One student’s journey to begin living as a woman.
by Jeffrey Billman | photos by Scott Cook
Jolicoeur’s journey of self-discovery—that trip to Washington, in which she realized that Marc was meant to be Alaine—would not have happened without the largesse of the Johnson Family Foundation, a nonprofit led by chairman Jim Johnson ’66 that has, over the years, doled out millions of dollars to LGBT causes.
Every year since 2008, the Foundation has given Rollins about $20,000 to fund an LGBT summer internship program. Two students, chosen through a rigorous application process, spend a summer living on campus at American University in Washington, D.C., and interning for an LGBT group in the area. When they return to Rollins, they do what’s called a “give back” project—a way for them to share what they experienced in Washington. One student, for example, wrote a report about LGBT hiring practices on campus; another worked at the campus health center. Jolicoeur worked with the Office of Multicultural Affairs to form a panel discussion on diversity. (It was there that Jolicoeur first announced that she was transgender.)
The scholarship exists to give LGBT students a chance to see the world through a broader lens, giving them a better perspective on themselves. That was certainly the case with Jolicoeur. On May 7, 2012, a few months before setting off on that fateful study-abroad trip to Switzerland, Jolicoeur wrote a letter to the Johnson Family Foundation describing her experience:
I never imagined that this incredible opportunity to study and intern in Washington, D.C., would have been the answer and solution to the hardships I was facing. Since last summer after my LGBT advocacy internship, my life and the world around me have changed drastically. I remember after discovering what transgender was during my last few days in D.C. while I was getting ready to leave, I was in tears, because throughout my life I have always doubted my gender. I never knew that I was a transgender male and all this time the feelings that I was having of being in the wrong body were normal. … This experience allowed me to discover my transgender identity and taught me how to embrace my identity.
Rollins wasn’t Jolicoeur’s first choice. She wanted to be a pilot and enrolled in an aeronautical school. But “the mixture was all wrong.” It was a very “macho” campus, and she was uncomfortable. An advisor there recommended she look at Rollins.
Jolicoeur transferred to Rollins in the fall of 2010. The reception was “wonderful, 100 times better” than she got at the previous institution, both for Marc as a gay man and, later, Alaine as a trans woman.
Jolicoeur, like many other first-year transfer students, stayed on campus that fall, in Sutton Apartments. Abby Prokop, associate director of residential life, was living there too. Jolicoeur fell in love with her dog, and the two became friends. When she decided to become Alaine, she called Prokop from Europe with the news.
“I wasn’t shocked,” Prokop says. “Marc was comfortable dressing as a woman.”
For the College—and for Prokop, who coordinates housing assignments—however, Marc becoming Alaine presented logistical challenges. Housing on campus was only single gender—males here, females there—so where would she fit in? What about Jolicoeur’s college records? She hadn’t legally changed her name to Alaine; doing so can cost hundreds of dollars.
“While Alaine is the first [transgender student in the College of Arts & Sciences], it’s something that’s coming up a lot in higher education,” Prokop says. “It’s something we’ve been waiting for.”
Since she came to Rollins more than four years ago, Prokop has been exploring the idea of gender-neutral housing, a place where students can pick their roommates without regard for gender. Last year, the Office of Residential Life began drafting a proposal. That plan was eventually approved, and the campus’ first gender-neutral housing opened in Sutton Apartments this fall.
Thirty-two students—including Jolicoeur—have signed up. This isn’t specifically an LGBT facility, Prokop says. “Some are [LGBT]. I wouldn’t even say it’s the majority.” Instead, it’s intended to allow all students to live on campus as comfortably as possible, meeting a need for “students who do not fit into current gender binary restrictions,” as the proposal put it. In addition, each apartment will have two private bathrooms, obviating the need for gender-neutral common area facilities.
“As a college, you’re never 100 percent ready,” says Prokop. In recent years, the College has taken steps to make itself more inclusive—not just for Jolicoeur but also for the LGBT population as a whole. Gender-neutral housing was the most recent component. And while Rollins offers support networks for LGBT students as well as safe zone training and student organizations, homophobia (and transphobia) still persists at Rollins—and nearly everywhere else.
When I came back, it was different simply because I came back as Alaine,” Jolicoeur says. “I did not know what to expect. My appearance was different. My body was different.” Her friends, she found, were largely supportive. Some had more questions than others, but they were happy for her. “Everyone around me had to adjust to it,” she says.
Her family, however, was another story. She came out to them as a woman in December. “My younger sister was my only support when I came out as Alaine,” Jolicoeur says. “As for my mother and brother, it is still taboo, and still a long process for them to adjust and understand my realities. I don’t know when they’ll come around.”
Meanwhile, Jolicoeur has embarked on the process that will eventually make her a biological woman. It begins with psychological counseling before graduating to physical changes, including hormonal supplements, and eventually leading to sex-reassignment surgery. She’s seeing a psychiatrist now, but the physical stuff will have to wait until after graduation. “You would not want to go through that as a student,” she explains.
The next hurdle for Jolicoeur—a philosophy major with a double minor in women’s studies and French—will be, like other graduating seniors, finding employment. Only she’ll have to find a job in a world in which gender-identity discrimination is perfectly legal, and transgender people find themselves disproportionately unemployed.
“I want not only to bring visibility to the trans issue,” Jolicoeur says, “but to remind people of the love and support Rollins offers as an institution. It’s far more than one can imagine. Sometimes the environment you get, the difference it makes—as a trans woman and a person of color—the importance of what the community offers, it’s just extremely powerful.”