Transcript: Couch Talk with Cate McGregor

Couch Talk 104 (Play)

Guest: Cate McGregor, Cricket Writer

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is Kate McGregor, who is a cricket writer and a speech writer for the Australian Army chief. She talks about her book, Indian Summer of Cricket’, and her struggles in coming to terms with her gender transition from being Malcolm McGregor, amongst other things.

Welcome to the show, Kate!

Catherine McGregor (CM)– Nice to be here, Subash!

SJ– It is absolutely my pleasure having you on.

You are a Lieutenant Colonel in the Australian Army, speech writer for the Army chief David Morrison, served in East Timor amongst other places, and also a cricket writer. And, you had a book published last summer, An Indian Summer of CricketReflections on Australia’s summer game”, which takes us through India’s Test series Down Under in 2011/12. Let’s begin with what motivated you to write the book…

CM– Subash, I have always loved the game, although I did drift away from it, I stopped playing it in the 1980s and had a fairly complicated personal life and I guess I lost my way both in life and cricket. I had not followed it with the passion that I was accustomed to as a young person but I rekindled my love for cricket during some time in England in 2008 and I really became quite fixated on the England/India series in England in 2011 and recovered my passion for the game considerably. When India were coming to Australia that year, I thought it might be an appropriate time to write a book about cricket to reminisce about my love of the game and to reflect on -what by that stage had been half my life. i was in my 50s and I had a span of life over which to review cricket and to consider the changes in the game and the changes in my own life, the changes in Australia. It just struck me as a nice time to do it and I got a writing surge. I know you write about cricket and love cricket. It was juts a burst of passion that prompted me to write the book.

SJ– The book comes across as an autobiography woven into the Test series mixing with your primary area of expertise which is the Army, politics, geopolitics…everything mingled with cricket.

CM– Yes, the book did mark something of a passage, something of a memoir as well as a traditional tour book. I tend to have a very self-revelatory way of writing. i tend to weave myself into the narrative. I think the Americans call this “Gonzo journalism”. While I am not conscious of doing that, it just seems to be the way I write. Eventually, I view events through the prism of my own experience. the military stuff…

I learnt a good lesson from Rahul Dravid, the great Indian batsman. He gave a wonderful speech [Bradman Oration] down here. He said that he thought that it was a mistake to use military analogies to describe sports, it rather underestimated the sacrifices of the people in war. Having said that, I have spent most of my life studying the art of war and military history. So, invariably, I sometimes use military analogies to describe other life situations for better or for worse.  My military experience does permeate the book unavoidably.

SJ– I want to talk about a bit about Rahul Dravid at the Bradman Oration that he gave at Canberra in 2011, before the series kicked off. You also had a discussion about the Australian cricket, the Australian cricketers and how they are expected to behave in society, on the cricket field etc etc. You make a comment in the book where you wonder if Australian cricket could produce a man like Rahul Dravid and you seemed to conclude that it could not. Why so?

CM– It didn’t give me any joy to say that. There are a couple of caveats I need to place on that. When Rahul gave that Bradman Oration, he was the oldest man in Test cricket – he described himself as the oldest current Test player, older even than Sachin (Tendulkar) by a few months. He was a fully formed individual. He was an older man. He was a grown up and he lived a rich life. I think players from the subcontinent, growing up through that and coming from a country from such extremes of life standards, I think it tends to mature the Indian players. The Australians tend to be much more privileged. I think our young men quite often are the products of either being a single child in a family or they are part of a small family and are very rich. They tend to get a bit spoilt and they are doted on by their parents. There is a kind of a Darwinian selection process amongst Indian players. It gives them a number of qualities. One of them is humility, which I don’t see a lot often in some of our younger players.

In the case of Dravid, I think he is one of the rarest of human beings. He is an exemplary man as well as an exemplary cricketer. [Players from the subcontinent] seem to be marinated in a very deep and old civilization and it shows in the way they conduct themselves. I don’t like to say that as a patriotic Australian, but I think there is brashness among some of our younger players that is not entirely edifying and not sometimes in the best traditions of the game. i would exempt a few of the current crop coming through, though – Ed Cowan with whom I have developed a bit of a friendship lately. He is a thoughtful man, he things deeply about the game and he conducts himself very well, as do many others. I think VVS Laxman was another player that I met on that tour. They were men who were in the twilight of their carers and they were fully formed human beings and I felt immense admiration for them.

SJ– You talk of patriotic Australian. But, you still supported the Indian cricket team during the Test series, didn’t you?

CM– I am probably lucky that I didn’t get lynched down here, Subash. My sentiment towards India was pretty overt in that tour. I love the players, I was immensely drawn to Rahul Dravid. I like Laxman. I like some of the younger players coming through as well. i had a couple of encounters with Virat Kohli, I met Praveen Kumar through a friend of mine – Harini Rana, who is a good Indian cricket journalist. So, I developed an affection for the Indian team. It is an enduring thing. India is the team of my heart, I must say. Certainly, don’t worry, when the Poms arrive, and I think they arrive in Australia today, I will be dying in the last ditch for Australia. But, I have always been fond of the Indians, I love the way they play their game. There is a subtlety in grace in Indian batting that I think is unique. I barracked for India quite unabashedly on that tour and I was quite crestfallen that they didn’t perform as well as I had hoped.

SJ– I am sure several hundred millions of people had wished the same way.

CM– I hope they buy my book! *Laughs*

SJ– That will be fantastic.

CM– I will be a Pulitzer prize winner of something.

SJ– Absolutely. And I wish you the best.

You are in a unique position because you have the love of cricket and you come from a military background. I don’t know whether you watched Mike Brearley’s recent Bradman Oration, a couple of days ago.

CM– No, I missed it. i was travelling in Perth, Subash. I missed it, but I had an email from Peter Young [of Cricket Australia] telling me that Mike had come down for it. I must catch up with it. it is the first Bradman Oration in some years that I have missed. I must track that down.

SJ– It is a wonderful speech that he gave. But, I want to bring up a couple of things that he said during the speech. He quoted John Arlott and Bill Shankly and he says quoting Arlott, “Nothing in cricket has the slightest importance when set against a single death from violence in Northern Ireland” and quoting Shankly he says, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much more important than that.” That is kind of two extremes. You mentioned Rahul Dravid mentioning the military/war metaphors used in cricket. How do you see it?

CM– A couple of things – when Rahul gave that speech, he did it in a beautiful way. It was actually delivered at the Australian War Memorial. He made two important points. One is that many people think that Australians and Indians only have cricket in common, but he made it very clear that Indian soldiers fought alongside Australians in Gallipoli and indeed in many theatres of war Indian soldiers fought alongside Australians. Most Australians are unaware of that. He also said that in a venue as sacred as that, it felt profane, I am paraphrasing him, to use terms like “battle”, “fight” and “war” in describing cricket because eventhough much is at stake in cricket, nothing compares to the sacrifice of human life. it was a point very, very well made. I agree with him on that.

The other thing about similarities between war and cricket is, I think, the seismic changes in the global system that have occurred since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War have impacted on cricket and impacted on warfare in similar ways. What I mean by that is that the fragmentation of the global system – the proliferation of non-State actors, whether they be terrorist organizations, private military companies, trans-national corporations – all undermine the hegemony and call upon the loyalties of the citizens of the nation-state.

When I was a young fellow growing up, if one of my peer group wanted to play for Australia, they would have cut off their arm to wear a Baggy Green cap. I am now involved in a coaching company with a former Kent player, Simon Cusden. We are running into young men now who bowl three overs and say “I have done enough.” and we ask them why, and they say “I will never bowl more than 3 overs. I only want to play 20 over cricket.” It is a really profound in the way the young people play cricket. You can see it in the global system as well, in that the nation-state is no longer the only actor that calls on the loyalty of the citizens. I suppose that’s a long winded way to answer your question, but, what I am saying is that globalization is changing the power mix in cricket and it is changing the power mix in war and international relations.

SJ– You spent a fair bit of the time in the book about that – the commercialisation of cricket, especially a substantial amount about refurbishment of Sydney Cricket Ground – the hallowed cricket ground into a multi-sport, multi-event utility; not just a cricket ground. You have this exchange with the commentator, Jim Maxwell, where he says it is “the last of the summer wine” because of the rapid growth of T20 leagues around the world especially the Big Bash League. Especially for someone that calls themselves as a cricket tragic/romantic, do you find that terrifying, in terms of the long terms health of cricket, Test cricket especially?

CM– Subash, I don’t want to evade your question. But, there is a story that maybe apocryphal about Zhous Enlai being asked what he thought of the French Revolution, in 1968, and he replied “It is too early to tell.” Maybe it is too early to tell the full impact of the shorter format of the game. Don’t get me wrong, one of the other points Rahul Dravid made in his Bradman Oration is that the television rights in India making the game accessible – this is to be commended. He told a very moving story about Munaf Patel. When Munaf Patel turned up as the fastest bowler in India, there was no road into the village where he lived. The media built that. That was the kind of story that leaves a lump in one’s throat. He talked about Zaheer Khan never bowling with a really cricket ball until he was 19. So, the money from IPL, the money from television rights is doing wonderful things.

I think Australia is peculiarly undermined by T20 cricket, and that is our own fault. I am not begrudging television rights and I am not begrudging players’ good incomes. We have scheduled the T20 really badly here, in my view. And what it is doing, in my view, is that it that it is undermining the technique about players and disrupting the preparations of marginal Test players. That is purely a domestic Australian problem. I think India are handling T20 cricket better than we are, because you have got some fine white ball cricketers coming through, but you also have a raft of fantastic young Test batsmen coming through. What I think is the problem with the last of the summer of the summer wine, is that I was very pessimistic a few years ago. I am not as pessimistic now. I think this is a matter that CA has to look at and has to basically not be so greedy in the scheduling of 20-over cricket. I note that the players  met informally last week to take a submission to Cricket Australia to that effect because they are feeling that short over cricket is starting to undermine their technique as well.

SJ– Okay.

I want to talk about a dramatic shift in your personal life which is that you transitioned from being a man, Malcolm McGregor, to Catherine McGregor. You mention in the book that you were diagnosed as transgender in 1985 but you chose to repress it. Firstly, did you seek the diagnosis or did it come through in some other ways?

CM– What happened Subash, was that, the more I have read on this topic, and I read a lot, I’m a standard transperson, in that I had complications about my gender very young; I was very aware of being conflicted but I didn’t have the language for it. As a young boy, I was very drawn to the female role but I also liked being a boy in many ways, one of which was I adored cricket. I was a good cricketer coming through. I was aware that I had cross-gendered feelings at a young age. That is very standard with transpeople. I believe I am fairly standard but I know other transwomen who knew really young and literally could not change gender quickly enough – they transitioned in their teens. I took longer, that was my journey. I married, I lived a very conventional male life in many ways although I was always distressed about my gender.

In 1985, I was quite suicidal, and it’s very hard to put in to grammar, but it’s incredibly powerful and distressing. So I sought psychiatric care from a person who specialized in this area and that doctor diagnosed me as being transgendered. At that time, however, I had no role models to aspire to. Most of the transpeople that I was aware of were either working in female-impersonator shows, drag shows or they were working on the fringes of the sex industry. I was something of an overachiever. I just didn’t know how I could live the life I aspired to and transition genders. So, I wrestled with my feelings and just tried to live on. Each time the psychiatric diagnosis was quite unequivocal, I tried not to transition. In the end, I decided, the only bareable way for me to live my life was to transition genders. I did that and I’m immensely happy. I only wish that I had done that a long time ago, to be perfectly honest.

SJ– You mentioned in the book that in the 80’s and the 90’s, you were afflicted by alcoholism. So, was this the main reason behind it?

CM– Well, I don’t know. I have no doubt that the intensity of my drinking was an effort to medicate the pain and the anxiety that I was experiencing. I think I had a genetic disposition to be an alcoholic; So my sense is that whether I’d been transgenered or not, I suspect that I would have had problems with alcohol. But, in my case, I suspect that when I chose to live on as a man, having been diagnosed as trans, I think I medicated with a great deal of intensity and I probably hit my rockbottom in terms of alcohol sooner because of my transgenderism but I think I was alcohlic anyway.

SJ– You said there weren’t role models for you in the 80’s when you were first diagnosed as transgender, you were part of an institution that is very much a male bastion – the military. What kind of role did that play in to you willing to suppress it and live on as a male? Also, eventually, you end up writing about cricket, which is also a male bastion…

CM– Let me clarify a couple of things. There is a wide spectrum of transpeople. There are some young boys in their born male gender who are quite effeminate and drawn to men sexually and they transition quite often very young and they are quite comfortable in their female role. Those who are heterosexuals as males, often try to make their life work because it doesn’t make sense to them. They are thinking, “I want to marry a woman and am drawn to women.”

Yes, subconsciously, I chose very masuline pursuits. I played sport. I was an Army officer. I went to the combat arm, the infantry. I think what I did was that I really applied myself to excelling at those things. In terms of how I was perceived, I have spoken to my friends since and no one, but no one, sensed any degree of femaleness in me. I didn’t have any effeminacy in my presentation. They were all convinced that I was a well-adjusted heterosexual male and to an extent, I was. Although, at the deepest levels, I was very much in pain. Since transition, my friends have told me that the contrast between Malcom and Cate is quite staggering and leaves them somewhat aghast but none of them ever entertained any doubt that I was male when I was living as a male.

SJ– Because, you say in the book that “I became a soldier to bury my own doubts of my maleness”…

CM– I think that’s true. I wouldn’t have articulated it that way when I did it; it was a subconscious decision but yeah, that’s my understanding with the benefit of hindsight.

SJ– “The Indian Summer”, it has so many different connotations; You were falling in love with cricket again in your later years – in the afternoon of your life, this new life, rediscovering yourself, being adjusted to who you are, being comfortable to be out with it… In the book, you mention only in the last chapter your [gender] transition. What was your inner monologues and inner thoughts as you were writing the book?

CM– Two things. In terms of when I was writing the book, Subash, that actually happened after the end of the summer. I covered the tour, starting with New Zealand at the ‘Gabba in November and that summer was very, very difficult. I experienced quite serious distress. I stayed in hotels in some of the cities where the Test matches were being played, and it was some of the most loneliest and distressing times that I have ever lived through. It was a hideous summer in some ways, and I don’t know how I finished the book.

I came back from the Adelaide Test match and you might recall [from the book], I encountered the Indian team on their way home, on the last day of that summer. I was with my friend Harina Rana and a group of the Indian players at the Sydney Airport. I started writing the following weekend and I wrote it in a compressed period of about 6 or 7 weeks. During that time, I found the writing kind of healing. The way I’d explain it is, I knew by then, it was almost like the book was the last will and testament for the life I had lived, and I felt it was that closure in the book.

So I felt very distressed and it was hideous summer to live through even though I loved the cricket and loved the association of especially the Indian media contingent – a wonderful bunch of folks to travel with, but it was a very very hard summer. I have trouble actually connecting with my memories of that time or my own feelings; it all happened in a blur. I only dealt with my gender transition really fleetingly in the last two pages and that wasn’t to be evasive. I suspect that my next book will deal with it in much more detail with my transition. In fact, I’m wondering I may even do a book called “From the Ashes”, a double entendre about the Phoenix rising and look at my gender transition from the narrative spine of the coming Ashes summer.

SJ– Did you ever think, when the book was about to be published that you’d publish it under “Catherine”?

CM– There was a real issue there, Subash and it came down to a very pragmatic thing. At some point during the publishing process, my publisher has to get an ISBN number for the book from the National Library of Australia and at that time, my legal name was Malcolm. It was just appropriate that the book was identified that way. I was well on the way to make up my mind to transition genders but it was purely a mechanical thing that I hadn’t legally changed my name and it was a copyright issue about protecting it as Malcolm. Otherwise, I would have launched it as Catherine.

SJ– How has it been since? I have seen some of your interviews on YouTube, with Trans One Health Australia and others. Of course, the Internet is a fertile ground for trolls, ignorant close-minded people. How has it been overall for you in terms of your work place, your colleagues – both in the military and in cricket writing?

CM– In terms of the workplace in the military, it has been wonderful. I have been admirably supported by the Chief of the Army, David Morrison, who is now globally renowned for his courageous and principled stand on equality, especially gender equality, in the Australian army. The cricket fraternity have exceeded any reasonable expectations. I have had some wonderful, hosuehold names in global cricket like Rahul Dravid, who sent me a beautiful message on the eve of the launch of my book, Gideon Haigh, Jim Maxwell… To a man, and a woman in global cricket have been superb to me, as well as in the Army.


In terms of the trolls, I kind of regard them now as sledges from the slip cordon. I just ignore them. I keep batting, Subash. I am Not Out, and they can keep saying what they like. I let them have their say but I’m probably boring [you], but my admiration for Dravid has oozed out in this interview, as it invariably does, I have a sticker on my refrigerator that says “I never saw Rahul react to a sledge” and I never react to them any more.

On a couple of occasions, I wasn’t my best self when I engaged them and it was a mistake because, I am a role model for other transwomen, and I wear the Queen’s uniform with great pride, and I hold an Order of Australia. My behavior must be beyond reproach. Jousting with small-minded, ignorant, profane people online is beneath me. I kind of now react the way RS Dravid does to chin music. Let it go through, walk out to square leg and compose myself, come back for the next ball.

SJ– Fantastic!! Thank you so much for coming on the show Cate. Good luck with the book, and good luck with the new book you are planning on writing and I hope our paths cross very soon.

CM– Thank you, and I absolutely hope the same thing. It’s been wonderful to speak to you and all the best to your listeners. There is a lovely line {from Dravid’s Bradman Oration}, “We all speak cricket and we will be okay.”

SJ– Absolutely.

CM– Thank you for your time Subash.

SJ– Thank you so much Cate, Take care. Cheers!


Episode Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman