Herculin Barbin—Memoirs of a Hermaphrodite
Synopsis The play draws on the autobiographical text My Memoirs by the French hermaphrodite Herculine Adélaϊde
The play draws on the autobiographical text My Memoirs by the French hermaphrodite Herculine Adélaϊde [and later Abel] Barbin (1838-1868), as well as the findings of medical examinations she had undergone for the purpose of determining the “real” sex and the autopsy of the body after his/her death by suicide.
The prologue, set up as a freak show, summarises the main events of his life, to be elaborated upon later in the form of flashbacks. S/he was born in 1838 in a small community in southwestern France and was designated female. Her father died when she was very young and her mother, who struggled to get by, sent her to an orphanage run by nuns. During adolescence, she is sent to an Ursuline monastery where she stood out for her brightness and aptitude for learning. She did not experience menstruation and her body did not appear female. She started falling for her older classmates. She studied to be a teacher and was hired at a girls’ school. She fell in love with the owner’s daughter and they started a relationship. She confessed her secret to the local Abbot who cast her out. She suffered from severe pain, particularly during the night. During the school holidays, she went back to her mother who was worried about her situation and urged her to give an explanation. She confessed to the Bishop of La Rochelle, who showed some understating and advised her to visit his doctor. This doctor ruled that Herculine is actually a man. Another medical examination seconds this opinion and leads to a trial where it is decided that she belongs to the male sex and is given the name Abel Barbin. He is now obliged to dress and behave like a man. He quits his job at the school and abandons his lover. He moves to Paris and starts working at a railway company, but is soon fired. Unable to find another job, he lives in abject poverty. He is hired back, but is in a horrible mental state. He can barely tolerate anyone and no one can tolerate him. He lives in isolation. He commits suicide at the age of 30 after inhaling coal stove fumes.
A dual, weird existence. “Man. Woman. Nothing.” A hermaphrodite designated female at birth, but forced to live with a male identity at adulthood.
The story of Herculine Barbin, as he/she has written in his/her diary, is the first text in history written by a hermaphrodite. This document served as the basis for Michel Foucault’s article “The real gender” (1978), denouncing “the tyranny of society on gender and its inevitable insistence that every person must have one” and opening a new chapter in gender studies. Today, Herculine is an emblematic figure of the intersex movement. However, during his/her short life, he/she desperately struggled to understand and handle his/her sexual desire. An existence doomed to loneliness and isolation, an “impurity” in the eyes of a pious society, the victim of a life that left him/her no choice other than committing suicide.
Translation – Adaptation – Direction: Damianos Konstantinidis
Actors: Antigoni Barmpa, Christos Papadopoulos, Anastasis Roilos
If pain links us all, we must recognize Herculine’s pain as ours. However, my purpose is not to simply discuss how human this person was. I am equally if not more interested in showing how our perspective can marginalize him/her in human society and doom him/her to live as a freak. So, I am staging a “freak show”. And its opposite.
Damianos Konstantinidis holds a PhD from the Department of Drama at the Paris X- Nanterre University, France. He is an Associate Professor of Acting and Stage Directing at the School of Drama, Aristotle University. He has worked as an actor in Greece and France. In Greece, he has directed plays and theater texts (usually translated and adapted by him) by: de Sade, H. Müller, Fassbinder, Wilde, Homer, Shakespeare, Euripides, Aeschylus, Maeterlinck, Beckett, Rodrigo Garcia, Swift, Strindberg, Dylan Thomas, Molière, Genet.
Savas Patsalidis, theatre professor (Aristotle University), theater reviewer [from his Facebook post on 03/25/2019]
[…] one of the best plays I have seen this year. A daring, imaginative, deeply humane, grotesque, multifaceted, communicative play with excellent acting…
Calliopi Exarchou, theatrologist, poet [from her Facebook post on 03/17/2019]
[…] Konstantinidis has once again staged a play that is an ordeal of Speech and Body. The crucified Pain of the Human becomes a spectacle of pleasure in its finest form. The three actors have striven to sublimate the tragic anguish into a dramatic Act through their fervent acting – and they succeeded. A soul-searching performance that shouldn’t be missed.