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Personal stories illuminate Transgender Day of Remembrance

Identity LGBTI

On the eve of International Transgender Day of Remembrance, Group Captain Catherine McGregor shared insights from her personal experience of gender transition, saying “in the final analysis, no amount of pain, ridicule or rejection is worth the long, slow death of not being fully alive or authentic”.

Ms McGregor, who describes herself as “the highest-ranking trans-woman military official in the world”, was speaking at a RightsTalk hosted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson.

In a statement issued to acknowledge Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20 November, Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said:

“It is with sadness that we commemorate another Transgender Day of Remembrance.

“Every year transgender people face violence, harassment and bullying because they simply want to be themselves. Sadly some transgender people pay the ultimate price at the hands of others, and tragically themselves.”

"But Catherine's brave story is a welcome and optimistic note to highlight the incredible worth and personal growth that comes from being your authentic self.

"No one in society should ever need to suppress their individuality. Catherine's story is inspirational. "

In her speech yesterday, Ms McGregor said:

“On this day three years ago I was living as a guy.

“I was about to write a book about the Indian cricket tour of Australia, I was an infantry officer in the Australian Army and I had been told in October that I was to be awarded the Order of Australia for my services.

“On the outside, everything was perfect.

“I had a lot to live for, but I had already been in therapy for about 14 or 15 months. I actually went to therapy that first week in November 2011 and just said ‘I’m transgendered’ .…it was this kind of light-bulb moment. I knew time was running out to actually finally be born as me.”

Group Captain McGregor said that although she was conflicted about her gender identity at an early age, it was a long time before she was able to directly address the issue.

“I had a massive investment in repressing all of this.

“I came from a very conservative family in a very conservative town in a very conservative era.

“I adapted the way a lot of heterosexual males do and I went on a path of repression.”

Ms McGregor said her mental health was not helped by her alcohol abuse, or by doctors of the era who repeatedly told her that she could not transition and maintain her role in the Australian Defence Force.

As it turned out, Group Captain McGregor found transitioning at the ADF to be the least difficult part of her journey because a path had been forged by her colleague, Bridget Clinch.

She also highlighted the “heart-warming” response of the international cricketing community.

When asked why attitudes towards trans and gender diverse people might be changing for the better, Ms McGregor pointed to the impact of being visible. “Now people can name their feelings and go, ‘I actually know what’s going on and I’ve seen someone else do it’.

“When we talk human rights and trans rights, I think the huge quantum leap is to get people who are frightened and who are misunderstanding of us to just acknowledge we’re human – there’s a human being there and it might be confronting to deal with us or to get your head around it but we’re human.

“Violence against trans people is a huge issue. The vituperation online is disgusting, the opportunities in mainstream employment if you’re not in a public sector job are still challenging …but no amount of pain, no amount of ridicule, no amount of rejection is worth the long, slow death of not being fully authentically alive and oneself. And if this story gives anyone hope then I am truly delighted and humbled by that.”

Commissioner Wilson said that the Day of Remembrance is not only about honouring lives lost but also a positive call to action.

“As a country we need to continue the important discussion to promote understanding of why people are transgender.

That understanding is done by promoting human stories, such as those of Mikayla Novak and Cate McGregor.

“There are always human stories behind human rights abuses, and when they are explained they are a salient reminder of the importance of compassion and understanding.”

“No Australian should experience violence, abuse of harassment because of who they are”.

Photo: Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson with Group Captain McGregor.