A woman in a man's man's world
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A woman in a man's man's world

Cate McGregor has, for the first time in her life, experienced being "manterrupted", ignored and sidelined as she has worked alongside men in the male-dominated fields of the Australian Defence Force and international cricket.

She is acutely aware of her change in status from someone who was listened to as a matter of course, to someone who has to now fight to be heard. All because she has become a woman.

 Group Captain Cate McGregor.

Group Captain Cate McGregor. Credit:Jamila Toderas

In 2012, Malcolm McGregor, an accomplished military strategist, speechwriter and international cricket commentator, began gender transition after a lifetime of internal struggle over his identity.

Now with hormone therapy and the loss of more than 20 kilos having transformed the "bloke's bloke" into a far more diminutive and graceful blonde, Cate McGregor finally feels like she has "arrived" as a female.

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So her accompanying loss of status and power has been a bittersweet pill to swallow.

"I have discovered what it is like to be the only woman in the room – and it is intimidating and I have felt acutely conscious of the fact I am different. And, on more than one occasion, when I have made what I thought were quite sensible points, I have been ignored. It is quite shocking when that happens."

"But on another level it has been affirming, in a perverse sort of a way. I feel I have been accepted on a female level, not a male level, and for me that has brought a certain level of happiness – even when I am actually being patronised!"

Group Captain McGregor has made other concessions to being female. She pays more attention to walking in a crowd, noting that as a man she tended to "push on through without noticing others"' Her concerns for personal safety mean she no longer jogs at night or runs up Mount Ainslie at dusk.

"Certainly as a woman I feel far more physically vulnerable than I ever did as a male. I am discovering that women are considered prey or fair game – and I find that dispiriting."

Currently the Director of Research and Analysis in the Office of the Chief of Air Force, Captain McGregor is the highest ranking transgendered military officer in the world.

She will address the National Press Club next Wednesday on her transformation from a man to a woman in male-dominated professions as part of the Women in Media lectures.

She wrote the ground-breaking anti-sexism speech delivered by Chief of Army David Morrison in 2013 in which he irately called for those who did not respect women in the armed forces to simply: "Get out!"

Morrison refused to accept her resignation when she announced her intention to live as a woman and Captain McGregor has praised the army as well as her cricketing circle for supporting her transition.

She last year made the move to the Royal Australian Air Force because "no one knew me and no one was subconsciously gendering me."

She also noted the Air Force had a "vastly more visible female workforce and less emphasis on a machismo mentality".

"Having said that, however, I think the day the median Australian soldier looks like me and not Ben Roberts-Smith is the day we have a major problem in terms of the defence of this country!"

While she conceded the female grooming routine was more exhausting and all-consuming than she had ever envisaged, Captain McGregor said one of the best part of being a woman was the interpersonal communication she shared with other women.

"I absolutely love the way women talk together and affirm each other - I love having coffee with girlfriends. Women talk so much more about what is going on in their lives than men – men are more linear and focused.

"But at the end of the day who is to say that what women speak about – that affirmation and caring aspect of the conversation – is not what is more important in life? I don't see it as trivial or time wasted, I see it as incredibly special."

Emma Macdonald is a senior reporter for The Canberra Times.

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