Jeffrey says he got the idea for Middlesex from a memoir by Herculean Barbin, an intersex person who lived in the 19th century, but he was first inspired after reading Ovid's Metamorphosis in high school.
One of the stories in Metamorphosis details an argument between Hera and her husband, Zeus, king of the gods, about whether men or women have a better time in bed. Zeus says women do, and Hera says that men do. "They go back and forth and finally they bring on Tiresias because he's been both a man and a woman to judge the matter, and he says 'If the pleasures of love be as ten, three times three belong to women. One belongs to man,'" Jeffrey says. "I was 16 when I read that, so I knew there wasn't much to hope for as a man. I decided to become a writer at this point."
Still, the character of Tiresias made an impression on Jeffrey. "What struck me about that was the incredible utility of this figure, Tiresias, this person that knew more than a normal person," he says. "And the novelist's job is to know as much as he can about men and women. Novelists like Tolstoy are the greatest novelists because they were able to do that the best."