After transitioning, Squadron Leader Catherine Humphries became the first female in the air force to be in a combat role.
I was born a woman. The problem was that no one around me realised, so I spent three decades pretending to be something I wasn’t. I was so afraid that I would be discovered during that time. I drifted in and out of depression – and worse – which is not something I would wish upon another person, be they friend or foe.
"One story is not enough"
I have observed that as the years pass, there is a notable – and positive – change coming to the fore. We are increasing our awareness, with the stories of transgender and intersex people finally being heard. As more of these remarkable stories are shared with the community, we will realise that one story is not enough. We need more than one example of triumph. For this reason, and despite my great hesitation in doing so, it’s time to offer my story to the public so that perhaps greater such understanding can take place.
Over the years I struggled. I joined the military, rode a motorcycle (not always very well), and pursued adrenaline sports to try blanking out my mind wherever possible. It came to a point where I realised that if I didn’t drop the façade, I wouldn’t survive that next depressive episode.
I got help. I opened up. I started to talk to people. I realised I could show the world who I was and maybe, just maybe, I would stop being afraid. Making my journey public now is one more way that I can hope to banish that fear.
I have had the great privilege to be supported by my family, friends, and many of my colleagues. My three amazing daughters fill me with joy, hope, and love every day.
It goes without saying that of course I have faced negative reactions, especially in the early stages of publicly transitioning. These reactions have harshly highlighted the biases that exist and directly effect the way we as people see each other. There has always been a tendency to jump to conclusions about who I am as a person, which has been influenced by what is seen in media and gossip heard from others. Far too often others have made assumptions rather than just asking me first hand, or getting to know me for who I am and what I can do.
As one of the very few women in a military combat role, the assessment of my ability is still coloured by my gender; this is one bias that can not be allowed to continue. Often women are assumed to be less able bodied, less adaptable, and less fit for combat than their male counterparts. Whilst the military can certainly be a challenging career both physically and mentally, the rewards are amazing and I really hope that more women consider the Australian Defence Force as a career path. This will kindle further acceptance, and the result will be positive progress for all members.
" People don’t fit into such little boxes"
Witnessing the positive changes that members of the ADF make overseas, as well as here in Australia, reassures me that what we do is worth the risks that we encounter. I would say to anyone who has an interest in making a difference, whoever they are and whatever their background, to consider the military (and especially the Air Force, although I may be a little biased) as a serious and rewarding career option.
I have seen time and again – in myself and others – that as humans we seem to like putting things into nice neat little boxes - categorising things brings us comfort. People don’t fit into such little boxes: each one of us is a wonderfully complex creature with so many different aspects, skills, emotions, and experiences. I urge you to take the time to challenge your biases, whether conscious or subconscious - especially when involving pre-dispositions about gender, religion, sexuality, race, or whatever. Instead learn about the unique humans around you and appreciate them for who they actually are!
Squadron Leader Catherine Humphries, Ground Defence Officer, Royal Australian Air Force