The Trouble with Masks | Jackie Crispin Brown
jackie crispin brown

Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor knows what an authentic journey can take. Hers has been extraordinary, spanning her 55 years. Her courageous journey was shared on Australia’s ABC Australian Story “Call me Cate” where her high profile transgender transition was her greatest step to being her true self.  Cate referred to ‘taking off the mask’, the persona she has held for much of her life. For Cate this was both literal and figurative. “We all wear masks, you know. At some point you have to rip it off and say: ‘Who am I?'”  Lt Col Cate McGregor[1]

For most of us wearing a mask may not be quite so overt however the question remains: What mask do we wear that deflects other’s vision from our true self? What bits do we try to conceal? What gets in the way from feeling we can show all of ourselves?

Being inspired by Cate’s story led me to think about what masks I might wear? Sometimes I wear the “professional ” mask when I lose confidence. It’s the one that helps me distance myself, not share much about myself, and I end up spouting theories and can become narrow and resistant. I think this one comes out when confronted by ‘very smart analytical types’ expressing strong black and white opinions who I doubt will value my view of the world. Internally I feel tense (I even notice my jaw tightening), I’m not sure I am breathing and it’s difficult to connect with those around me. I hate to admit it but I can rise to the bait and this leads me to be oppositional. I get bumped off track, I’m far from my best, and I know it. I’m moving away from my authentic self.

I know when I use a mask. I know the trigger, the feeling and the outcome. Cate McGregor felt her own mask very strongly, it too led to behaviour far from her best, she was trying to live with what she thought were others expectations, as she had lived for 54 years. “I just felt conflicted. It was like the out-of-tune orchestra. It’s like something screeching, that’s not right. I just felt excruciating pain,”[2] she says.

When she transitioned her gender and started to live without her former mask she described an aliveness, deep contentment, an excitement about life that had previously alluded her, even though she had experienced love and incredible success, and a challenging fulfilling life.

Masks are like that. They seem to have their use yet what they really do is deny the aliveness that comes from being all that we are and willingly being seen as that. I think about what that means for me and my ‘professional’ mask, and I know it too limits me.

To take off my mask, firstly I make some physical changes. I loosen my jaw and I breath more deeply which ‘loosens my mind’. I can come back to self which leads me to be curious about the situation and curious about the other person. Rather than reacting by yanking on the mask, moving me away from myself and the other person, I seek to understand both of us and find a more constructive way through. I remember I can trust who I am. The mask may feel safe, yet it really isn’t. It erodes my self acceptance, it limits my potential and it denies the people around me the opportunity to experience me at my best.

Cate McGregor is an incredible mask-removing role model and has been rewarded by the joy of living fully. What waits for us all when we take away our own masks?

To see Cate McGregor’s inspiring story…

The Australian Story episode is no longer available on Iview but ABC state they plan for it to be available for purchase sometime in the future as part of their yet to be launched video on demand service.

Also relevant is the ABC News article which summarises her story and includes some YouTube clips:

And an ABC News interview “One Plus One” (18 mins):


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