Jack’s Naughty Bits: Herculine Barbin, Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite

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Jack's Naughty Bits

If you want to open a restaurant, you should do it quickly. Times are a-changing, and it’s going to be very difficult to keep up with the new building codes. Just think about bathrooms. Now that it’s clear that gender and sexual identity are no longer functions of the genitalia you were born with, it’s clear that the old two-bathroom situation is not going to cut it. By my count, businesses starting up in the near future will need no fewer than twelve separate loos. The placards on the doors will probably read something like:

    Straight Women
    Straight Men
    Gay Women
    Gay Men
    Men in Women’s Bodies
    Women in Men’s Bodies
    Halfway M to F
    Halfway F to M
    Fielder’s Choice

In cities like Tokyo and New York where space is tight, this will prevent the development of most new buildings. Rents will skyrocket. Construction costs will go through the roof. Better get grandfathered in while you can.

NB: The excerpt below is taken from a manuscript that the celebrated French theorist Michel Foucault claimed to have discovered: the nineteenth-century diary/memoir of Herculine Barbin, born a hermaphrodite, raised in a convent as a girl, only to be judged a man by the French court when she was in her late twenties. Foucault was right to ask: “Do we truly need a true sex?” Herculine Barbin would have fared better in a world less bent on establishing her/his gender. We are not yet that world, but we are moving closer.

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From Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite

Translated by Richard McDougall

Once the prayers had been said and the students were in bed, we would often chat for hours at length, my friend and I. I would go and visit her at her bed, and it was my happiness to give her those little attentions that a mother gives her child. Bit by bit I got into the habit of undressing her. She had only to take out a pin without my help, and I would be almost jealous! These details will seem trivial no doubt, but they are necessary.

When I had laid her upon her bed, I would kneel beside her, my forehead brushing her own. Her eyes would soon close beneath my kisses. She had gone to sleep. I would gaze at her lovingly, unable to find the strength to tear myself away from her. I would awaken her. “Camille,” she would say to me then, “I beg you, go to sleep. You will be cold, and it is late.”

Finally overcome by her pleas, I would go gently away, but not before I had hugged her repeatedly against my breast. What I felt for Sara was not friendship; it was real passion.

I didn’t love her. I adored her!

These scenes were re-enacted every day.

Often I would wake up in the middle of the night. Then I would slip stealthily up to my friend, promising myself that I would not disturb her angelic sleep; but could I contemplate that sweet face without drawing my lips close to it?

Consequently, after a restless night, I would have difficulty waking up when the morning bell rang. Always ready first, Sara would come to my bed to give me a parting kiss!

She would hurry the lingerers, say the prayer and then attend to combing the students’ hair. I would help her in this task, but, alas! I did not have her skill, her delicate touch, and so the children would be careful to keep themselves as far away from me as they could.

When this chore was over, everyone would finish dressing. During that time, I would go with Sara to say good morning to Madame P. It was with the greatest joy that the excellent woman saw the intimacy that prevailed between her daughter and myself, and she rewarded us for it with a thousand affections. She kept for us as surprises all the things we liked to eat.

Sometimes it was a fruit, the first picked in her garden; sometimes it was a delicacy of the kind she excelled in making!

A little before eight o’clock Sara would go up to the dormitory to take off her dressing gown and put on other clothing. I did not allow her to do it without me. We were alone then. I would lace her up; with an unspeakable happiness I would smooth the graceful curls of her naturally wavy hair, pressing my lips now upon her neck, now upon her beautiful naked breast!

Poor dear child! How often did I cause a blush of astonishment and shame to rise to her brow! While her hand drew my own aside, she fixed her clear eyes upon me in order to fathom the reason for behavior that seemed to her the height of folly, and must have been.

© Richard McDougall