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Episode 27: Le caporal canadien-français (The French Canadian Corporal)

By Duolingo on Tue 27 Oct 2020

When Vincent-Gabriel Lamarre joined the Canadian Armed Forces, he knew he had found his calling. But a few years into his service, he realized he could no longer ignore the discomfort he felt about his gender identity. Would a gender transition be accepted in the military? After the episode, learn more about Vincent-Gabriel’s journey here.

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Ngofeen: On a spring day in 2017, Corporal Vincent-Gabriel Lamarre, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, received new marching orders. He grabbed the keys to a military truck and set off to do what he loved most: help a community in need.

Vincent-Gabriel: J’adore mon métier. Chaque fois que j’ai une mission, je suis fier de pouvoir l’accomplir. Ce printemps-là, il y a eu des inondations graves au Québec. Beaucoup de gens avaient besoin d’aide. Aider les gens, c’est ma passion.

Ngofeen: In the province of Quebec, spring floods had caused major damage and evacuations. The Canadian Armed Forces had been called in to support the relief efforts. Vincent, an experienced military driver who had served in Afghanistan, was tasked with transporting materials and soldiers to the area.

Vincent-Gabriel: Je mesure un mètre soixante, alors je suis l’un des plus petits de mon unité. Mais je sais très bien conduire les gros véhicules militaires, même dans des conditions difficiles. Depuis ma mission en Afghanistan, j’ai beaucoup d’expérience comme chauffeur.

Ngofeen: As he settled at the wheel of his truck and prepared to head out, Vincent started feeling nervous. He knew he was about to meet people from a base where he had worked at the beginning of his career…and the soldiers from his former base knew him under a different identity: as a woman.

Vincent-Gabriel: Je suis enfin moi-même, et je suis enfin heureux. Vincent, c’est ma vraie identité. J’ai appris à m’accepter et à m’aimer comme je suis. Mais à ce moment-là, dans le camion, j’avais peur d’être jugé.

Ngofeen: Bienvenue and welcome to the Duolingo French Podcast. I’m Ngofeen Mputubwele. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories to help you improve your French listening and gain new perspectives on the world.

The storyteller will be using intermediate French, and I’ll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again. We also offer full transcripts at

In this episode, Vincent speaks French with a Canadian accent, so you may notice that some words ending in certain vowel sounds, like the “e-u-x” in “nerveux,” have an added “r” sound at the end, sounding more like this:

Vincent-Gabriel: Je suis nerveux.

Ngofeen: When Vincent was born in 1986, his parents baptised him Virginie. But from a very early age, something felt off to him. He felt he was not born in the right body.

Vincent-Gabriel: Depuis l’âge de trois ans, je savais que je n’étais pas dans le bon corps. Ce sentiment venait, puis repartait. Mais je ne savais pas quoi faire.

Ngofeen: When he enlisted in 2008, Vincent was 22 years old and he was still living as Virginie, an openly gay woman. Gay men and women had been serving openly in Canada since 1992. Vincent could not wait to start his new career.

Vincent-Gabriel: L’armée m’avait toujours attiré. Je rêvais d’être dans l’action. Je voulais un métier de combat, mais les métiers de combat sont très exigeants physiquement.

Ngofeen: Vincent could choose from a range of military careers. But he doubted his ability to handle a hard core combat job, so he picked the next best thing: driving trucks.

Vincent-Gabriel: J’ai commencé l’entraînement militaire. Au début, c’était très difficile. Tous les jours, à quatre heures du matin, on courait autour de la base militaire. J’avais envie de vomir, mais je n’ai jamais pensé à abandonner. J’ai appris les valeurs essentielles de la vie de soldat, et j’ai compris que j’avais fait le bon choix.

Ngofeen: On graduation day, as he marched in the military parade, Vincent saw his family in the first row of the audience. His mother, his sister… Even his grandmother was there, glowing with pride. She said she was in heaven, or as they say in Canadian French, elle était aux petits oiseaux, she was with the birds.

Vincent-Gabriel: Ma grand-mère me disait souvent qu’elle rêvait de prendre un soldat dans ses bras. Alors, elle était aux petits oiseaux. Comme elle, j’étais vraiment heureux.

Ngofeen: But when Vincent started his professional training as a driver, he struggled. His first day on the job, the giant truck he drove broke down. He felt like the men in his battalion were second-guessing his ability because when they looked at Vincent, all they saw was Virginie—a woman.

Vincent-Gabriel: J’étais frustré. Les autres soldats me considéraient comme moins qualifié, et moins fort. Et je le sentais. C’était un cauchemar.

Ngofeen: Shortly after starting his job, Vincent learned he would be deployed to Afghanistan. He joined a new training unit, a small, tight-knit group of 40 people. In jest, his superior gave him a nickname, un surnom: “Ti-Gars,” short for “petit garçon,” or “little boy.”

Vincent-Gabriel: Pour mon supérieur, dire « Ti-Gars », c’était juste une blague. C'était un peu sexiste ce surnom, mais moi, je l’adorais. Pour l’unité, je suis devenu Ti-Gars. Ce surnom m’a aidé à me sentir mieux. Je me suis senti accepté. J’étais devenu un frère d’armes.

Ngofeen: Everything was clicking at work, but Vincent still felt like something was off—something inside him. Like his body and his mind didn’t fit together. He started searching the Internet, looking up information about gender identity. He found a support group for trans people, and he wrote them an email.

Vincent-Gabriel: J’avais toujours ce sentiment de vivre dans un corps qui ne correspondait pas avec ma tête. Ce sentiment me faisait souffrir de plus en plus. Je savais que je devais faire quelque chose. J’ai écrit à ce groupe, et ils m’ont proposé un appel téléphonique.

Ngofeen: But Vincent wasn’t ready to share his most secret thoughts with a stranger over the phone. He was about to leave for Afghanistan and knew he might not come back alive. For Vincent, the thought of losing his life for his country seemed easier than confronting his problems. Still, saying goodbye to his family was hard.

Vincent-Gabriel: C’était étrange. D’un côté, j’étais très triste, parce que je voyais peut-être ma famille pour la dernière fois. D’un autre côté, j’étais rassuré. Je sentais que ma vie n’était plus entre mes mains. Ma vie était entre les mains du destin.

Ngofeen: Forty-eight hours later, in the middle of the night, Vincent landed in Afghanistan. As he stepped out of the military cargo plane, he felt the intense heat and sand hit his face. This was the life of military service he had longed for.

Vincent-Gabriel: En Afghanistan, je conduisais des véhicules militaires lourds. C’était des camions de presque 40 tonnes. Les distances entre les bases étaient courtes, mais les routes étaient en très mauvais état. Parfois, nous étions sur la route toute la journée. C’était dangereux.

Ngofeen: Soon, Vincent was transferred to a base closer to the front. His first mission was dangerous: driving a transport truck filled with 10,000 liters of diesel. The roads were bad, and a false move could lead to an explosion. Vincent knew that the combat unit was watching him, waiting to see if he measured up.

Vincent-Gabriel: Ces camions sont très instables, mais je n’avais pas peur d’avoir un accident. Ce qui me faisait très peur, c’était de ne pas être accepté par l’unité de combat.

Ngofeen: Vincent sat behind the wheel of the armored truck and set off on a dangerous road. He was determined to show the combat unit what he was capable of. He started experimenting with all sorts of off-road maneuvers, at full speed. The combat team was impressed.

Vincent-Gabriel: Ils ont vu que je n’avais pas peur. Petit à petit, ils ont adopté mon surnom préféré : Ti-Gars. Je me suis beaucoup attaché à cette unité. Je voyais que notre travail était important pour les habitants, pour la mission canadienne en Afghanistan.

Ngofeen: During his service there, Vincent often accompanied his unit to military medical clinics in small villages. As Virginie, the unit’s only woman, Vincent was relied upon to perform security checks on women and children who needed care.

Vincent-Gabriel: J’étais essentiel pour ces femmes et ces enfants. Je les aidais à obtenir des services médicaux. Ça, c’était un sentiment très fort. Je réalisais mon objectif : concrètement, j’aidais à changer les choses. Tous les jours, j’étais impatient de sortir de la base pour aller remplir ma mission. Je ne pensais plus à mes problèmes d’identité.

Ngofeen: After eight months in Afghanistan, Vincent returned home, to Canada. It was a difficult transition, going from military to civilian life. One day, Vincent was at the grocery store, l’épicerie, pushing his cart in the produce section, when he heard a man complain about the bananas.

Vincent-Gabriel: J’étais furieux. J’avais envie de dire à cet homme : « Vous ne réalisez pas la chance que vous avez. » Avant, aller à l’épicerie, c’était une activité banale. Mais maintenant, pour moi, c’était devenu insupportable.

Ngofeen: Afghanistan had opened Vincent’s eyes to the world’s struggles…but it hadn’t solved his personal ones. He was back home, he had a girlfriend, a military career he loved. From the outside, everything looked perfect. But the weight inside him? It was growing heavier.

Vincent-Gabriel: Quand je suis parti en Afghanistan, je pensais que je ne reviendrais peut-être jamais. Mais j’étais de retour. Ma vie était la même, et mes problèmes aussi. Je vivais une double vie. C’était comme si j’étais une belle pomme rouge à l’extérieur. Mais à l’intérieur, j’étais en train de me décomposer.

Ngofeen: In 2014, Vincent decided it was time to finally contact the support group he had discovered before leaving for Afghanistan. They invited him to come to a meeting. In person.

Vincent-Gabriel: Quand je suis arrivé, les gens m’ont demandé quel nom et quel pronom je voulais utiliser. Je ne m’attendais pas à cette question, mais j’ai répondu tout de suite : « Vincent. Il. Lui. » Je devais laisser Virginie derrière moi.

Ngofeen: That night, Vincent heard testimonials from transgender men and women. When the meeting ended, he stayed to chat with other participants…and everyone in the group called him Vincent.

Vincent-Gabriel: C’était incroyable. J’ai pensé : « Toute ma vie, c’est ça que je voulais. » Ce soir-là, j’ai appris beaucoup de choses sur la transition de genre. Pour la première fois, j’ai réalisé que c’était une possibilité.

Ngofeen: Vincent kept going to the support group every month—and it helped him a lot. But between meetings, the struggle continued. One night, he came home feeling particularly upset. He went down to his basement…and trashed it.

Vincent-Gabriel: J’ai détruit la pièce. J’étais en colère contre la vie. Je me sentais seul. Je savais que je devais accepter mon identité, mais cela avait beaucoup de conséquences. Cette transition allait changer ma vie, et je devais l’annoncer à ma famille, et à mes supérieurs dans l’armée.

Ngofeen: Breaking the news to his family, to the Armed Forces. That felt different than coming out as a lesbian. Coming out as trans was, frankly, far less common. Vincent was afraid he’d lose his job. But he continued to learn about different paths for transgender people, including surgical treatments, traitements chirurgicaux.

Vincent-Gabriel: Mon docteur et moi, nous en sommes arrivés à la conclusion qu’une transition de genre était un bon choix pour moi. J’étais prêt à changer de nom. Je voulais suivre un traitement hormonal et des traitements chirurgicaux.

Ngofeen: On the day of his 28th birthday, in 2014, Vincent parked his car in front of his sister's house. He told his sister he wanted to talk to her, and they went for a walk together.

Vincent-Gabriel: Tout de suite, elle a compris que c’était sérieux. Je lui ai tout raconté. Elle m’a laissé parler, puis elle m’a pris dans ses bras.

Ngofeen: His sister admitted she was worried about the risks of the surgeries, but she agreed to help him tell their mother. His mother told Vincent she had suspected all along, and that she would support him. And she agreed to tell her mother, Vincent’s beloved 81-year-old grandmother.

Vincent-Gabriel: J’étais très proche de ma grand-mère, mais elle était très religieuse, et j’avais peur de sa réaction. Quand ma mère lui a raconté, ma grand-mère a commencé à rire, et elle lui a dit : « Je le savais ! »

Ngofeen: Vincent’s mother and grandmother felt they’d known, deep down, all along, that their beloved Virginie really identified as a man. Vincent realized they’d accepted him long before he was able to accept himself. Yet it was still a bit hard for his grandmother to call him by his new name, and to use the right pronouns.

Vincent-Gabriel: Mais elle s’est habituée à mon nouveau nom et à mes nouveaux pronoms. Elle m’a appelé Vincent jusqu’à sa mort, en 2018.

Ngofeen: Vincent still dreaded telling the Canadian Armed Forces about his transition. He didn’t know of anyone who was trans in the military. And he had never heard of anyone transitioning while serving in the military.

Vincent-Gabriel: Je n’étais pas sûr de pouvoir faire cette transition dans l’armée. Beaucoup de choses pouvaient avoir un impact sur mon travail. Je ne savais pas du tout comment les Forces Armées allaient réagir.

Ngofeen: Vincent’s contract was almost up for renewal. It meant it would be very easy for the Armed Forces to let him go. Vincent asked a superior he trusted for advice.

Vincent-Gabriel: C’était la première fois que je parlais de mes problèmes d’identité avec quelqu’un dans l’armée. Mais je faisais confiance à mes supérieurs. Et je faisais confiance à ce supérieur-là en particulier.

Ngofeen: Vincent’s superior told him that he supported him, but the decision still had to make its way up the chain of command. One day, Vincent was called, convoqué, to his base’s orderly room, la salle des rapports, reserved for administrative business.

Vincent-Gabriel: Mes supérieurs ne m’ont pas dit pourquoi j’étais convoqué. Mon cœur battait très fort. La salle des rapports était à l’extrémité de la base. En allant là-bas en voiture, j’étais en panique. Je me suis dit : « Ça y est. Ils vont arrêter mon contrat parce que je suis trans. »

Ngofeen: Vincent walked into the orderly room. A corporal handed him some papers. The other corporals looked at him with serious faces, and then one of them asked him: “Would you like to renew your contract for 8 or 25 years?”

Vincent-Gabriel: Je n’arrivais pas à y croire. D’abord, j’ai ri. Puis, j’ai pleuré de joie. Mon contrat allait être renouvelé. J’ai répondu sans hésiter : « 25 ans ! »

Ngofeen: The military officially approved Vincent’s gender transition. Over the following months, Vincent would change his uniform, and start hormonal therapy. But first, he needed to tell his fellow soldiers.

Vincent-Gabriel: Dans l’ensemble, les gens ont bien réagi. Certaines personnes me demandaient : « Caporal Lamarre, est-ce que c’est vrai, ce qu’on raconte sur toi ? » D’autres me posaient des questions intimes. Ça ne me dérangeait pas, et j’ai toujours accepté de répondre à ces questions. Moi aussi, j’ai dû apprendre avant de comprendre.

Ngofeen: The hormonal therapy changed everything for Vincent. It wasn’t easy at first, but slowly, Vincent started seeing his body change. He grew facial hair, he gained muscle, and eventually, his voice changed.

Vincent-Gabriel: Au début, mon humeur était très instable. Mais après un an et demi, ma voix est devenue plus grave. C’était merveilleux ! Et avec ma barbe, personne ne se trompait de pronom. J’avais l’impression de renaître.

Ngofeen: In 2015, Vincent had decided he was ready for surgery. It would take a total of five surgeries before he completed his physical transition. But with each surgery, he felt a little closer to his true self.

Vincent-Gabriel: Les opérations chirurgicales sont délicates. À chaque étape, le processus devient de plus en plus irréversible. Mais après chaque opération, je me sentais plus léger.

Ngofeen: That feeling of not being in the right world, in the right body—it all went away after Vincent’s surgeries. And it didn’t come back. By the time Vincent joined the flood relief operations in Quebec in the spring of 2017, he had a new voice and a new beard. But it was the first time he would see former colleagues since his transition.

Vincent-Gabriel: Je conduisais mon camion tout seul, vers un endroit complètement inconnu. J’ai eu peur de faire une erreur, et que les autres soldats se moquent de moi. J’ai senti la même pression qu’au début de ma carrière. Mais j’étais prêt à affronter mes anciens collègues.

Ngofeen: When he got his truck to the meeting point, the soldiers guided him to a parking spot without even noticing. Nobody called him “Madame.” And when someone finally did recognize him, they simply said:

Vincent-Gabriel: « C’est bien que tu aies pris cette décision, que tu affirmes ton identité. Bravo. » J’étais vraiment surpris et soulagé. Entendre ça, ça m’a donné une nouvelle perspective.

Ngofeen: Today, Vincent is getting ready to pursue a new career in the Canadian Armed Forces: as a medical technician.

Vincent-Gabriel: C’est mon nouveau rêve. Je suis impatient de continuer ma carrière dans les Forces Armées. Cela va donner un nouveau sens à ma vie. Je vais pouvoir aider encore plus de gens, et surtout, toujours rester qui je suis : moi-même.

Ngofeen: Corporal Vincent-Gabriel Lamarre is a driver in the Canadian Armed Forces. He tells his story at conferences to help families and employees understand gender identities. You can learn more about his journey in the documentary film “Ti-gars.” A link to the film is available on our website.

This story was produced by Martine Chaussard, a producer based in Atlanta.

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The Duolingo French Podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media. I’m your host, Ngofeen Mputubwele, à la prochaine!


This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Producer: Martine Chaussard
Narrator & Protagonist: Vincent-Gabriel Lamarre
Managing Editor: Natacha Ruck
Mix and Sound Design: Martine Chaussard
Mastering Engineer: Laurent Apffel
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro