[ English translation from the Dutch original ]
"From boy to woman with style"
About 51 years ago it was noted in the birth register of Zwolle that the youngest child of the Berends family was male. However, afterwards it seemed that playing football was not so much fun and by the boys school he was often laughed at as a being a girl. During his youth he painted women of various ages and unconsciously he saw himself as an elegant woman in a bar or on the street in the arms of her beloved.
The dream came through. Years afterwards, as a woman she dined in castle Oud Wassenaar with a diplomat from Boston, she was being accompanied by the brother of the Greek president Papandreou on the Greek Islands and Prof. Ducrete from the University of Lausanne complimented her beauty while whispering in her ear during dancing. ‘Colette aus Holland’ was dancing, presenting and singing in e.g. Charley's Nightclub in Luxemburg, Las Vegas in Athene, Terrasse in Zurich, Don Quichotte in Casablanca and she won miss-elections on several cruise ships.
Colette (still as a boy) in 1968 wearing a wig
Fifteen years ago she had sex reassignment surgery. Finally a woman. She does not want to have her name mentioned in the newspaper. She stresses: “I really want to talk about my past but I do not want to be insulted on the streets about this. That’s why I insist that you make a good newspaper article about this that shows that I am someone who has found her place in live. It is like this and I want that readers understand that it is like this. Many people see transsexualism as something strange, but the Genderstichting – this is a group of medical and psychological experts – declare that transsexualism is an authentic feeling to belong to the other gender and that this is by no means a mental disorder. I have always been very feminine in all aspects and I don’t have any disorder.”
Without allowing almost any objection: “Agree, I was a princess, wasn’t I ...” The pictures of miss-elections are surely proof of this. ‘Collete aus Holland’ looked and still looks marvelous … owners of Cabarets are no charity organizations.
For fifteen years she was in show-business. She worked ‘everywhere’ in Europe and North-Africa, she took hormones and saved money for surgeries. First she acted as a travesti wearing a blonde wig, later on after surgery in Casablanca as a ‘real woman’. Afterwards she worked ten months a year and the remainder of her time she used to travel, e.g. to India where she slept in the Maharadja palaces that shortly after the independence had been turned into very nice five star hotels, to Hong Kong where she dined on floating restaurants, to Singapore where she looked at travesti shows, to Bali where she was excited by the temple dances, to the rainforests of Borneo where she slept in long-houses. She also crossed South-America and the United States and she made cruises along North-Europe, the Mediterranean and along the Greek Islands.
Collete Berends wanted to see the world and wanted to have confirmation for herself. As a woman. “And this confirmation I got”, she told us. “On cruises I often became first or second on miss-elections and during my work in night clubs I was a woman in between the other women. I was an attractive lady. Isn’t it marvelous to have a man, while dancing, whispering in your ear that you look beautiful.”
Colette in 1980 in Zurich
Now – at the age of 51 in her apartment in Zwolle – she thinks about the past with some pain in the heart. She underlines her conversation with typical female gestures: “You know, being a performing artist is beautiful, because one is living close to each other and doing many things together. Now, I miss this very much. In that world I was a woman even long before I had surgery. You are accepted as a woman, even if you have no make-up or walk the streets as a man. You stay Colette, it has never been different. I would like the people to say: this human is so feminine such that one forgets any remaining male aspect.”
Two and a half years ago she returned to Zwolle. She says that perhaps she should have not done this. “Somewhere else I would have been a woman amongst women, but here people knew me and they all find this an exotic story. Here, there is always an idiot to yell at you. Perhaps, somewhere else, this would not have happened. But here I had family and friends, and therefore I thought it would be easier for me here. From my life as an artist I was not used to such type of aggression. All those years I could live as a woman and here from time to time I am being reminded about my past. Perhaps only twelve people knew about my past in Zwolle, but these twelve were responsible to spread the story in no-time.”
She admits that she is noticeable in Zwolle. Not only due to her past, but also due to her length, her “classical” appearance and her voice being just a bit to low compared to the average woman. A real woman to see: dressed classically, nicely wearing make-up and radiating elegance.
“I find it important that a woman looks well. I never leave home without make-up. If you can be more attractive as a woman I think you are obliged to do so. Look at all those girls that look just like boys. Hence, you can imagine that a boy looks back to women like us. Although I was already far in my forties, I could get a whole cohort of young men. Not to exaggerate, no no, it is just like that. This is because they see something which probably is more attractive than a young woman without too much experience.”
She shows me a photo of an adorable man who certainly is twenty years younger than her. “This is my friend. Nice man, isn’t he? Did you expect something different? You know, in fact this is the least beautiful friend I ever had. I had a marvelous large Italian and a tall and beautiful boy from Holland. But this friend is very kind. The first two weeks he was not aware that I was transsexual. Especially, in the beginning it was difficult when I already looked like a woman but still could not give myself to a man because I had no surgery yet. After surgery I slept with men. However, I did not tell them about my past when it was only a short relation. I also don’t deem this necessary. It looks all like a woman with me and my posture is very feminine. Even the most experienced lovers did not notice something.”
Colette in 1986
All this makes her feeling hurt even more if someone makes a remark on the street. “Sometimes, if someone is yelling impolite words I do not avoid the confrontation and I answer: do you realize what you are doing? Because you cannot prove what you are saying. If you want I can show you my identity papers and I could get you arrested by the police. Usually it then becomes very quiet … Often this is typical childish behavior.”
“At the latest forum of the Dutch Academy of Health Care, that Colette attends annually, a student said to me: But why do you have to be so noticeable, you always look so elegant and too nicely dressed. I said: “Would you prefer me to look like you, wearing a pair of jeans and a lose pullover like most students these days?”
“As a transsexual you always think a step ahead. You want using refinement to compensate for what nature did not give. Biological woman look nice, they received this from the Lord, but we had to follow a long road. All what we did aimed at attaining a perfect look. I was a tall, beautiful woman to see. In my shows I never tried to look erotic. Most important to me was that I always looked beautiful.”
Colette started her career at the cabaret Madame Arthur after having worked in a few fashion houses. She was singing songs of Marlene Dietrich and Hildegard Knef. She was wearing a blonde wig and she was so slender that she had to wear a long evening dress to cover all her visible bones. To change from a travesti club to a night club was not easy, but in the South of France she succeeded. There she had a breast augmentation and later, fifteen years ago, also sex reassignment surgery in Casablanca.
“Now this is covered by health insurances” she says. “But at those times that was not the case. For years I did not go on holiday to save money for the surgery. Many doctors at that time opposed such surgery. The surgeon in Casablanca was insulted although he deserved the highest possible distinctions. First I obviously found this idea very frightening. On purpose I went to work in Casablanca to know this surgeon better, this eased my mind. You have to realize that there you are in the hospital completely lonely. In order to do this one has to be very convinced to become a woman, isn’t it?”
Colette was the fifth person in The Netherlands to undergo sex reassignment surgery. After surgery she first felt very bad. Only after a month she wrote a letter home telling her parents that she had surgery and that now she was officially recognized as a woman allowing her to travel to The Netherlands again after so many years. Very emotional times were following. In Morocco two gynecologists confirmed that she had all external characteristics of a woman and that she could fully function as a woman. The final decision was made by court. Three months later her birth certificate was changed with help from a renowned doctor in hormones Dr. O de Vaal. He confirmed that Colette with a 46XY cartogram was already from birth transsexual and that in fact one should have waited until she could decide by herself to fill in the gender on the birth certificate.
In the seventies, at a wedding, she met her family in The Netherlands again. Some family members supported her others treated her as if she had leprosies. But the bridegroom was a man with style: “After the bride he asked me for a dance.” Some friends had difficulties to understand this, her mother accepted it rather soon and the remainder of the family slowly accepted it. “Some people said: the most remarkable fact is that you remained precisely the same person, but now it looks more natural.
Indeed, I remained the same. Some transsexuals totally reject their past. They tear apart old photo albums in order not to be reminded by the past. However, I have also lived before my surgery and in some way I was happy too. This is not bothering me too much. I am as I am, I do not impose anything on myself. Sometimes they say: as a woman you have to behave such and such. Nonsense. Even should I have a male characteristic – I don’t know if I have one – then it is like that and that makes me not unhappy.
What I had to do, I have done: my breasts, sex reassignment surgery and a few small esthetic corrections and that’s all. You have to be happy onetime. Even if I not use make-up and I open the door then it is still “good-morning misses” and it should be like that. I can walk naked in the sauna without anybody looking at me. Just a woman, nothing special. I take all kind of courses, I paint and I make wall carpets. I am a beauty specialist and an expert in facial cosmetics thoroughly educated inside and outside The Netherlands. Even now I am still taking courses. Apart from this there is nothing special about me. I do not regret anything. For this reason I want you to write your story such that this is not about a man that became a woman but about a woman with a remarkable life.”
Very soft, but very clear: “I forbid you to use the word “rebuilding”. I find this a very strange word. It is just as if I was changed into church tower. I have always been a church tower. They just adapted me …”
Source: Zwolsche Courant, 21 March 1986