CATHERINE McGregor, Australia's most senior ranking transgender military officer until she retired this year, has hit back at claims she was part of the "feminisation" of the Australian military.
In a gripping Q&A session at an Australian Institute of Company Directors event at Novotel Twin Waters this morning, the 2016 Queensland Australian of the Year said: "I've been accused of being part of this feminisation of the ADF, but don't for a moment believe that."
"Overwhelmingly, close combat on the ground is a male endeavour and it always will be - it's just the nature of it," she said.
"I don't think there will be a...significant portion of the special forces community who will be female."
She said if a person was "good enough", it wouldn't be fair to discriminate against them on the grounds of gender, but said that overall, she didn't think "the SAS regiment or commandos would be strengthened by having women."
"There's just an absolute baseline level of physical strength …that is not distributed through the female population as widely as it is amongst men," Ms McGregor said.
A former Lieutenant Colonel in the army, Ms McGregor served in East Timor three times and also held senior positions in the Royal Australian Air Force.
As speech writer for the now retired Chief of Army and Australian of the Year David Morrison, she produced the famous 2013 anti-discrimination video he delivered in the midst of the sex scandals that plagued the military.
She made the decision to change from Malcolm to Catherine in 2012, and maintained her career in the military until retiring in December last year.
Ms McGregor's honest, humble and at times hilarious speech to AICD members recounted anectodes of her gender transition and career as a cricket writer. She described the effect of her gender transition on her family as "traumatic", saying she "lost" some of her siblings who couldn't adjust to the loss of their brother.
"I have a sister who was a (Sisters of) Mercy nun for 20 years and didn't bat an eyelid," Ms McGregor said. "She's still very close to me."
Losing her wife of 16 years was one of the hardest parts, she said.
"There's not a day I don't feel sad about that," she said. "If I ever thought this would happen to me I would never have married her - we were happy.
"We were never formally divorced and that says much more about her than it does about me. She is one of the most amazing people that I've ever met.
"She's an incredibly, deeply spiritual person and frankly if anyone deserved to be the Australian of the Year, it's her."
She said the impression that she had "thrived professionally" was "misleading".
"I've got to be honest, I have not been at my best professionally since I transitioned," she said.
"My work has come second to the process of transitioning and just surviving. I lost a home a, I lost a marriage.
"There's been a large amount of grief in my life. I've functioned satisfactorily but without rising to any great heights - and that's fine, that's appropriate to what's happened."
Ms McGregor now plans to continue her career as a writer and commentator. Her speech to AICD members concluded with raptuous applause.