In the 1970s, Michel Foucault was working on something unrelated and discovered an important memoir. Herculine Barbin had lived a short and noteworthy life as an intersex and transgender person in the mid-1800s. Foucault translated and published the memoir. It spread far and wide and impacted many people around the world.
Jeffrey Eugenides was one of the people it impacted. He says it was a main inspiration for the book Middlesex, though he believed the memoir evaded discussion about the anatomy and emotions of intersex people. He said in an interview in 3AM Magazine that he intended Middlesex to be “the story [he] wasn’t getting from the memoir.”
Middlesex is a very strange story to read. I think that’s the idea. It’s a psychedelic and jarring journey back and forth through time. It tries to accomplish the personal story of a fictional intersex person struggling to discover what it means to be intersex and how to navigate life from that perspective.
Initially I was a little uncertain about reading the story of an intersex person which was written by someone who is not intersex, transgender, or even queer. But this was required reading for an LGBT Literature class so I soldiered through it. It has inspired me to put the Herculine memoir on my reading list at some point when I have time.