By Steve Hendrix | The Washington Post
July 27, 2017
Albert Cashier served in the army as a man, lived his life as man and was buried at 71 with full military honors in 1915, as a man. But beneath the uniform in which he fought and was buried, he was biologically a woman, one of the many cross-dressers and gender defiers who have served in the U.S. military since the earliest days of its history, according to historians.
President Donald Trump’s proclamation by Tweet Wednesday that he was banning transgender people from serving in the military in “any capacity” is the latest twist in a thoroughly modern controversy. Trump’s declaration would overturn a policy only recently put in place by the Obama White House as the armed forces continue to grapple with modern issues of gender identity and sexuality. But behind the 21st century contretemps is a history that predates the musket.
“They wouldn’t know what in the world you meant by the world transgender, but there have been women serving in men’s dress in armies since the beginning of wars,” said Elizabeth Leonard, a professor of history at Colby College. “It’s a story that we keep losing sight of.”
Cross-dressing has roiled the ranks of armies at least as far back as Joan of Arc, the 15th century military genius who was burned at the stake for heresies that included wearing a man’s uniforms. Leonard’s own expertise is the Civil War, a time when the ranks were filled with hundreds of women who cut their hair, put on pants and took up arms on both sides of the War Between the States.
Researchers at the National Archives have found evidence that at least 250 women dressed as men to fight in the 1860s, some motivated by ideology, some by a taste for adventure and some by the need for a job. Most of those who survived presumably returned to their lives as women. But others continued to live as men after the war.
Albert Cashier was born Jennie Hodgers in Ireland, immigrated to the United States as a stowaway and, at 18, enlisted in the Illinois Infantry Regiment as a man. After the war, in which he fought in some 40 actions, Cashier continued to dress in trousers and, in the modern parlance, identify as a man. He worked as a farmer and handyman for decades and missed out an army pension after refusing to take a required physical exam, according to scholar Jason Cromwell, the author of “Transmen and FTMs: Identities, Bodies, Genders and Sexualities.”