One student’s journey to begin living as a woman.
by Jeffrey Billman | photos by Scott Cook
Last August, in a hostel in Switzerland, Marc became Alaine.
It was, in one sense, a spontaneous decision, but not one made in haste. By that point, Marc Alain Jolicoeur ’14 had been wrestling with it for a year. He’d been living as a gay man for almost a decade, since middle school in Miami. And like lots of gay teenagers, he’d caught hell for it, both in high school and at the aeronautical college he attended for a year before transferring to Rollins. But he’d persevered, and had made a home and friends at Rollins—friends who were accepting of who he was, more so than even his own family.
But something was off.
Jolicoeur had spent the previous summer interning in Washington, D.C., for the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. There, for the first time, he found himself in a place where his sexual orientation was more than tolerated; it was embraced and encouraged. But still, the pieces weren’t falling into place.
Jolicoeur recalls walking to the Lincoln Memorial early one morning when no one was there. He looked up at the massive, white marble statue and wondered aloud, “Why can’t I find myself?” His echo was the only response.
Toward the end of that summer, Marc came to a realization that would forever change his life: He wasn’t supposed to be a gay man. He wasn’t supposed to be a man at all. Marc had long felt out of place in his own skin—his hormones and genitalia didn’t match the person he was inside. It was only there in Washington, surrounded by activists and allies, that Marc was finally able to pinpoint who he was.
“I realized that I’m not gay. My gender is wrong,” Jolicoeur says. “I knew that I was transgender. But I couldn’t find a word for it.”
It was a defining moment in Jolicoeur’s life, but it was just the beginning. He spent the next eight months trying to figure out what it meant. He read the bestseller She’s Not There, which chronicles author Jennifer Finney Boylan’s transition from man to woman, and scoured the Internet, especially the popular blog Planet Transgender. In October 2011, Jolicoeur announced at a campus forum that he was transgender. In the summer of 2012, he interned at a local department store, where, on account of his pullover sweaters and pulled-back hair, customers would call him “miss,” and he delighted in their error. But that final hurdle—actually changing his name, actually living as a woman—seemed insurmountable at the time.
“Nothing was final until I left for Switzerland,” Jolicoeur says.
He went there as part of a study-abroad program last fall. Before Switzerland, he stopped in Madrid, where one day he went to use a restroom, only to be told he was in the wrong one. The women’s bathroom was down the hall. Marc wasn’t wearing women’s clothing—just a cardigan, jeans, and a tank top. But he looked, as he puts it, “gender ambiguous.” Similar misunderstandings had happened before.
Nonetheless, it triggered a deep depression—an internal, psychological crisis. And then, on August 22, Marc arrived at that hostel in Switzerland. A concierge was there handing out keys to the rooms, which were segregated into boys and girls. Marc got a key to a boys’ room, but then the concierge looked at him again. Marc was tired and disheveled, and had spent much of the summer depressed, ever since that bathroom incident in Spain. His hair was swept in front of his eyes.
“I’m sorry, miss,” the man said. “I’ve given you the wrong key.” He handed Marc a key to a girls’ room.
Marc froze, but just for a second. He took the key, said thank you, and became Alaine. And when Alaine came back to college this January, she did so as the College of Arts & Sciences’ first openly transgender student.