Coffee with my mate Cate (who used to be Malcolm)
Early in the year Lt Col Malcolm McGregor went to a Sydney doctor and ordered him to, “Completely eliminate this man.”
The man was himself, and the order was obeyed.
Now, Lt Col Catherine ‘Cate’ McGregor is in his place as a brilliant and important thinker and political strategist in the Australian Army. She also is one of about six members of the Defence force who have undergone a gender change and are still serving. Ostensibly the only alteration has been in the cut of the uniform and the replacement of “sir” with “ma’am”. She is part of a band of brothers…and sisters.
But there was no glib transition for Cate, no painless segue. Nor has there been an easy transition for his loving and much loved wife.
At one point Cate told me in an email, “Fuck it’s happening to me and I am still disorientated.” We have known each other for around 25 years and last met as two men at the Canberra Dawn Service last ANZAC Day.
More recently, she collected herself to reveal her sense of humour remained strong.
“Actually mate in the best tradition of the Australian Army I have become Cate - or mate which represents the amalgam of mate and Cate,” she said.
I don’t know about others, but having a friend change gender is not a common event in my life. Having that friend announce the long-yearned change in a cricket book is, I will venture, unique.
The book, a beautifully written and thoughtful diary of the last Indian tour of Australia, The Indian Summer of Cricket, looked destined to have a finely crafted, calibrated, and reflective conclusion, positioning the author on the state of the game today.
The final dig, Chapter 11, did a lot more.
It said in part: “Over the course of this summer some deep and troubling psychiatric issues returned with an alarming intensity. I had actually been diagnosed as transgendered in 1985, but resolved to repress it and man up”.
In the light of its recurrence I frankly do not know how I completed this manuscript. The summer sped past me in a disorientating blur of panic attacks and lack of sleep that fuelled thoughts of suicide. Eventually I decided to end the agony the only way that seemed to offer peace and fulfilment in my remaining years.
The book, to be launched on November 24 by Cate’s friend and boss, head of the Army Lt Gen David Morrison, is about cricket and that is the only basis for judging it. And it is well worth reading to reach that judgement.
In mid-October we met for coffee at a Yarralumla cafe. I did not recognise the Army officer in skirt, lipstick and stockings who joined me at the table.
But as soon as the conversation started the person I had known for a quarter of a century was obvious - the clever insights, the jokes, the energy. And the courage.
She apologised for monopolising the talk. “Mate I can’t top this. Keep going,” I replied.
I was pleased to have had the chance to talk to Cate. I hope the chat, so minor an event in her recent life, helped convince her friends would stay friends. Many others have readily given the same assurance.
We hugged just before taking separate paths to our cars. I was surprised how quickly I had accepted her change, as I remember saying to myself back in my office, “Cate wears too much perfume.”
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