on TV, or F1 rac­ing, Rosie would be re­ally into it. I’d just yell, ‘What is this? I want to watch Dis­ney films!’

We’ve al­ways been in­cred­i­bly close. We went to the same school, the same univer­sity and now we live about ten min­utes from each other. We’re con­stantly pop­ping over to each other’s houses. Be­cause of this, our bond is ex­tremely tight. There was even one time in

school when Rosie got hit in the face with a rounders bat. We met in the nurse’s room be­cause I’d had a nose­bleed. We call it ‘twin­tu­ition’.

All my boyfriends wanted to hang out with Rosie be­cause she had more in com­mon with them than I did. She gets on well with my hus­band Rick; they both like Marvel and weapons – I couldn’t be less in­ter­ested!

How­ever, I was so sur­prised when Rosie came out and, ac­tu­ally, a bit mad at my­self for not re­al­is­ing ear­lier. She is some­one I am sup­posed to know bet­ter than any­one. But then a lot of things started to make sense. That was why she wasn’t in­ter­ested in boys. That was why she liked the things she liked. It was quite sur­real. I thought, ‘Hang on, this isn’t some­thing I’ve ever con­sid­ered be­fore. Am I gay?’

I’ve since read more about sex­u­al­ity and I think its roots might be hor­monal: po­ten­tially the amount and type of hor­mones that are ab­sorbed in the womb when twins have sep­a­rated but are still tak­ing in things from their mother. It’s all to do with epi­ge­net­ics. Sex­u­al­ity is like an orches­tra – you can turn dif­fer­ent sec­tions on and off un­til you get a dif­fer­ent sound. That’s how I like to think of us – we’re like remixes of the same song. ROSIE SAYS The best thing about be­ing a twin is that you’ve con­stantly got a part­ner in crime. I’ve al­ways been a tomboy. I loved foot­ball and mo­tor­bike rac­ing and I thought for a long time that I was just asex­ual be­cause I had no in­ter­est in any sort of re­la­tion­ship. I had lots of male friends and I’d play foot­ball or video games with them, whereas Spadge started talk­ing about boys in a dif­fer­ent way. She was ob­sessed. I be­gan to think, ‘Hang on – I don’t feel the same way.’

When I was 18, I went to col­lege to do an art foun­da­tion course. There was a bi­sex­ual girl there and I was strangely in­trigued by her. I couldn’t tell if I wanted to be her or be with her. She wasn’t giv­ing me any at­ten­tion and it felt like the worst thing in the world. I re­mem­ber Spadge list­ing all the boys we knew, try­ing to guess who I was up­set about. Then I just burst out: ‘It’s not a boy!’

I want to find out what de­ter­mines sex­u­al­ity, and I have les­bian friends who feel the same. I’m not look­ing for a ‘cure’. When peo­ple say, ‘If they find out what causes it, they can get rid of it,’ it of­fends me. We just want to un­der­stand at­trac­tion and where it comes from. I agree with Spadge that it might be down to hor­mones. I’ve been on med­i­ca­tion that’s af­fected my sex drive. I re­alise that it can change, on a day-to - day ba­sis, what you want from life. I’m just happy to help find an­swers.



‘Ini­tially, our dif­fer­ence in sex­u­al­ity was a big is­sue’ JESS, 26, a ju­nior menswear de­signer, lives in Lon­don; SARAH, a PhD stu­dent, lives in Birm­ing­ham. Both are in re­la­tion­ships.

JESS SAYS From the age of about 15, Sarah and I ar­gued con­stantly. We were never re­ally sim­i­lar per­son­al­ity-wise and have al­ways known how to press one another’s but­tons. Grow­ing up, Sarah wanted all her hair cut off, while I wanted mine long like a princess. She’d wear Spi­der­man stuff and I’d al­ways be in pink. Even to­day we’re quite sin­gu­lar peo­ple and we don’t see each other very of­ten – it can be as lit­tle as six times a year – be­cause we live in dif­fer­ent places. That said, we are much closer now. We talk ev­ery day and con­stantly FaceTime each other.

For me, sex­u­al­ity wasn’t some­thing I ever re­ally thought about. Then at the age of 16, Sarah came out. I re­mem­ber it vividly. I had gone up to her room, which was in the loft, and weirdly, she had the lights off – she ob­vi­ously didn’t want to look at me. She told me, ‘Oh, by the way, I think I’m gay.’ I burst into tears and she said, ‘Don’t tell Mum or Dad.’

It drove a wedge be­tween us for a long time. My mis­un­der­stand­ing and Sarah’s un­will­ing­ness to let me think on it for a bit caused ten­sion. She felt un­ac­cepted, and I can see that now, but it wasn’t the case. I was try­ing to un­der­stand it, but it was hard: I was very young, and went to a very shel­tered, quite big­oted school. We lived in the coun­try­side, we didn’t watch that much TV – this was one of the first times I’d even heard the term ‘gay’.

Now, I’m re­ally pro­tec­tive of Sarah and her sex­u­al­ity. I feel like a proud LGBT com­mu­nity mem­ber, even though I’m not gay. As I’ve got older, gone to art school and ex­pe­ri­enced dif­fer­ent peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds, I do feel there is a lot more fluidity in sex­u­al­ity than peo­ple re­alise. It’s a lot more so­ci­etal than we think. We don’t have to be 100 per cent one way or the other. It should just be what­ever you fancy, re­ally. SARAH SAYS Jess and I were very com­pet­i­tive grow­ing up. It was al­ways, ‘ I’m one cen­time­tre taller; I’m faster than you.’ I did a lot of sport so Jess was never re­ally in what you might call ‘the lime­light’. She was quite quiet. There was a lot of over­shad­ow­ing, and I think that’s where the bick­er­ing came from. It’s as though we had to win this nonex­is­tent game and be­cause of this we evolved into very dif­fer­ent peo­ple on pur­pose.

Ini­tially, our dif­fer­ence in sex­u­al­ity was a big is­sue. It ac­tu­ally sep­a­rated us for quite a while. It wasn’t a frac­ture per se, but more a time in our ado­les­cence when she wasn’t my friend and she wasn’t my sis­ter. But I’d kept it from her for a long time and that hurt her. You can re­late on a very emo­tional level with your twin but we didn’t have our sex­u­al­ity to share. It was in­cred­i­bly tough.

Nowa­days, we can sit and de­bate. We still don’t have the same views about the same is­sues, but it’s be­cause we have had very dif­fer­ent so­cial ex­pe­ri­ences. The en­vi­ron­ment speaks vol­umes about why we’re dif­fer­ent. We had sep­a­rate friend­ship groups at school: I was into sport and sci­ence while Jess is arty. The way that we think and the way that we prob­lem-solve are dif­fer­ent, but I think it’s all taught be­hav­iour. It’s all so­cial.

Jess and I got close again in the sec­ond year of uni. When she made a con­nec­tion with other peo­ple on the LGBT spec­trum we just clicked again and we started call­ing each other a bit more, open­ing up and rekin­dling what we had when we used to make dens in the liv­ing room. It took a long time but we got there in the end. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

As a child, Rosie ‘loved foot­ball and mo­tor­bike rac­ing’

Spadge, left, and Rosie tak­ing part in a Damien Hirst art per­for­mance at Tate Mod­ern in 2010

Clock­wise from above: the sis­ters with Spadge’s hus­band Rick in 2016; Rosie, left, and Spadge as chil­dren, and in their pushchairs

Sarah in blue and Jess in pink, above; Sarah wear­ing the trousers at four, be­low, with Jess; Jess, near right, and Sarah to­day

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