Wednesday 31 October 2012

Dude over there, got two heads

I've been watching a programme called Abby and Brittany recently. Abby and Brittany Hensel are 22-year old conjoined twins from Minnesota and are followed around by a documentary crew as they live their lives. The thrust of the programme is that these lives are fairly typical lives for that of 22-year old women. They went to university, now they have graduated and are looking for their first job. In the meantime, they are living it up with their college friends, travelling around the United States and visiting Europe before settling down to their career.

Being conjoined twins, then, presents them with no obstacles to living normal, humdrum, mundane lives. Their friends are interviewed at cattle prod-point throughout to tell us all how they admire the way they are able to live such normal lives.

But here's the thing: I think it's a bit condescending and offensive. In emphasising how normal their lives are and yet slavishly filming it the whole way, the programme is doing exactly what it is trying to avoid, raising the twins up and making everyone go OH NOW HOLD ON LOOK AT THAT. Abby and Brittany Hensel are fascinating people because they are conjoined. There's no point pretending otherwise. Because without that aspect, they'd just be two very normal 22-year old women doing brain-meltingly ordinary things.

It's a good reminder that it's always good to celebrate our differences. Pointing out that conjoined twins are conjoined is hardly offensive stuff, after all. For one thing, they already know. For a second, being a conjoined twin is not an offensive thing to be. Conjoined twins who are the subject of mockery and ridicule by idiots are equally able to mock the idiots back for not being conjoined. It's a plain of reference thing: for Abby and Brittany, they don't know what it's like to not be joined to one another any more than we one-heads know what it must be like to have your twin sharing your anus.

But the huge majority of people are not conjoined, and so have created almost indefinite amounts of documentation - art, literature and music to name just three - about that experience. Abby and Brittany will, I'm sure, be able to understand, and empathise with, my predicament more easily than I can understand their situation. This is why Abby and Brittany is such a missed opportunity. There's so much that we can all learn from each other if we embrace and celebrate what makes us different, rather than focus on the fact that we all like eating ice cream or looking at fountains.

In the latest episode I watched, Abby and Brittany went on holiday to Italy. They first went to Venice and then visited Rome. The public reaction to them was predictably understated. When someone sees conjoined twins, they don't scream, set fire to their children and then jump in the Po. Instead, the following happens:

BEPPE: Oh look, there's some conjoined twins.
MARCO: Where?
BEPPE: Over there, by the fountain. Dude with two heads.
MARCO: Oh yeah. I wonder how they shit?

These are the basic questions that I want answered! I don't care what Abby and Brittany are going to do with their lives. They are two otherwise unremarkable 22-year old women making their way in the world. I have no interest in what anyone I don't know personally is up to, unless it has some impact on me. What IS interesting, however, is the experience of being conjoined. I'd like to know how they sleep, how they poo, how they go about having a crafty wank, what they do if one is watching a TV show that makes the other one bored as shit but unable to wander off, what they do if one of them decides to join a gym. Basic, nuts and bolts of life stuff. You might argue it is prurient, but then so is filming the largely typical lives of two conjoined twins and then ignoring the real meat of the issue.

To that end, I have designed the twins AN INVENTION. It is called The Pillow Helmet. It is, as the name suggests, a helmet made from pillows. Essentially, it's a boxing helmet but with more goose down filling. The Pillow Helmet serves a double purpose: firstly, if either of the twins is someone who likes to sleep on their side, it allows them to do so without using their sibling's face as a support (which is just rude). Secondly, it acts as a buffer and a baffle so that neither girl need see the other's Doing A Poo face when they're sat on the toilet.

And the thing is, I reckon that the Hensels could find lots of other uses for it that I'd never have thought of. Because they have a lot they could teach we one-headed folk. We have a lot we could teach them. It's time the world as one realises that tolerance, acceptance and equality is not about pretending everyone is the same.

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