What It’s Like to Be the Identical Lesbian Twin of Someone Famous

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Caroline Paul’s short, excellent e-book, Almost Her: The Strange Dilemma of Being Nearly Famous (published by Shebooks, and available for the price of half a beer), is a thoughtful, quick, and entertaining read on the subject of identical twins, celebrity culture, and the perks and quirks of being accidentally famous. In Caroline’s case, her fame was due to her twin sister Alexandra, who happened to be a star on Baywatch in the ‘90s: “Not the one with the boobs. The smart, athletic one,” as Caroline humorously describes Alexandra’s character through the eyes of one of her many fans.

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Due to Baywatch’s immense popularity (according to the Guinness World Records, the show’s billion-plus viewers per week made it the most-watched television show in the world), looking like her famous twin garnered Caroline a lot of momentary adoration, bumps to first-class, free wine, cookies, a hug from Dan Aykroyd, and even an awkward kiss from Ray Liotta, among other not-necessarily-wanted freebies. “I had the rare good fortune to be famous for no reason at all, and with that came peculiar insight into what it means to be a celebrity,” she writes.

Caroline, who was a firefighter in San Francisco at the time, describes how people would approach her for autographs even when she was working in full fire gear and wielding an ax. “Is this a real fire,” a man once asked Caroline officer, “or is this a movie?”

Throughout her forays into stardom by proxy, Paul thoughtfully and charismatically describes our awe, fascination, and intrusion into the private lives of celebrities, noting that “the way we treat identical twins is strikingly similar. … Our stares are naked, open, unapologetic. We compare twins to each other, and famous people to the sparkly doppelgänger in the magazines. We conflate twins with each other, and celebrities with the characters they play on TV.” Later on, she astutely tackles the ways in which we feel entitled to famous people’s lives, that they belong to us, in a way: “We are awed, but we also feel possessive. Celebrities owe us their time, we think. They owe us their smile, autograph, chitchat.”

Also fascinating are Caroline’s experiences and research on the subject of twins, which often hold a kind of wonder and woo-ness, for both twins and singletons (as Caroline calls them) alike. She recounts a story of two identical twins separated at birth who met in middle age, and how their lives turned out to be, well, pretty identical. Both were named James, both smoked Salem cigarettes, drank Miller beer, married women named Linda, divorced them, and then both married women named Betty! They both had the same career, hobbies, named their dog Toy, and named their firstborn sons James Alan and James Allen, respectively. “Are humans enslaved by their genes, forced to marry women named Linda and Betty and own dogs named Toy?” Caroline wonders. “Or is ESP, psychic energy, spiritual connection, or even something miraculous at play in our world?”

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Perhaps most interesting of all is that, while Caroline and her sister share 100 percent of the same DNA, Alexandra is straight, and Caroline is a lesbian, throwing a sparkly wrench into the whole sexuality-is-genetic theory. “How can identical twins have different sexual orientations?” Caroline writes, reading our minds, no doubt possessing some kind of twin wizardry. “Studies show that if one twin is a lesbian there is a 50 percent chance of the other being a lesbian. Inexplicably, the number is much lower in identical boys (and in fraternal twins).”  

Though Caroline details the awkwardness, the disappointments, and guilt of being accidentally famous, she notes that she sometimes misses her fake fame, and the occasional perks that came with it. “It was so damn fun,” she writes. “(Meanwhile, I wait for the day when I hear a waiter say to someone at the back table, ‘You’re an average joe? A person of no repute? By golly, you deserve a comped lemon meringue pie.’”

Free pie or no, it’s clear that Caroline is twinning at life.

Check out Almost Her and Caroline Paul’s other books at CarolinePaul.com.