Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy was born on August 23, 1931 in Paris, France. Sounds like the beginning to a normal story, right? However, Jacqueline, better known by her stage name, Coccinelle (meaning ‘ladybug’), was anything but ordinary in her time. This Marilyn Monroe lookalike was a French actress, entertainer, and a pioneering transgender activist for LGBTQ+ rights. Coccinelle got her start in the entertainment industry through cabaret and, with her talents, quickly worked her way to the prestigious Le Carrousel de Paris.
Coccinelle was bold and unapologetic, despite being the first public figure in France for many aspects of her life. Her sex reassignment case was also the first to be publicized in Europe post-World War II. Following her surgery, she was able to legally change her name to Jacqueline following a change in French law. This was a big deal to the French public, especially as no one at her level of fame had undergone this surgery before. Despite this pressure, Coccinelle refused to shy away from her experiences; instead, she actively embraced the public nature of her surgery and sought to educate her fellow French citizens about the procedure. Thanks to transascity.org, we have an amazing magazine article written about her experiences from an interview with Coccinelle herself in 1962, which can be found here.
Shortly after her operation, she married famous sports journalist François Bonnet. This marriage was unique in that it established a legal precedent for the marriage of transgendered French citizens. Her career as a film actress by this point was well underway, causing her to be one of the first known French transgender actresses to become a major star in the industry. Her filmography extended to famous works such as Alessandro Blasetti’s Europa di notte and Los Viciosos. Her success allowed her to perform across the globe, particularly in South America, Germany, and Iran, where she entertained the shah. During the latter years of her career, she wrote autobiographies detailing her experiences as a transgender actress and activist.
Coccinelle was not the one to let her fellow LGBTQ+ community members feel unsupported or that they had no hope in transitioning to reflect their identities. At this time, French transgendered individuals had an additional obstacle: they had to travel outside of France to find a doctor who would perform the surgery; Coccinelle herself had success in Morocco. Following her own reassignment surgery, she quickly became a champion of the transgender community, even founding her own nonprofit, Devenir Femme (“To Become Woman”).
Devenir Femme was established to support those seeking reassignment surgery through financial empowerment. Coccinelle, however, felt that this was not enough. As she was the first public French figure to undergo sex reassignment surgery, she did not have any emotional support from someone who shared her experiences. Through Devenir Femme, she was able to provide this type of emotional care for others. Coccinelle may have passed away on October 8, 2006, but her legacy in advocating legal rights and accessible transition for the transgender community is still alive and strong today.
Written by Liv Sunná (they/them) from Orlando, FL. Follow them on Twitter! This project, Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land, is a series of stories written by Frank Turner fans, inspired by his new album No Man’s Land.