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Transgender Lt Col pays tribute to mental health professionals

By Karen Keast | Last Updated: 16-11-2013

Lt Col Cate McGregor

Three years ago, Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm McGregor AM met a psych triage nurse on duty at the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

It was a meeting that changed the speech writer and political strategist’s life.

“I thought enough is enough because I am feeling really flat all of the time. I attend Alcoholics Anonymous regularly, I meditate and pray but it wasn’t lifting me – it was time I got some help on this.

“It saved my life and gave me a life I hadn’t dreamed was possible. I had been half alive my whole life. That’s the real gift from the support that I received.”

After commencing gender transition in June last year, Lt Col McGregor is now Catherine ‘Cate’ McGregor and continues to work in the Australian Defence Force for Army

chief Lieutenant General David Morrison.

Lt Col McGregor will tell her story and the important part mental health nurses and psychologists have played in her transition from male to female as one of the key note speakers at the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses39th Annual International Mental Health Nursing Conference, being held in Perth from October 22-24.

“I feel an enormous debt of gratitude to the people that worked with me over the course of the last three years,” she said.

“They helped me find my way to the most important decision I have had to make.

“Without them I wouldn’t be alive today. I was in quite dire straits on a few occasions.”

The psych nurse referred the Lt Col, who commanded the Australian Army Training Team in East Timor, and recovering alcoholic to a psychologist supportive of the AA’s Twelve Step program - opening up an entire new world to the Lt Col.

Lt Col McGregor said she first sought help from a psychiatrist in the 1980s and battled preconceived ideas of “what a transgender person looks like”, resulting in a misdiagnosis.

She said transgender people come in all shapes and sizes, and she forms a minority of the transgender population who have macho behaviours, not the stereotyped effeminate tendencies.

“I think the profession has moved forward over time,” she said.

“My presence is the message (I want to get across). You can be a transgender woman who has had an unorthodox and a male career and can still be completely identified with the female gender.”

Lt Col McGregor said the encounter with the psych nurse at Duntroon was “incredibly important”.

“She treated me as a human being and just didn’t rubber stamp me. She took my individual case seriously and treated me with real respect and empathy.”

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