“Dr. Burou rectified the mistake nature had made and I became a real woman, on the inside as well as the outside. After the operation, the doctor just said, 'Bonjour, Mademoiselle', and I knew it had been a success.” — Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy
A sentiment that is found all throughout our project is the idea that just by existing queer people have the ability to change the world. This idea is rooted in the fact that by living and thriving in a world that wants you to be ashamed and erased, you are performing your own subtle revolution. And while subtly was not exactly Jacqueline-Charlotte Dufresnoy’s forte, we find this basic philosophy very visible in the impact her life left.
Born August 23, 1931, in Paris, France, Jacqueline knew she was transgender from a young age. She once said, "As a boy aged four, I knew I was different. I was a girl, really, but nobody could see it."
With a relatively supportive family, she didn’t waste much time working to find a gender expression that suited her well. Reportedly wearing dresses and wigs from a young age, by the time she was an adult she was doing performances under the name Coccinelle, the French word for ladybug. This nickname was given to her when she showed up in her favourite black dress with red polka-dots.
And while her narrative fits the popular transgender narrative of that time and ours, she had something most other transgender people didn’t: access to gender confirmation surgery. In 1958, she had the opportunity to have gender confirmation surgery from Georges Burou. She was the first in France to receive the surgery. About the surgery, she said “Dr. Burou rectified the mistake nature had made and I became a real woman, on the inside as well as the outside. After the operation, the doctor just said, 'Bonjour, Mademoiselle', and I knew it had been a success.”
This surgery was a turning point not only in her personal life, but her professional one as well. Most practically, she mentioned “I was the first French person to have a sex-change. Incredible, but true. It meant I could no longer be arrested by the vice squad for impersonating a man.”
She was able to become one of the first transgender film actresses, but she also built a singing career, singing the title track of Premier Rendez-Vous, a 1941 film directed by Henri Decoin. Through all of this, she became somewhat of a media sensation, garnering press not only for her public successes but also her private ones.
She married a sports journalist named Francis Bonnet in 1960. Their church wedding made legal and religious history. She remembered her first marriage, saying "The only requirement was that I had to be baptised again as Jacqueline."
This was not just a personal development though. It was a one that opened the doors for all the transgender people who came after her. Though the two divorced shortly after, the impact of this wedding was not soon forgotten. Jacqueline would go on to marry two more times, her final husband being a transgender man named Thierry Wilson.
The two of them worked together as transgender activists, creating the organization "Devenir Femme”, which in English translates out to “To Become Woman”. The organization worked to provide emotional and practical support for people going through transition. She was also a part of the Center for Aid, Research, and Information for Transsexuality and Gender Identity.
Though by no means apolitical, Jacqueline’s life was not based on activism. In fact, one of the biggest changes she made in France stemmed from a personal decision. Her marriage established transgender people’s right to marry in France and was also acknowledged by the Catholic Church.
She was able to make a change not just through her public life as a performer and eventual celebrity, but through the small personal victories. Through support from her family and friends, and what surely must have been mountains of personal determination, Jacqueline’s life became etched into the history books. Not for her mink coats and incredible performances (though those are worth noting as well) but for her love, for others, and for herself.
She went down the path less travelled and paved the way for all those who came after her. Just through walking through life, she was able to make queer history.
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]
“Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy.” The Telegraph. 28 Oct 2006.
Perrone, Pierre. “Coccinelle.” Independent. 15 Oct 2006.
“Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy, ‘Coccinelle’.” The Secret Histories Project. 09 Jan 2013.
Roberts, Monica. “Coccinelle.” TransGriot. 20 May 2009.
“LGBT People of History Part Twenty Eight Coccinelle.” HubPages. 3 April 2012.