Historians know that transgender soldiers have served with distinction in every major American war, but did you know that one of those trans soldiers was born in Ireland?
Since last July, transgender soldiers serving in the U.S armed forces have been unexpectedly targeted by Donald Trump, who tweeted he would no longer accept or allow them to serve in any capacity, despite their record of doing so with distinction.
Observers were shocked because there had been no call for their removal. Trump's out of nowhere diktat seemed capricious, even cruel, and quite unnecessary to many.
Military historians have known for decades that transgender soldiers have served with distinction in every major American war of the last two centuries, but did you know that one of those trans soldiers was born in Ireland?
The life and times of the remarkable Albert Cashier was recently explored in a new musical called The CiviliTy of Albert Cashier, written by Jay Paul Deratany, with a score by Joe Stevens and Keaton Wooden, which ran last fall to wide acclaim at Stage 773 in Chicago.
Little Al Cashier, as he was known to his comrade in arms, was also an inspirational hero in G-Company in the 95th Illinois Volunteer Infantry for the duration of the American Civil War.
But none of them ever learned that Cashier was transgender.
Born in Ireland around 1842, Cashier is recorded as among the first known examples of a transgender soldier in American history.
At the time of the Civil War the idea of a woman voluntarily presenting as a man was an uncommon one, which meant that questions were uncommon too, helping him evade detection.
Albert was reportedly born Jennie, the daughter of Patrick Hodgers, an Irish coachman from Clogherhead, County Louth and his wife Sallie. Few details about his early life have survived, since he was likely illiterate. He signed all of his correspondence with an 'X'.
Cashier came to America whilst still a teenager and begin presenting as a young man early on, working in an all-male shoe factory in Belvidere, Illinois and soon going by the name Albert.
When the Civil War began he walked into the Union Army recruiting office and enlisted in the 95th Illinois under his adopted male name. It didn't raise an eyebrow. At five foot three he was the shortest soldier in the division but also one of the most spirited.
Cashier is one of the 250 female-at-birth soldiers who we now know enlisted to fight in the war, and the only one to maintain his male identity undiscovered long enough to collect an army pension.
By the time his service to the army had concluded Cashier had traveled 10,000 miles and fought in 40 different battles and skirmishes. His hero status was achieved when he placed himself in harm's way to hoist a Union flag over land held by Confederate soldiers only moments before.
His friends were stunned by his courage, adding Cashier was never one to run from a fight.
After the war Cashier maintained his male identity for 50 years, eventually settling in Saunemin, Illinois, where he lived alone in a one-room house and worked in odd jobs as a laborer.
It wasn’t until the last years of his life that his biological status was finally discovered. Developing Alzheimer's, he was eventually committed to a state-run institution, where they forced him to wear skirts against his will until his death.
A headline in a newspaper article in 1915 after Cashier died and was outed as trans reads, “Find Old Soldier Is Just a Woman.” Just a woman? Despite the evident transphobia of the era, Cashier was nevertheless buried in his soldier's uniform, with full military honors, and the name Albert Cashier was displayed on his tombstone. (A second tombstone adding the name “Jennie Hodgers” was reportedly added in the 1970's.)
“There are far too many stories about disenfranchised persons that are just sad,” Keaton Wooden, who has co-scored and directed the musical about Cashier's long life, told American Theatre. “A big thing for us is that not every story that has a sad ending is sad. Albert lived for 50 years exactly as he wanted to. And that is a stunning, beautiful, just admirable moment that we as people and American citizens should celebrate.”
It’s a pointed reminder to all of us – and to Donald Trump especially – that our history is far more complex than our ancestors have let on, and that heroism isn’t defined by gender.