Coccinelle: First French Female Transgender Star
Coccinelle was born in Paris on 23 August 1931, and became famous for having been France’s first transgender celebrity. The name that she was given by her parents was Jacques Charles, but she feminised her first two names to Jacqueline Charlotte. She later stated, “As a boy aged four I knew I was different. I was a girl, really, but nobody could see it.” Jacqueline earned the nickname – which she subsequently adopted as a stage name – ‘Coccinelle’ (Labybird) after appearing at a party in a red dress with black polka dots.
Coccinelle was born at 66 Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, and was brought up in the Temple district. The Temple area of Paris is near to what is now a thriving gay nightlife scene, the Marais. Apparently from a young age, she expressed her inner femininity by wearing dresses and wigs. Coccinelle did not come from a particularly wealthy family and the first job she ever had was in a hairdressing salon. Unfortunately her father feared that his son, through this form of employment, would become a homosexual.
Coccinelle eventually entered the vibrant cabaret world as a drag queen or female impersonator according to the public comprehension of the time – some performers did even self-identify as transvestites. Another general term that was used for these glamorous individuals was ‘transformistes’. However, Coccinelle’s self-awareness and comprehension obviously extended beyond her stage persona as she clearly felt a strong affinity with her femaleness.
This stunningly beautiful woman had a sense not only for elegant fashion – she became renowned for her trademark polka dot dresses and mink coats – but she also discovered that she had a talent for the performance arts. After making her debut at Chez Madame Arthur in 1953 which was a fashionable cabaret, Coccinelle advanced onto the popular music hall at Le Carrousel de Paris which had opened in 1947. In fact, Coccinelle was a very talented singer upon which she built a career. She also developed her style by taking inspiration from and modelling her look on Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot.
Coccinelle is also famous for being the first French individual to undergo gender-affirming surgery. Just like April Ashley, whom she had met at the popular Le Carrousel de Paris, Coccinelle travelled to Casablanca to undergo her gender-affirming procedure stating afterwards, “Dr Burou rectified the mistake nature had made and I became a real woman, on the inside as well as the outside.”
Coccinnelle’s gender-affirming surgery has also been described as a victory during an era she could still have been arrested for cross-dressing. In fact, there had been a French Law since 1800 making it illegal for women to wear trousers – obviously French women have ignored this law – however, it was only officially repealed in 2013.
At Le Carousel de Paris, Coccinelle not only encountered other iconic trans women such as April Ashley, but also the performer Bambi (Marie-Pierre Pruvot, born in Algeria) who became a lifelong friend. The Parisian cabaret scene became a magnetic centre that attracted into its orbit a number of trans feminine individuals. Not only did it become a haven in which there was the freedom for feminine gender expression but it also became the focal point for important information, and a network of care, support and communication.
Coccinelle became a media sensation after her surgery. Her career included appearances in the films ‘Europa di Notte’ (1959), ‘Los Viciosos’ (1962) and ‘Dias de Viejo Color’ (1968). As a talented singer she also recorded albums, appeared on TV shows and radio shows, and toured world-wide with her stage act.
Furthermore, Coccinelle’s name was emblazoned in red letters by Bruno Coquatrix on the front of the Paris Olympia for her 1963 revue ‘Cherchez la Femme’ – a production which showcased her magnetic talent as a singer. This was because she was the first French transgender woman to become a major star.
Coccinelle got married in 1960 to the sports writer Francis Bonnet. However, she was unusually required to be baptised again due to her name change to Jacqueline. The significant point here was that through the French Government, it was established for a transgender person to marry. All in all, Coccinelle was married three times in her life. Her second marriage to Mario Costa – a Paraguayan dancer – and finally to transgender activist Thierry Wilson with whom she jointly founded the organisation ‘Devenir Femme’ which provided care and was dedicated to supporting transgender individuals seeking gender re-assignment surgery.
Coccinelle was a pioneer of trans visibility. She refused to live in secrecy. In fact after her first marriage the issue of transgender, became a preoccupation in the media, both within and outside of France.
In the later years of her life, Coccinelle wanted to reach out and help others. She established the ‘Center for Aid, Research, and information for Trans-sexuality and Gender identity’. Before passing away, she also wrote and published her self-titled autobiography. This beautiful and amazing individual sadly died in Marseille at the age of 75, having been hospitalised after suffering a stroke. It has been said – and is part of queer ideology – that by simply existing and thriving in a heteronormative society, that you are taking part in your own subtle revolution. From this perspective, Coccinelle was a triumph.
Ragtime legend Tony Jackson was born into poverty in New Orleans in 1876. At age 10 he constructed a harpsichord out of backyard junk, tuned it and reproduced hymns he heard in church. At 13 he got his first job playing piano off hours at a honky-tonk. By 15 he was considered one of the best musicians in town – it is said he could play any tune after hearing it only once – and was soon the most sought after entertainer in Storyville.
Seeking greater freedom as an openly gay black man, he went to Chicago in 1912, playing venues like The De Luxe and Pekin Cafés. One of his show stopping tricks was to dance a high kicking cakewalk while playing. His voice was also exceptional – he could sing ballads, blues, and even opera from soprano to baritone.
Jackson wrote many tunes – most he sold the rights to for a minimal amount and many were stolen outright from him. Indeed, some well-known Tin Pan Alley pop tunes of the era were actually written by Jackson. His songs include “Michigan Water Blues” and “The Naked Dance”. One of the few songs published under his name was “Pretty Baby” (1916) which was written for his gay lover.
His personal style soon came to define the archetype image of the ragtime pianist – pearl gray derby, checkered vest, ascot tie with diamond stickpin, and garters on his arms to hold up his sleeves. It was said, “If you can’t play like Tony Jackson, at least you can look like him.” Sadly, Jackson’s musical virtuosity was never recorded, but his influence can be heard in the recordings of the younger musicians he inspired, like Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams, and Steve Lewis. He died of alcoholism in 1921 at the age of 44.
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