“During the Second World War, my parents went to live in Morocco for a few years. And that’s where I was born, in Meknes. When I was born, they had a bit of a surprise: I was a hermaphrodite! That means, I was both a girl and a boy. I started to realise that I was different from the others around 5-6 years old. I was a bit confused. Am I a girl or a boy? And I remember asking my mother, “Mum, what am I going to be?” She said, “Don’t worry about that, you’ll decide later what you want to be”. And that moves me every time I think about it. I was lucky to have parents who accepted me as I was. I had a loving relationship with them.
We lived in Oujda and Algiers, my father was involved in the construction of the desert train as an engineer. Life there was total freedom, extraordinary fruits, and from January the whole country was blooming with flowers. Every weekend, my father took us to the most beautiful beach in Morocco, Saïdia beach. 14km of fine sand, it was paradise! Then in Algeria I discovered violence for the first time. The bombings, the sirens, the buildings collapsing, the burning boats of Operation Torch. When I was 15, I experienced the riots in Oujda. I was walking through the city and suddenly people started running. I saw a Jewish doctor holding his stomach, all red. I saw a lady on the ground, her stomach open and the embryo next to her. Oh, I’ve seen a lot! And it left huge marks on me.
Soon after, my life took another turn. I met a family friend, Carmen. An extraordinary woman, 8 years older than me. With her I discovered love and experienced very strong sensations. After a while, as I had to leave Oujda to go to high school, I followed her to Tangier. At that time, Tangier was a little paradise, an international zone where many people passed through. It created a cultural buzz. There, we didn’t need to hide anymore and we had a wonderful time. Carmen always thought that I was made for making love. And I was very curious, very sensitive. She wanted me to meet a man, then two, then three. I found it pleasant but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I preferred female relationships.
Then one day she said to me: “Listen Claudette, I have to teach you a trade”. She knew a lady who ran a nice brothel. She told me: “Whatever happens to you in your life, with this you’ll always have a way out. But if you don’t agree, nothing changes between us”. And I agreed, out of curiosity, because I liked sex, and because I didn’t want to disappoint her. I was 16 years old, but I knew what I was getting into. In the southern countries, the fire smoulders under the embers as they say (laughs)! And that’s how I started working in a brothel at 16. First I was trained by a tester who taught me the different positions, how to make the client come quickly or slowly depending on the time he had paid. And hygiene issues. I stayed there for about 3 years.
At the same time, I continued my studies. I went to school from 9am to 4pm and then I went to the brothel until midnight, and on weekends. With school, I had a certain balance in ordinary life. And through the brothel I had extraordinary experiences and met all kinds of people. In the early 1950s, tensions against the French protectorate in Morocco increased and my parents decided to return to Switzerland. Carmen and I cried for a month. Shortly before I left, she said to me: “Come, we still have something to do”. She took me to the Banque de France and withdrew all the money I had earned at the brothel. She hadn’t touched a penny! And it was with this money that I was later able to pay for my federal masters degree.
In Switzerland, we arrived in Porrentruy, in the Jura. I was 19 years old and at that time the Jura was: the priest, the mayor, the prefect, full stop. After Tangier and the brothel… it was a big shock! A violent change of scenery! I was uncomfortable, destabilised. I didn’t have Carmen anymore, I had no sexuality anymore. It was very hard. On top of that, my family in Switzerland expected me to be a man. As my parents had to make a choice, they had announced a boy. And to go and explain to them now that I am a hermaphrodite… I would have been treated as a beast! It was unthinkable for them. So I stopped wearing dresses and skirts. I always wore tracksuits and hid my breasts. I spent my life juggling like this. But I always felt like a woman and I can’t change who I am.
Despite this radical change, I adapted well. I did a five-year degree in architecture, with a federal master’s degree in Lausanne. At the same time, I developed an intense passion for cycling. I used to race for Peugeot, as an amateur. It was 11 months of sport per year! I was Jura champion, and a few years ago I was 15th in France in the over 40s. At the time, I was a member of a cycling club with which I often did races. One day, a friend of the club asked me to meet his sisters after a race. I arrived at their table, and I will never forget that moment. A few metres away from me, I see a beautiful young girl, Andrée, and I say to myself: “That’s who I want to marry!” As clear as that! And she thought exactly the same thing!
We started dating, but that was back in the days! We dated for 6 years without doing anything! One day, her dad asked her: “Who is that boy? Is he at least Swiss? – Yes, he is. – Catholic or Protestant? – Catholic. – Does he go to mass every Sunday? – Yes, he does! – Well okay then, you can go with him.” It was a different time (laughs)! Andrée had always had a doubt about my identity, but we had never talked about it and I was dreading our wedding night. On our wedding night, a cousin came to explain what was expected of me. I didn’t say anything, but I wanted to tell her: “You poor thing! If only you knew what I saw (laughs)!” Finally, the wedding night went very naturally. Andrée asked me a few questions, but that didn’t change anything between us. She already loved me long before.”