When Trump moved to ban trans people from serving in the US military, he ignored the long history of trans soldiers fighting for their country – starting with Albert Cashier, born in 1843
by Adam Gabbatt
Tuesday 22 August 2017
On 6 August 1862, a young man called Albert Cashier enlisted in the Union army in Belvidere, Illinois. He was short for a soldier, just 5ft 3in. His fellow privates noted that Cashier kept his collar buttoned high up his neck, above his Adam’s apple, and that he always slept apart from the other men.
Cashier’s size did not hold him back. Fighting with the 95th Illinois infantry, he was involved in some of the most important battles in the war.
Cashier’s bravery was noted in accounts from the time. On one occasion, he was captured and escaped by attacking his Confederate guard. In another battle, comrades remembered Cashier sweeping up a Union flag which had been felled from its post by Confederate gunfire. He climbed a tree and lashed the tattered stars and stripes to a branch, showing that the Union would not be cowed.
But what Cashier’s fellow soldiers did not know was that the diminutive private had a secret – one that would only be revealed decades later.
Albert Cashier was assigned female at birth.
His story, from immigrant to proud soldier, to eventually being “outed” by nefarious hospital workers, will be retold in Albert Cashier the Musical, which airs in Chicago this month.
The production’s six-week run is timely, given Donald Trump’s recent announcement that he will not allow transgender individuals to serve in the military in any capacity. There are up to 6,630 transgender people on active duty in the US military, according to a 2016 study, and up to 4,160 in the select reserve.
“The temperature Trump sets for our country, the mood he sets and the anger that he’s creating and the polarization that he’s building between people – it’s just terrible,” said Jay Deratany, who wrote the musical. “But I hope this play bridges some gap.”
Deratany, who also wrote the play Haram! Iran! – based on the true story of two gay Iranian teenagers who were executed in 2005 – said his own experiences as a gay man had attracted him to Cashier’s story.
“I was a lawyer and the idea in the legal field of coming out … I would have lost my career if people found out. I was terrified,” he said. “I had a girlfriend at one point and I hid all that. So I identified with Albert and the secret life he had to lead.”
Cashier was born Jennie Hodgers in Clogherhead, a fishing village 40 miles north of Dublin, on Christmas Day 1843. He moved to the US as a child, eventually settling in Illinois, and was presenting as a man by the time he enlisted in 1862.
There were just 16,000 men in the US army when the civil war broke out. Abraham Lincoln pleaded for volunteers, and was successful – of the more than 2.5 million people who served in the Union army, the majority did so voluntarily.
With the 95th regiment, Cashier fought in Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee and Louisiana, marching almost 10,000 miles over three years.