From she to he

Corporal Vincent Lamarre
Corporal Vincent Lamarre told his story on a trip from Saint-Jean Garrison to Ottawa. Photo: Servir

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In recognition of Pride Month in June, we are republishing this story, which initially appeared in Servir, published by the 2nd Canadian Division Support Group.

By Eric Le Marec – Chief Foreign Division, Canadian Forces Language School, Detachment Saint-Jean – Servir

We all have deeply rooted prejudices, and sometimes, an encounter or event can shake them up. My encounter with Corporal Vincent Lamarre is one of those defining events.

Cpl Lamarre is a driver at Saint-Jean Garrison. Our paths crossed frequently during foreign student field trips in 2015 and 2018. The first time I met Cpl Lamarre in 2015, I caught myself wondering whether he was a man or a woman. I asked his first name, and noticed that he seemed uneasy.

When I saw Cpl Lamarre again on a trip to Ottawa in early February – I hadn’t seen him in over a year – I immediately noticed the beard… and the big smile of a person who had blossomed. Sometimes the road lends itself to unusual conversations. In bumper-to-bumper traffic on Décarie, in the middle of a snowstorm in the dark, I ventured a question – definitely an awkward one – to try to start a conversation: “You’ve had some major changes in your life, haven’t you?” I was sitting behind him, and the other passengers were watching a movie. And with both of us looking ahead, Vincent told me about his unique journey.

In 2014, Cpl Lamarre decided to make the transition from Virginie to Vincent. “I’d hit rock bottom,” he explained. “It was either a sex change or a noose.” Before coming to that conclusion, Cpl Lamarre had tried everything: dressing like a man, coming out as a lesbian, etc. He had considered a sex change before, but he was afraid. “I was scared of what other people would think, of being abandoned or seen as a monster or a circus freak,” he said. But he was very uncomfortable being in a woman’s body. “It became unbearable for me, and I couldn’t see a way out,” recalled Vincent. “I hated what I saw in the mirror.” He sank into a black hole of depression.

In January 2014, something happened in Cuba that changed everything. In a scuba diving accident, Vincent had to fight for his life to avoid drowning. His partner abandoned him, and he was being tossed around by the waves, with a concussion and lungs full of water. A survival instinct took over, and it prompted him to make an existential decision. “At that exact moment, I decided to face my fears and anxieties, and go ahead with a sex change,” he remembered.

The first step was telling his family – on his birthday. “It went pretty well,” Vincent said. “My grandmother was very accepting, so the rest of the family was, too.” Cpl Lamarre then told his chain of command, who reacted very well and supported him throughout the process. The last part was “coming out” to his colleagues. Vincent chose an exercise in Gagetown to break the news. “I decided to announce my sex change to a colleague who was not especially discreet,” he explained. “The news spread like wildfire. My colleagues were asking me if it was true, and I felt so relieved.”

In early 2014, Vincent began a long medical process that will let him complete his transition.

When we got to Ottawa, I shook Vincent’s hand and told him he was brave. “It was a matter of life or death,” he answered.

Talk about shaking up your prejudices!

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