People have an almost unhealthy fascination with the unusual, the deformed or the downright freaky. The most common type of e-mails to whiz around the Deja HQ are those that feature elephantiasis (usually of the testicles) or some poor bastard suffering some kind of grotesque deformity, with a heartless caption about a face only a mother can love.
This isn’t a new thing either. Freak shows were once a booming industry in for almost a hundred years, exhibiting everything from the extremely hirsute, the extremely small/tall and of course, the big money puller, Siamese twins (the preferred term these days is “conjoined twins”).
Conjoined twins have appeared in myths and legends and even jokes throughout the ages. The Roman god Janus had two faces, one young, one old. Centaurs, a combination of horse and man, may have been inspired by parapagus twins who often have four legs. A common heraldic symbol, the Double-Headed Eagle”, is common throughout Central Europe and we’ve all heard the jokes about two-headed, inbred hicks or Tasmanians.
Perhaps the most famous of all conjoined twins were the Bunker brothers, Eng and Chang. Born in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811 they were joined at the chest by a narrow band of flesh. They toured America and England as “The Siamese Double Boys” which is where the term “Siamese Twins” originated from, and eventually settled down in America and got married (to two different women). I should also point out, that between them, they fathered 21 children. They died within hours of each other at the ripe old age of 63.
For many, the idea of conjoined twins marrying seemed a little disturbing. When American born Violet and Daisy Hilton, pygopagus twins, wanted to marry in 1936 (again to two different men), they’re application for a marriage licence was rejected in 21 different states for reasons of “morality of public decency”. In other words, the courts considered that if you had two conjoined twins getting married it meant that you’d be sanctioning group sex. They eventually married, although neither marriage lasted very long.
For me, the most amazing form of conjoined twin is the dicephalus, or “two heads”. Unlike most, I don’t find this form of deformity interesting simply because of the fact that they have two heads (although, come on! That is something isn’t it!) but more because of how their bodies function.
Take Abigail and Brittany Hensel for example. On the outside, it would appear that they simply have two heads, but if goes deeper than that. They can swim, ride a bike, ice skate and run and walk and all that other “normal” stuff you’d expect, but with one amazing catch. Each girl controls only the leg and arm on her own side. It means that the simple act of walking requires both girls to operate in unison. I’m sure you’ve all run in a ‘three-legged race’. That’s what these girls basically have to do every waking moment.
Another example; go and grab your partner or a friend (or even a random stranger passing by) and using only one arm each (your right, their left) try tying your shoe laces. Try clapping. Try playing a musical instrument or anything else that requires two hands. These girls do it without actually verbally communicating with each other!
The other amazing thing is that having separate spinal cords, they don’t share sensations. If you were to tickle them on the right side, only Abby would giggle and likewise, tickle the left and Britty would giggle. This raises some very interesting questions that I simply can not find any answers to.
Where does the sensation cross-over take place? ie. if you were to run a feather from one side to the other, when would Abby stop giggling and Britty start?
Who controls things like the…err…sphincter muscle and bladder? Does each control half of it? (ie. If Abby squeezed and Britty didn’t, would they wet themselves?).
When they get older and start developing sexually…who would get the “Big-O”? Or are they going to get half an “o” each?
There has to be answers out there somewhere.