‘Female Soldiers’ or Transgender Men? Part 3
A Study of the Gender Identity of Albert D.J Cashier and Lyons Wakeman
Part Three of Three
(The article is adapted from my Bachelors degree dissertation. It has been split into three parts. Sources have been removed for ease of reading but are available on request.)
Relationship with family
While it is true that there are few examples of interactions between passing women and their families, it is possible to extrapolate some general themes. The historiography assumes that, given prevalent Victorian moralising on the role of women, parents of passing women were at best, discouraging of their daughter’s habits, and at worst, outwardly hostile to the idea. As Harriel asserts, passing women tarnished their own reputations by taking on male gender roles, and by extension, the reputation of their family also. This resulted in families distancing themselves from their estranged daughters, making the preservation of Wakeman’s letters by his family even more extraordinary.
Some have argued that female soldiers who continued to live as passing women after the war did so because they had no family to return to and needed to support themselves financially. While this assumption may certainly extend to some passing women who lived as men after the war ended, it is worth questioning Harriel’s assertion that this was the case in all instances. For example, Sarah Edmonds enlisted in order to escape the confines of her father’s household, presumably severing ties with him in the process. However, she returned to living as a woman after the war, despite having no close family to return to, and only marrying several years later in 1867. Additionally, while not much is known about the post war experiences and life of Frances Clayton, she evidently returned to wearing female clothing, and her last known whereabouts were Washington DC, not Minnesota where her family resided. Given that her husband perished in the war, it is unclear how she supported herself as a woman, without aid from her family or husband.
These examples indicate that not all of those estranged from family as a result of enlistment were forced to continue living as men, suggesting that the motives of those who did should be scrutinised further. It may be that working-class women faced more pressure to live as men, however this assumption requires further evidence before it can be concluded as certainly as Harriel wishes. In Blanton, Leonard and Harriel’s assessment of Cashier especially, they indicate that due to his immigrant status and the death of his mother, Cashier had to continue living as a man after the war in order to support himself financially. However, this conclusion seems simplistic, given that Cashier began wearing male clothing at an early age, and expressed severe distress at being forced to wear skirts and live in a female only wing in the Watertown State Hospital. The popular socio-economic theory of passing women may explain most cases of post-civil war cross dressing, but clearly falls short in adequately analysing Cashier’s motives.
Cashier’s pension files further indicate that his relationship with family may have been strained. When Cashier did speak of his family to others, his statements were often vague and sometimes completely false. Nettie Rose noted that ‘he said… his parents were buried (in Ireland) and that he sent money there… to have their graves decorated’, but further investigation proved that no money had ever been sent. It is unclear why Cashier would lie about this, but in conjunction with the testimony that ‘(he) was reluctant to divulge any of (his) previous history’, it indicates that Cashier had no contact with family after his service in the War.
It is impossible, given Victorian views on gender and the obvious familial shame brought about by gender transgressions, to determine whether strained family relationships were a result of shunning due to enlistment, judgement for transgressing Victorian gender norms, gender incongruence on the part of the daughter and subsequent desire to escape the confines of the home, or perhaps a mixture of all three. In Cashier’s case, it is relevant to examine his relationships with family, as the DSM-V diagnostic criteria lists ‘distress or impairment in social (relationships)’ as a significant symptom of gender dysphoria. So, while it may be true that Cashier felt ashamed to confront any remaining family due to his war service, it may also be the case that he felt unable to enter any correspondence with them, due to the awkwardness associated with gender dysphoria.
Although Wakeman never got the chance, his letters indicate a strong desire to leave the family home permanently, and perhaps cut ties with relatives. He writes, ‘when I get out of this war I will come home… but… not stay long… I shall be off to take care of myself’, and ‘I don’t care anything about coming home for I (am) ashamed to come, and sometimes I think that I never will go home’. The latter is particularly significant, as it also marks the last letter in which Wakeman signs off with his birth name, ‘Rosetta’. This could indicate an acknowledgement that living in a male identity would result in alienation and removal from his family; evidence consistent with the hypothesis that Wakeman was transgender, given the DSM-V diagnostic criteria.
Furthermore, Wakeman consistently remarks that he is unable to come home on leave. He writes ‘there is some of our men that have got a furlough and gone home… but I don’t think that it would be my luck to…come home this fall. For my part I shan’t try for it’ and ‘as for my coming home on a furlough this winter I don’t know whether I can or not’. As Burgess notes, this claim is disingenuous, as Wakeman would have undoubtedly been granted a furlough if he had revealed his sex to his officers. The fact that Wakeman did not suggests that the claims in his letters were illusionary; purposefully included to mislead his family while ensuring that he could avoid confronting them in person regarding his gender identity.
The relationships (or lack thereof) Cashier and Wakeman enjoyed with their families provide important context clues in terms of their overall gender identity. Examining these relationships enables historians to build a more accurate picture of their lives, the reasons for living as they did, and provides important evidence regarding their gender identity, particularly when considered alongside other factors.
The Motivations of ‘Passing Women’
Almost exclusively, scholars of the Civil War’s ‘passing women’ assign the same or similar motives to every documented case. For women who dressed as men only to enlist (and did not live as men socially), their motivations were patriotic or romantic. They may have enlisted to avenge the death of a loved one, escape abusive relationships or simply avoid a ‘boring and strict, feminine lifestyle’. Some passing women, especially those who lived as men before and after the war, enlisted for monetary gain, according to current scholarship. Due to stringent Victorian gender roles, many undoubtedly sought to escape the confines of their sex and enter professions unavailable to them as women. When historians encounter the stories of Cashier and Wakeman, the clear motivation for their actions seems to be monetary gain.
However, assigning this motive to the actions of Cashier and Wakeman may be simplistic, and certainly fails to explain certain aspects of their male identities satisfactorily. How can we be certain that it was more pragmatic for Cashier to live as a man? That he was ‘motivated to adopt (a) male identity (to achieve an increased) legal, social and economic status’? Was their ’transvestism… a way to find increased employment options and… increased personal freedoms’ only?
In order to dispel the claim that financial gain was the primary reason for enlistment for Cashier and Wakeman, it is worth examining evidence of their finances. Wakeman’s are fairly well documented, as he sent money home in his letters. Burgess indicates that Wakeman made $24 working in odd jobs prior his military service and received a bounty of $152 upon enlisting. Wakeman later writes that he received a wage of $13 per month and given that he saw active service from November 1862 until April 1864, extremely liberal calculations indicate that Wakeman may have earned a maximum of $360 during his military career. Calculating for inflation, this equates to approximately $5758 in present day money.
The implication of Burgess’s and Harriel’s analysis of Wakeman is that these wages gave him financial independence, and a significant amount of money to send home to his working-class parents. However, the significance of the amount of money he earned should not be overestimated. Given that an unskilled male labourer earned a minimum of $1.03 a day, Wakeman could have earned roughly $200 extra in other, more accessible careers than the military.
If money truly was the primary motivation of Wakeman’s male identity, why would he enlist in the military and risk death, rather than enter a less dangerous profession and earn more money? Additionally, if finances were his primary motivation, we are still left with numerous unanswered questions. Why did Wakeman stop using his birth name in his letters? How was he able to adopt male mannerisms so quickly and effectively? Why did he lie about being unable to come home, and indeed, why was he ashamed to? After all, his relationships with his family seemed to be good; he sent them at least $60 of his wages. Perhaps most importantly, why did Wakeman choose to die in his male identity? These questions are only satisfactorily answered if we consider a masculine gender identity to be a motivating factor for his enlistment. Socio-economic reasons alone provide a very weak explanation for these actions.
The monetary benefits Cashier received in his male identity are less well documented. However, if Cashier truly did dress as a man to earn a decent wage after arriving in the US as an immigrant, there is no clear indication that he received any significant financial benefits, other than those accumulated during his active service. There is some evidence that Cashier worked as a farmhand after the war, but later lived and worked for the Chesbro family for some 45 years.
The professions in which there is evidence that Cashier participated were not exclusively male at this time. Especially for working class women, farm work and domestic servitude were common roles that could be filled by persons of any gender. Therefore, it is not clear that Cashier enjoyed any significant benefits of employment that were afforded exclusively to men.
In terms of his finances specifically, if Cashier did earn a significant amount of money during his military service, by the time of his pension claim in 1899-1900, and the subsequent fraud inquiry after his sex was revealed in 1914, it is clear that he lived in virtual poverty. An anonymous letter dated 1896 and addressed to the Board of Pensions requests a timely settlement of Cashier’s pension claim as he lacked any financial support. Furthermore, the petition dated July 1899 written by I. M Lish indicates that Cashier was ‘entirely… destitute’ and ‘dependent on the charity of the people for aid and support’.
Given the fact that Cashier did not use his male identity to pursue overtly masculine careers (other than the military), that he did not live independently, but with the Chesbro family for approximately 45 years, and that he died in ‘destut(ion)’, it is not clear that Cashier received any significant socio-economic benefits by living as a man after the war. Additionally, economic motivations do not explain Cashier’s reluctance to divulge information about his past, his lies about his family history, his reluctance to wear skirts in the Watertown Asylum and his vulnerability after his ‘true sex’ was discovered. However, like Wakeman, these discrepancies make most sense if we take Cashier to be a transgender man.
Therefore, it is worth challenging the common assumption that Cashier and Wakeman specifically enlisted and lived as men in order to benefit from their heightened socio-economic status. There are too many unanswered questions left by this theory in these two cases for it to be the best fit in terms of their true motivations. It may be the case that socio-economic factors did have some effect on the overall decision to take up masculine identities, but alone, financial motivations do not satisfactorily explain Cashier and Wakeman’s actions, decisions and choices. These outlying factors are only explained by viewing both Cashier and Wakeman as transgender men.
This study has used the current medical understanding of gender, and historical evidence of self-identity, dress, mental health, relationships and motivations to conclude that both Albert D.J Cashier and Lyons Wakeman were transgender men, not ‘female soldiers’ with typical cisgender, female identities.
Both individuals displayed traits consistent with those of transgender men (according to the DSM-V criteria), namely, a desire to be known and treated as men, a desire for the sex characteristics of men, a contrast between gender identity and primary/secondary sex characteristics, a marked incongruence between gender expression and their assigned female gender and significant social distress resulting from this incongruence.
When looking at individual traces of evidence, such as their use of male aliases, the theory that both Cashier and Wakeman were transgender men seems flimsy. However, when taken together, the weight of evidence is such that failing to acknowledge it seems almost ignorant. Given the clear alignment between Cashier and Wakeman’s own lived experiences and the DSM-V criteria and that their transgender identity solves issues relating to both men’s motivations for enlisting, we can assume with some certainty that both were transgender men.
This conclusion has several implications. Firstly, it creates a framework and basis upon which other historians of the Civil War may challenge their own preconceived notions about the motivations and true identities of female soldiers. It is also profoundly significant for transgender communities and wider society to see examples of gender diversity in history, as this validates and legitimises the existence of transgender individuals in our own time. Additionally, the historical presence of transgender persons in the American military should serve as an example of the extraordinary bravery of transgender service peoples and provide politicians and society alike with proof of the validity of allowing transgender people to serve their country unhindered by discrimination and prejudice.
It has been possible to identify transgender individuals in the American Civil War, due to the ability of conflict to enable the transgression of societal norms. Further studies could address the true prevalence of trans masculine identities in the Civil War or identify gender transgressors in other modern conflicts. There is clearly a wide scope of work to be done in the field of the Western history of transgender peoples, and I hope this dissertation has begun to uncover a small part of it.
If you got this far, I would like to thank you for reading! This piece of work is of immense pride for me, not only because it discusses a topic of personal interest, but also because it gave me an opportunity to add to the historical record about the lives of these inspirational trailblazers. The history of transgender people, especially transgender men, are so often overlooked, and I hope to continue to provide an outlet for this history to be discussed.