My fraternal twin and I (both men) are in our late 30s. We were always extremely close and shared a bedroom growing up. When we were 12 we gradually started experimenting sexually with each other. After a couple of years, we realized we had fallen in love. Of course we felt guilty and ashamed, and we didn't dare tell anyone what we were doing. We hoped it was "just a phase" that we’d grow out of, but we wound up sleeping together until we left for college. We knew this could ruin our lives, so we made a pact to end it. We attended schools far apart and limited our contact to family holidays. But we never fell out of love with each other, so after graduation we moved in together and have been living very discreetly as a monogamous couple ever since. I'm not writing to you to pass moral judgment on our relationship—we're at peace and very happy. Our dilemma is how to deal with our increasingly nosy family and friends. They know we’re gay, and we live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, so we’re getting pressure to settle down. I feel we should continue being discreet for the rest of our lives and blow off their questions. It's nobody's business, and I fear they would find our relationship shocking and disgusting. My brother, though, is exhausted with this charade. He thinks that if we get the family together with a therapist to talk through the issues, they'll eventually accept it. I think he's out of his mind, but I also want to make him happy. Is this one of those times when honesty is not the best policy? If so, how do we get everyone to stop worrying we will die alone? I'm also concerned about the legal implications of this—would the therapist be required to report us to the authorities? Could we go to prison?
—Tired of This Greek Tragicomedy
I admit this is my first letter about homosexual, incestuous twins, but I’m going to take you at your word that you two are happy and that I should suppress the images that came to mind of two sets of brothers who lived together and came to unseemly ends: the pack-rat Collyer brothers and the twin gynecologist Marcus brothers. Let’s deal with your legal questions first. I spoke to Dan Markel, a professor at Florida State University College of Law. He said that while incest is generally illegal in most jurisdictions, the laws tend to be enforced in a way that would protect minors, prevent sexual abuse, and address imbalances of power. Those aren’t at issue in your consensual adult relationship, but Markel suggests you have a consultation with a criminal defense attorney (don't worry, the discussion would be confidential) to find out if your relationship would come under the state incest statutes. Either way, it’s better to know, and if it is illegal, as long as you remain discreet the likelihood of prosecution is remote. Next, I suggest that you and your brother split the difference in your approach to family and friends. Blowing people off for the next couple of decades is only going to fan the flames of curiosity. But I also agree with you that having a family gathering in which you announce you two have found life partners—each other—will give everyone the vapors. Ultimately your choice is your business, but a limited version of the truth should back everyone off. When people ask when you’re each going to go out there and find a nice young man, tell them that while it may seem unorthodox, you both have realized that living together is what works for you. Say no brothers could be more devoted or compatible, and neither of you can imagine wanting to change what you have.
A lot has happened since then. The first thing I have to mention is that my brother didn't know I had written in to you. He noticed your column during breakfast and almost had a heart attack when he realized it was talking about us. After he got over the shock, we both started joking and worrying that someone we knew would read it and put two and two together. I guess I should have thought about that earlier! In the end we were both relieved to be talking about this openly and honestly. We did contact an attorney as you suggested, who told us that while incest is illegal in our state, our situation was unique and unless we paraded down the street engaging in public sex, there was no chance of prosecution. After that, talking about your column some more sparked a motivation to get the perspective of a professional marriage/family counselor. We found one who, over the past seven months, helped us not only think through the immediate dilemma but also, unexpectedly, deal with some long-buried issues from our childhood.The way our relationship turned romantic and sexual when we were kids was that I was being bullied pretty badly starting in fifth grade for being a "sissy" and my brother (who was a lot more masculine, into sports, and therefore not bullied) was the only one I could turn to for support. I didn't feel that I could confide in our parents, who at that time made homophobic comments regularly (it was the middle of the AIDS epidemic). There was one night in our room when I broke down crying and admitted that I was gay. He saw himself in the role as my protector, and then one thing led to another from there. So in the therapy sessions we spent a good deal of time sorting through our conflicted feelings, then and now. I fully acknowledge that when we were kids the relationship was somewhat co-dependent, but we lead pretty independent lives now with separate careers, friend networks, etc. I know some of your readers think we're emotionally stunted, and maybe we are. On the other hand, I know plenty of people in unhappy relationships (gay and straight) with troubled families, so I guess in some way we're all a little screwed up, aren't we?One of the more ironic parts of this situation is that the sexual aspect of our relationship faded away many years ago. We're physically intimate, but it's limited to kissing and cuddling for the most part. According to our counselor, this phenomenon is actually not uncommon among gay male companions, and from what I gather, even among heterosexual couples who've been together as long as we have. I know how weird this must sound, and often we both just burst out laughing at how our lives turned out, but it is what it is.As far as what we should tell family and friends, after discussing it extensively with our counselor my brother and I eventually saw the wisdom in your advice. Over the summer when our mom brought up the subject (again), we were well prepared with a response. We told her that we both tried dating men and women (true) but never met anyone who made us want to give up the comfortable, happy life we already have living together (true). We said she didn't have to worry we would die alone, because we're committed to supporting each other to the end (also true). She wasn't thrilled, but at least the way we responded appeared to allay some of her worries. We gave similar explanations to a few of our friends and they seem to think it at least makes rational sense, even if it's not ideal from their perspective.We'd like to thank you for providing such a nonjudgmental and compassionate response. I guess it seems obvious in retrospect, but at the time the solution didn't seem clear at all. And writing the letter to you set in motion a lot of other positive changes besides.