“I’d rather sell my ass than my soul, it’s harder but much cleaner,” says Claudette, the “happy hermaphrodite prostitute” who is the compelling subject of photographer Malika Gaudin-Delrieu’s La vie en rose.
When she met Claudette, Gaudin-Delrieu, who is based in Valenciennes, France, was working on a documentary project about sex work in Switzerland, where prostitution has been legal since 1942. The project was Gaudin-Delrieu’s attempt to understand why Switzerland treats prostitution as a job, with regulations like any other, whereas neighboring France “…stipulates that every form of prostitution is a violence against women.”
Claudette is a father and grandfather, a dedicated cyclist, an activist for sex worker’s rights, and has been happily married for 52 years. She is also a hermaphrodite who works as a prostitute and lives her life openly, feeling no need to lie about any of these facts. Gaudin-Delrieu says, “By meeting Claudette, listening to her talk about her life that only she doesn’t find extraordinary, by getting to know her family, her friends, her clients, I was able to enter a world with so many contradictions that it seemed impossible to summarize it.” Because she defies stereotypes and lives a happy life, people can find her unnerving. “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.”
“This morning it’s been 52 years since we said ‘yes’ to each other for life.” Claudette with her wife, Andrée. Because Claudette’s parents declared her male at birth, she was able to marry the love of her life, Andrée, with whom she has three children and has always loved her for who she is.
“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.”
“I never felt bad about being hermaphrodite, it’s others who have a problem with it. I was born with both male and female genital parts, so it wasn’t clear if I was a boy or a girl when I was born. But my parents let me choose who I was, what my identity was, even if they declared me a boy at birth. In 1937, it was an undeniable advantage. But I have always felt like a girl and I’ve lived my life accordingly. I have the sex of the angels, why would I be ashamed of it?”