As the country celebrates its independence along with those who have fought for their country, it is also a moment of great progress and accomplishment for the transgender community as we celebrate the lifting of the transgender military ban. Though we have a lot to be proud of, the truth is the boundaries have always been pushed when it comes to gender and the military. Transgender and gender bending people have participated in almost every American war, starting with the America’s fight for its independence.
“SHE SPENT A YEAR AND A HALF IN THE 4TH MASSACHUSETTS REGIMENT IN THE CONTINENTAL ARMY, BINDING HER CHEST AND LIVING A MALE PERSONA.”
There were many cases of women in the American Revolution who posed as men in order to serve. Most notable among them was Deborah Samson, who served in the Revolutionary War as Robert Shurtliff. She spent a year and a half in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment in the Continental Army, binding her chest and living a male persona. She was even wounded in battle taking two shots from a musket. Samson would not be found out until falling ill, when the doctor attending her learned her secret. He would protect her identity by treating her in his own home. Samson was honorably discharged in 1783. She would go on to fight for and win her service pension with the help of colonial legend Paul Revere. There is much debate whether Samson would have identified as transgender had the term been around in her time. She could have been a tomboy or an early feminist who wanted to prove herself and enjoy the freedoms that women were not afforded in her time. What we do know is that for a time she did live as a man and reveled in the experience.
Albert Cashier was a transgender man who fought in the Civil War. He was a soldier in the 95th Illinois Infantry. His regiment was part of the Army of the Tennessee under Ulysses S. Grant and they fought in approximately forty battles. Most notable were the siege at Vicksburg, the Red River Campaign and Guntown. He was known as one of the bravest soldiers in his regiment and was even captured and escaped. Cashier was just one of many transgender soldiers in the Civil War.
Jack Bee Garland was a transgender male who participated in the Philippine War under the name Beebe Beam in 1899. Originally a cabin boy on a troop transport, he was set ashore by the ship’s captain after he found out about Beam’s history. When the captain would not allow Beam back on the ship, the soldiers gave him a uniform and hid him away until they were far enough away from Hawaii. Though confined for the trip, Beam escaped and followed the regiments to their Philippine garrisons. He ended up serving as a Spanish interpreter and a nurse with multiple regiments. Though he never did see real combat, he published a story called “My Life as a Soldier,” in the San Francisco Examiner. It was marketed as a female soldier in the Philippines. After the war, he would change his name to Jack Bee Garland and live out the rest of his life in his male identity. He would devote his life to social work with the Red Cross.
“SHE IS ONE OF THE MOST, IF NOT THE MOST KNOWN TRANSGENDER PERSON IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.”
Christine Jorgensen was the first transgender woman from the United States to undergo gender confirmation surgery. Prior to that she was drafted into the U.S Army for World War II. She is one of the most, if not the most known transgender person in the history of the United States.
Kristin Beck is a former United States Navy SEAL who spent 20 years in the service and came out as transgender in 2013. She completed 13 deployments including the first Gulf War and fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. She was also instrumental with her influence to help end the transgender military ban.
“THESE ARE BASIC RIGHTS THAT ARE A LONG TIME IN THE MAKING.”
So as you light up your barbecues and put the hot dogs (or veggie dogs for you vegans) on the grill, you have a lot to be proud about. This has been a year of great strides in transgender rights, and we are only halfway through it. Transgender Americans can now fight for their country without having to hide their true identities. They will have access to essential healthcare and will be addressed by their proper pronouns. These are basic rights that are a long time in the making. Our transgender brothers, sisters and all those within the spectrum fought for everyone else’s. They deserve to be recognized for who they really are. So celebrate, be proud of all we have accomplished. For our transgender soldiers, they can finally celebrate their independence, 240 years after it all began with a simple declaration. The transgender community has indeed been part of the fabric that is the United States. We are as American as apple pie. We always have been. We always will be. We just refuse to hide anymore.
Stay safe and keep fighting for all of us!
Love and peace,