BY: CONNOR BRIAN
“I’d rather sell my ass than my soul, it’s harder but much cleaner,” she tells photographer Malika Gaudin-Delrieu. Claudette is a grandfather, award winning cyclist, a campaigner for sex workers’ rights, and a happy husband who has been married for just over 52 years. She is also a hermaphrodite and prostitute who defies stereotypes by living her extraordinary life free of shame, open to all joys that life sets upon her doorstep.
Born with both male and female genitalia, her parents declared Claudette as a male at birth, which in 1937 was an indisputable advantage. Gender identity has been a crucial part throughout Claudette’s life, but she has never let it define her humanity. Though some view hermaphrodites with a skewed lens, never once has she been apologetic for who she is. Wearing both aspects of her life like a pulsing heart upon her sleeve, she refuses to be pitied by the small minded and the uncomfortable.
When Photographer Malika Gaudin-Delrieu met Claudette, she was so inspired by the honesty and courage that Claudette displayed, she began to document her life in a captivating series entitled La Vie en Rose. “Claudette unnerves some people because she lives a happy and coherent life,” says Delrieu, “Claudette is the opposite of a victim. She controls her life, makes her choices clearly and knowingly. She does more than just live her life, she loves it.”
“I have never been ashamed about being a hermaphrodite, it’s others who have a problem with it, not me. I have the sex of the angels, why would I be ashamed of it?” Claudette told Delrieu.
“This morning it’s been 52 years since we said ‘yes’ to each other for life.” Claudette says of her wife, Andrée. Since Claudette’s parents declared her a boy at birth, she was able to marry the love of her life. Andrée has always loved her for who she is and together they have had three beautiful children.
“Prostitution becomes a source of self confidence,” Claudette says, “for people who see in prostitutes the ultimate femininity and who assume this role with happiness and a sense of relief.”
“With some clients it doesn’t go as well as with others. For a lot of men the need to go see prostitutes is stronger than they are, they can’t help themselves. They do it without thinking. And when it’s over they start remembering that the money they just spent they needed it for rent, for groceries or that their wives are going to be asking where it went. And all of a sudden they don’t speak to you anymore, they become shifty and they’re ashamed of what they’ve done and of you. How many times did I give 20 francs back to a guy who had realized he had to walk back home under the rain at 3am because he had given me all he had including money for a cab…they can’t help themselves. And I’ve been a good prostitute but a bad whore.”
“Sport has always been an important part of my life. Cycling is one of my passions, I have done it all my life and I have no intention of stopping. I still win competitions at my age and record better times than people 30 years younger than me.”
“Activism is complicated. I’m one of the few who fight for the cause of sex workers using my real identity and showing my face, as Grisélidis Réal used to do. I’m exposed to the judgement of my family by doing it, for my work as well as my gender. I lost touch with some family members after my first TV show where I clearly stated I wasn’t just a volunteer in that fight, but a sex worker myself. But at my age, you know that there are two types of families: the one you’re related to and the one you chose. If my blood relatives reject me then I have my other family, the one I chose and who knows and accepts me for who I am.”
“The satisfaction of work well done is incomparable in prostitution. When a client is happy, I’m happy too. It’s social work, how can anyone deny that we make people happy, that we are useful? In my job I have the certainty that I have done what was right.”
“Sharing who you are with people is scary, there are always consequences and reactions you don’t expect, but most of them are wonderful. I have lived such amazing things, people coming up to me to say how helpful they thought my sharing was. I am grateful to them all. And it has been such a freeing experience too. “