Illustration by Sam Green
Long before I started dating him, I would admire my future boyfriend from afar. His height, dark hair and eyes, medium build, strong nose and jaw all had flickered across my Facebook when I was investigating my classmates at college, and his features worked together very well.
It was only after the third time we were asked if we were brothers that I realized I might have committed an inadvertent act of narcissism.
We’re not exactly twins, but we look similar enough to have had many uncomfortable interactions. My upstairs neighbor in my first apartment asked if my brother was visiting for the weekend. A newsstand employee at the Atlanta airport asked if we were related -- and, when we said no, asked if we were “the sort of longtime friends who grow to look like one another.” (As a euphemism, that’s top-notch.) And an older gentleman at the one gay bar near our college campus once asked us what two brothers were doing there together.
Sometimes people simply shout “Brothers!” at us on the street in Brooklyn. (If they really thought we were brothers, why would they shout that? Are they shouting “Mother and son! Sisters!” at other passersby?)
We’re definitely not from the same gene pool: I’m Italian and Irish, while he’s an Ashkenazi Jew whose family originated in Eastern Europe. There are many differences between us: For instance, he has to shave much more frequently than I do, while I tan more quickly than he does. But the similarities -- facial features, body type -- are the sort people really seem to notice. I began to think about telling people who asked that he and I were both going out for the Swan Queen role and he was my dark double, but that’s too gay, even for me.
Our fashion senses are distinct enough to separate us -- or they were. My parents have bought him the sort of button-down shirts I favor for holidays and birthdays, so we often end up showing up to meet one another in different plaids. When I bought a cheap pair of tortoiseshell glasses at Warby Parker, unwilling to shell out even LensCrafters dollars, he thought it was a good deal and followed suit. (At least he agreed to get full-frame glasses, while mine are only half.) My wardrobe may have doubled, I guess, upon commencing this relationship, but it feels a lot like stealing from myself.
All it takes is a walk through Chelsea or the Castro to see couples who consciously emulate one another: Bears date bears, for instance. Bodybuilders show up at the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas hand-in-hand with bodybuilders. Twinks try to get into clubs with their indistinguishable paramours. People striving for a very specific look in gay culture, it seems anecdotally, are doing so in large part because that’s the look they find sexually appealing; they want to attract their exact equal.
And that’s not what happened with me, at all. First of all, I’m not exactly striving for a look -- if I can get out of the house having done something, anything, with my hair, it’s a huge victory. I go clothes shopping about every six months and to the gym only slightly more frequently. On the rare occasion, before my relationship brought it to the fore, that I considered my looks, I wasn’t thinking about how great it would be to find someone who looked like me. I suppose it was fairly likely, given the vast population of young gay men unaffiliated with and uninterested in looks-based labels like “bear” or “twink,” that I’d end up dating someone with similar attitudes to grooming and wardrobe. But did he have to have my facial features as well?
Perversely, though, there’s a frisson of pride that goes with people asking if my boyfriend and I are related. Since I, naturally, think he’s great-looking, it helps my own ego to be compared with him. He’s hardly out of my league -- he’s quite literally in my very precise league.
And the comparisons of passersby and my own subsequent examinations have resulted in something really great—they’ve made me value the differences all the more.
Early on in our relationship, I first noticed that his eyelashes are unusually long. It’s something totally unique -- I’ve never seen anything like it before, certainly not in the mirror. And I value it for being something beautiful that I had to go outside myself to find.