Today is a day to acknowledge the intersex people of the past who have paved a path for intersex rights, as we continue to move forward to the future.
Adélaïde Herculine Barbin was born November 8, 1838 in Saint-Jean-d’Angély (Charente-Maritime) and officially registered as female. She spent her childhood in an orphanage and later at the Ursilines convent of Chavagne.
Between 1856-1858 Herculine Barbin studied at Oléron’s Normal School and received her degree. At 21 she became a school teacher and met Sara, the youngest daughter of Mrs. Avril, the headmistress of the school. Gradually, the friendship between the two girls turned to love. But, when acting on their feelings for each other, Sara realized that Herculine was not made like most girls. Herculine was forced to resign from her job and after a medical examination required by the authorities who became involved in the matter, she was then forced to live as a man. Herculine became Abel but when he returned to the village, Mrs. Avril refused to let him see Sara. On a cold February day in 1868, Abel Barbin’s dead body was discovered, the victim of an apparent suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning from the small stove in his apartment.
Herculine Barbin, one of the most famous intersex persons in history, makes us question whether we can live as we are with our difference. Her life also forces us to question this world which has created standards which we are obliged to try to meet or otherwise face rejection. The individual can exist only by assimilation into these norms and being like everyone else. She lived a life of absolute fear. The agony of seeing her terrible secret revealed. The terror of having to pay for a mistake that she did not make and of the shame for being who she was.
Suffering, endless suffering. He had to leave everyone he loved to plunge into the cold depths of isolation. Her life is a great story of pure love, fatally destroyed by ignorance and intolerance.