Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy: Trans pioneer and cabaret icon Coccinelle takes over Google

Side by side images of a Google doodle and black and white photograph of Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy aka Coccinelle

Google has honoured Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy – better known as Coccinelle – with a beautiful doodle on what would’ve been her 91st birthday.

The iconic club singer and actor, born on 23 August, 1931, was the first known French celebrity to undergo gender-affirming surgery. Her journey was widely publicised across Europe, and she was an inspiration to LGBTQ+ people all over the world.

Google celebrated the performer’s life with a doodle of Dufresnoy posed with a tiny ladybird on her hand amid red theatre curtains. 

Who was Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy?

Dufresnoy grew up in Paris with a strong inner sense of her identity as a woman, and channelled her love of fashion and performance into a career. During her teenage years, she once wore a red dress with black polka dots to a party, earning her the nickname Coccinelle, which means “ladybird” in French.

She later used her teen nickname on stage when she made her showgirl debut in 1953 at Madame Arthur, a cabaret venue in Paris. Dufresnoy became a regular, well-known act at Le Carrousel de Paris, a popular music hall with played host to numerous trans performers.

She decided to undergo gender-affirming surgery at a clinic in Casablanca, Morocco in 1958. At the time, it was illegal in France for people to wear clothing not associated with their gender assigned at birth.

Speaking of the surgery, Dufresnoy described how her doctor “rectified the mistake nature had made”, and she “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,” Dufresnoy said.

Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy sings into the microphone as she performs as Coccinelle

Coccinelle was a pioneer for the LGBTQ+ community and advocated for trans people to be able to access gender-affirming treatments. (David Wharry/BIPs/Getty)

Coccinelle’s journey quickly gained public attention upon her return to France and highlighted the lack of LGBTQ+ rights not only in her home country, but internationally. 

Dufresnoy’s cabaret show toured across the world, visiting venues in Europe and South America, her act based on the prominent sex symbols of the time – such as Marilyn Monroe. 

She also began acting, and appeared in films including 1959’s Europa Di Notte and Los Viciosos in 1962.

Dufresnoy married a sports journalist named Francis Bonnet in 1960 in a Catholic wedding ceremony. Their wedding made legal and religious history, giving trans people the right to marry in France. 

She recalled how the condition of her first marriage was that she had to get rebaptised as Jacqueline in order for the ceremony to go forward. 

Dufresnoy’s marriage to Bonnet would last a few years, and she would go on to marry two more times. Her final husband was a trans man and activist named Thierry Wilson.

Dufresnoy continued to perform as Coccinelle for many years, and she founded the organisation Devenir Femme to support trans folks seeking gender-affirming treatment. 

She also helped organise the Center for Aid, Research and Information for Transsexuality and Gender Identity. 

Dufresnoy published an autobiography in 1987 about her transition journey and career as Coccinelle throughout the years. 

She passed away in October 2006, several months after suffering a stroke.