Monday 3 November 2014

Bambi and the Ladybird

As in previous years I’m giving November a transgender theme to tie in with the international Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20th November.

This first trans article this month also features my 2014 theme of music. There are quite a few transgender singers, and we’ll look at two transgender pioneering singers from France.

First is a singer who created something of a sensation when she returned to France following reassignment surgery in Morocco. Her stage name was Coccinelle (“Ladybird” in French), though her real name was Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy, and she was born in Paris in 1931. Even though male by gender at birth Coccinelle always thought of herself as a girl even as a child.

In her teenage years Jacquline went to a fancy dress party in a red dress with black polka dots. She was dressed as a ladybird – a coccinelle – and after that was often used that as a nickname, sometimes shortening it to Coxy.

Coccinelle made her stage debut at a famous Parisian transvestite cabaret venue in called Chez Madame Arthur in 1953. She was soon invited to perform at an even more famous cabaret venue called La Carrousel. The two clubs were owned by a formidable couple called Monsieur and Madame Marcel (Monsieur ran La Carrousel and Madame ran Chez Madame Arthur). It was at La carrousel that Coccinelle met the second of todays French transgender singers, Marie-Pierre Pruvot, known as Bambi.

Four years younger than Coccinelle and born in French Algeria, Bambi found the confusion and frustration at living in a male body more difficult than it might have been in France. It was after seeing Coccinelle in a touring show from La Carrousel that Bambi decided to leave Algeria and become a showgirl. She arrived at La Carrousel in 1954 and lived with Coccinelle for a time. In terms of their performance Bambi and Coccinelle were quite different. Coccinelle was well-known for the vulgarity of her performance, often with too much make-up (deliberately) and costumes that frequently revealed her nipples. Bambi was less ostentatious and more glamorous.

In 1958 Coccinelle decided to complete her transition and went to Morocco for reassignment surgery. When she returned to La Carrousel she surprised her fellow showgirls in typical ostentatious style by throwing off all her clothes to reveal her new all-female body.

Bambi realised that she too wanted full reassignment surgery. This created problems in her relationship with her then boyfriend and it was another two years before he made the trip to Morocco to follow in Coccinelle’s footsteps.

There had only been a handful of people who had successfully undergone reassignment surgery, and such a transformation often made headline news. Coccinelle found herself at the centre of attention, something she revelled in. She became something of a cause celebre, often being labelled as the “first French transsexual” to do whatever she did. However inaccurate this may have been on occasion she was certainly the first French transsexual to be legally married in a Catholic church. The wedding made the front page of most newspapers.

In 1960 Coccinelle married sports journalist François Bonnet. In today’s environment of protracted debates on lgbt rights to religious marriage ceremonies it seems quite strange to us that Coccinelle’s marriage could even have taken place. Apparently she was only required to be re-baptised with her female name. Even at the ceremony in Notre Dame Cathedral Coccinelle caused controversy by wearing an off-the-nipple wedding dress. As well as confetti the bride and groom were showered with tomatoes as they left the church. The marriage, unfortunately, didn’t last. They divorced two years later, and Coccinelle was to marry twice more.

Throughout their performing careers both Coccinelle and Bambi appeared in several films. Coccinelle also gave interviews raising the awareness of transgender issues and educating society on what being transgender actually meant.

Bambi returned to education while she was working at La Carrousel. Her school days in Algeria were not pleasant and she found it difficult to learn. After 1968 she entered Sorbonne University and earned a masters degree in 1973. Having also earned a teaching degree Bambi went to Cherbourg to begin teaching literature. By now Bambi had given up her cabaret career, something she still misses, and never advertised her life as a transgender showgirl. To her pupils and colleagues she was Marie-Pierre Pruvot.

Coccinelle, in the mean time, was still advocating for transgender rights and in 1994, with her third husband, founder the Association Denevir Femme (Association to Become Woman). This organisation, as its name suggests, was to offer support and advice on health and surgery issues for transgender women. She also helped to form the Centre d’Aide de Recherche et d’Information Sur la Transsexualité et I’Identité de Genre.

Even though Bambi had stopped performing by the start of the present century Coccinelle held on to her showgirl roots and opened her own cabaret and nightclub in Marseille in 2002. She was in her 70s by now.

In 2006 Coccinelle suffered a stroke. She was hospitalised for several months and died on 6th October.

Marie-Pierre Pruvot – Bambi – still lives in France. In honour of her work in education she was appointed an Officer of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques, and will be 79 years old next week.

To end, here is an excerpt of Coccinelle from the documentary film “Europe di Notte” (1958), followed by a short film of Bambi.




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