Jacqueline-Charlotte Dufresnoy, who died on October 9 aged 75, was born Jacques-Charles Dufresnoy, but became celebrated as the French transsexual singer, entertainer and Marilyn Monroe lookalike, Coccinelle.
Coccinelle was the first Frenchman to have a sex-change operation and went on to found an association to help others who felt they had been born with the wrong sexual identity. The British transsexual April Ashley was one of her protégées.
Jacques-Charles Dufresnoy was born in Paris on August 23 1931. His mother sold flowers in the Pigalle district and, as April Ashley recalled in her memoirs, Jacques-Charles was "raised among strumpets so that the ethics of their system came naturally to him". By his own account, he became aware that there was something amiss at the age of four; as soon as he was able, he dyed his brown hair platinum blond and took to wearing women's clothing. One of his favourite outfits, a red and black polka-dot dress, earned him the nickname Coccinelle (French for ladybird).
Coccinelle made his debut in 1953 as a "showgirl" at Chez Madame Arthur, a Parisian cabaret specialising in drag acts. He later became a fixture at the more famous Carousel nightclub. April Ashley, who joined the Carousel troupe in 1956, recalled that Coccinelle (or "Coxy" as he was known) wore low-cut gowns which barely covered a pair of silicone-filled breasts which would occasionally sag and need to be "pumped up". He usually arrived on stage in one of a number of outrageous mink coats, all dyed different colours, and with scarlet lipstick. In the quest for his true self, Coccinelle had already had a "nose job". In 1958 he heard about Dr Georges Burou, a gynaecologist in Morocco who was known as a pioneer of vaginoplasty, or "gender reassignment surgery". He went to Casablanca and had the operation done.
After her operation the French modified the law to enable the details on birth certificates to be amended following a change of sex, and she duly changed her name to Jacqueline-Charlotte — "née femme".
In 1960 she contracted the first of three marriages, to a sports journalist called François Bonnet. "Being a faithful child of the Church," April Ashley recalled, "she booked Notre Dame Cathedral for the ceremony (which she attended in an off-the-nipple gown). When the newlyweds appeared on the cathedral steps for photographs, the crowd gave them a terrific send-off, apart from those who pelted them with tomatoes."
Over the next 25 years Coccinelle toured the world, making a particular hit in South America and even performing in front of the Shah of Iran. For 10 years she appeared in cabaret in Germany. Her last public performance was in 1990.
She also worked extensively as an activist on behalf of transsexuals, founding the organisation Devenir Femme, and helping to establish a centre for research into gender identity. Her autobiography, Coccinelle by Coccinelle, was published in 1987.
At her funeral, held at the Eglise Saint-Roch de Paris, Father Philippe Desgens reminded mourners: "All the children of God have a place in the Church", and noted that "by her marriage in church after her operation, and during her whole life, Coccinelle showed her faith."
Sunday Telegraph 10/29/30
There is a Coccinelle page at