Chaz and Cate: standing tall after gender transition

Chaz Bono. Picture: PHILIPPA HAWKER

Chaz Bono. Picture: PHILIPPA HAWKER

One was the child of pop stars, the other an army officer. Both had a feeling they were not who they should be, writes RICK FENELEY.

Chaz Bono and Cate McGregor will share a Sydney stage this month, a man and a woman comfortable in their own skins.

And yet, until five years ago, Chaz was Chastity Bono, the daughter of Sonny and Cher, the pop duo. Until 2012, Cate was Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm McGregor, AM, speech writer to chief of army David Morrison, former political adviser to Labor premier Bob Carr and Liberal leader John Hewson, journalist, author and cricket tragic who counted the sport's greats among his friends.

And still does, now that she is Lt Colonel Cate McGregor. The army chief refused to accept her resignation when she made the transition from man to woman.

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will feature McGregor and Bono as star attractions and advocates for the transgender community, a group of people sorely needing heroes and role models as they endure rejection, vilification, violence and a suicide rate that is reportedly 14 times higher than for other Australians.

'I just did what I needed to do medically to physically look how I felt internally.'

As a trans woman who escaped such social isolation, McGregor feels a responsibility to offer her story as one of hope.

''There are two really archetypical alpha-male environments, the military and global cricket,'' McGregor says. ''And both of them have been extraordinary in their acceptance of me since my transition. I've had Ian Chappell and Rahul Dravid and all these guys completely accept me, which is incredibly empowering.''

Women Say Something, a breakthrough for transgender women given the suspicion and even open hostility with which some feminists have treated them.

Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor, formerly Malcolm.

Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor, formerly Malcolm.

Germaine Greer has derided them as ''some kind of ghastly parody'' and attacked governments with too few women for rushing to recognise ''men who believe that they are women and have had themselves castrated to prove it''.

But McGregor felt like a girl, and Bono like a boy, for as long as they can remember. After Bono's 40-year battle with gender dysphoria, ''I just did what I needed to do medically to physically look how I felt internally,'' he says from Los Angeles.

The Six Million Dollar Man and the Fonz from Happy Days. Chastity realised she was attracted to women when she reached puberty and concluded she must be lesbian. ''I made that assumption about myself … Of course I was very wrong. For 20-something years I tried to make that work and make that fit, and it never did.''

Chaz Bono's mother initially struggled with his transition - ''there's definitely a kind of mourning process for the parents'' - but when he appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2011, Cher called in to praise her ''wonderful child'' and to despair that there was little she could say to people who were threatening to boycott another television appearance Chaz was planning because if they were that filled with ''hostility and fear … I don't know that I would have any magic words to make you feel more comfortable and to soothe you into not being terrified of my child dancing on Dancing With The f---ing Stars''.

McGregor has encountered the fury of some conservative Christians but the warm encouragement of other conservatives, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, her one-time rugby teammate and long-time friend. Abbott saluted McGregor's courage when he penned a review in The Spectator of his old mate's 2012 book An Indian Summer of Cricket. ''While India's tour disintegrated, McGregor was coming apart, too,'' Abbott wrote.

McGregor, writing as Malcolm - mainly about cricket, and cricket as a metaphor for life - left it to the final page and a half of the final chapter to reveal that, by the time the book was launched, he would be a woman. McGregor dedicated it to ''the beautiful wife who actually inspired it'' and who was ''entitled to be aggrieved by this painful decision, which has harmed her deeply and robbed her of a husband''. They remain soulmates.

Flattered to be asked to join the Women Say Something forum, McGregor was also acutely sensitive that some feminists may see her as an impostor. She was relieved to be told the organisers' support had been unanimous.

''I can understand the argument from the feminist perspective … I quite frankly admit to it: I had every advantage that a patriarchy could give me essentially for a long time. My experience of gender is completely different to my sister or my mother or the young women I work with. But I'm thrilled that most of them don't have an ideological view on it but a human view. They know I've suffered in my own way. I can assure you that, once you become a trans woman, any disability under which women labour is yours, along with a fair bit of other opprobrium.''

Bono, meanwhile, confides: ''I have a weakness for Australian women, so I'm really looking forward to the trip … You guys just have the great women of the world.''

And now Cate McGregor is one of them.

smh.com.au

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