Sunday, 12 March 2017

Interview with Marie-Pierre Pruvot

Monika & Elaine: Today it is our pleasure and honor to interview Marie-Pierre Pruvot, also known as Bambi, one of the most inspirational transwomen in France, a former showgirl of Le Carrousel de Paris, actress, French literature teacher, the author of two biographical books. Hello Marie-Pierre!
Marie-Pierre: Hello, dear friends.
Monika & Elaine: The French transgender cabaret culture is regarded as one of the most important elements of the history of transwomen in France. Your unforgettable shows at Chez Madame Arthur and La Carrousel attracted a lot of interest, which helped the audience to get acquainted with the trans phenomenon. How do you recollect those years?
Marie-Pierre: I left Algiers at age 18 and I came to Paris to work at Mme Arthur’s and at the Carousel. It was 1953. Coccinelle was 22 years old. She was already famous in France and the French-speaking world.

Coccinelle (blonde) and Bambi (redhead)
in 1954. She is already the star of the
Carousel and Bambi is just starting.

In France, she was the only trans in the show. We had heard of Lili Elbe and knew about Christine Jorgensen in the USA, Roberta Cowel in the UK, and Michel Marie Poulain in France. But we didn’t consider them as convincing examples.
We remained as a show of transvestites in the meantime. Little by little, the trans performers began to outnumber the transvestites.
Monika & Elaine: This was also the time when you met other famous trans showgirls: Coccinelle and April Ashley.
Marie-Pierre: The Carousel by then was very famous worldwide. Some trans women who couldn’t live freely in their own country came to Paris like the American woman Sonne Teal (1955), Englishwoman April Ashley (1956/1957), others from Europe, and even from Australia.
The show was beautiful and we toured throughout the world. But the USA and UK did not allow us entry into their countries.
Monika & Elaine: Coccinelle and April Ashley became celebrities, whereas you decided to choose a different path. You extended your education and became an academic teacher. Was it difficult to give up glamorous revue outfits for a school uniform?
Marie-Pierre: I didn’t quit the Carousel. I stayed there as the revue head for 20 years. Finally, when I was 38 years old, I bade farewell to the show and I became a French literature teacher because that is my passion and because being trans in a show was no longer a novelty in France. I equally loved my artistic profession as a trans showgirl and my profession as a teacher.

A backstage photo before going on
stage (1959).

Monika & Elaine: You wrote two biographical books: “J'inventais ma vie. Éditions Osmondes” (2003), and “Marie parce que c'est joli” (2007). Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Marie-Pierre: I have another passion, which is writing. I wrote my autobiography "Marie parce que c’est jolie." That edition is out of print.
From the autobiography, director Sébastien Lifshitz made a documentary "Bambi". I also wrote "J’inventais ma vie" in 5 volumes. It is a fictional autobiography.
I prefer the fictional autobiography to the strict autobiography because it enables me to change the names and a few details and there is more freedom to elaborate.
Monika & Elaine: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process?
Marie-Pierre: I began my life as a woman with HRT when I was 18 years old. I waited until I was 25 years old for my operation because I wanted to be sure of the result. 
Monika & Elaine: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Marie-Pierre: At the time when I grew up, more than 20 people had already gone to Casablanca to see Dr. Burou for surgery. I spent time educating myself and then I made my decision.

A dressing-room photo with other showgirls. You can see
April Ashley (Tony April) next to me. Also pictured are three
Americans: Tanya, Sonne Teal and Les Lee (around 1958 or
1960). Bambi is the blonde in the exact center.

Monika & Elaine: Are there any transgender ladies in France that you admire and respect now?
Marie-Pierre: I do not know if I am admired, but I am very respected, at least in appearance.
Monika & Elaine: What is your view on the general situation of transwomen in France, especially when you look back on your own experience from the 1950s and 1960s?
Marie-Pierre: I am not a militant feminist. For me, from 1954 to 1974 when I was in the show, I was in a privileged situation.
As an educator, from 1974 to 2001, the equality between men and women was strictly respected.
Monika & Elaine: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Marie-Pierre: What was the most painful part of my adolescence was to have thought that I was alone in the world with how I felt.
Monika & Elaine: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Marie-Pierre: The transgender problems are multiple and varied, and also very different from other LGB who do not understand it. Moreover, even within the trans community, there is often opposition between those who pass and want to live quietly in the world and those who do not pass and are given funny looks, and worse.

A photo taken on stage (1957).

Monika & Elaine: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in French films, newspapers, or books so far?
Marie-Pierre: I do not think much of what is being done today. Trans people have become part of society and are in all kinds of professions especially in cultural life. It is all very well. Society has adapted and gets used to us and begins to accept. 
In Paris, we pay respects to Coccinelle. The Mayor of Paris dedicated a street to her named "Promenade Coccinelle" that I officiated on May 18th, 2016, by making a speech. Coccinelle was the first trans person in the world to have a street named for her.
Monika & Elaine: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Marie-Pierre: I have political views but I do not participle as an activist. The presidential campaign today seems very chaotic. Trans people are citizens like any other and cannot change many things.
Monika & Elaine: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Marie-Pierre: I love fashion. I always have. A young 24-year-old designer, Mathieu Matachaga, was shown in Paris and Mexico City. He has chosen me as a featured model.

A picture taken in class in 1974.

Monika & Elaine: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Marie-Pierre: In France, I do not know of any transgender beauty pageants, but I know through my friend Holly White, an American who has worked at the Carrousel with me and who lives in Honolulu, that there are very beautiful pageants in the USA.
Monika & Elaine: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Marie-Pierre: I have always felt the need to love and to be loved. This has given me more overall happiness than sorrow.
Monika & Elaine: Are you working on any new projects now?
Marie-Pierre: My projects always are the same: read and write. It seems to me that if I could no longer write, I could no longer live.
Monika & Elaine: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Marie-Pierre: I recommend to any trans person at the beginning to do nothing before knowing what she really wants. Those who don’t understand how difficult it is to transition may have many regrets.

The Minister is presenting her with the Order of Merit
in 2016. Marie-Pierre is very honored to receive it.

Monika & Elaine: Monika’s pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to her once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Marie-Pierre: I completely agree with what Gina Grahame says. The purpose of life is not to be trans but to understand your strengths and your weaknesses and develop your talents as much as possible. If you need to do certain things to transition, you’ve got to do them. It is not a goal in life. It is a condition that allows life to start and the human being to flourish.
Monika & Elaine: Marie-Pierre, thank you for the interview!
Marie-Pierre: Thanks, dear friends, many hugs!

April Ashley and Marie-Pierre (stage name: Bambi)
3 years ago.
A 3-year-old portrait photo.
In London, while making a documentary
with April Ashley 3 years ago.
On a television program 3 months ago.

All the photos: courtesy of Marie-Pierre Pruvot.
Translation from French: Elaine Walquist.

© 2017 - Monika Kowalska & Elaine Walquist.

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