Trans And Non-Conforming Badasses That Never Made It To History Books
Despite what some dumbasses may tell you, having trans or non-conforming people serve on the battlefield doesn't weaken your forces. We probably wouldn't even need to have this argument if history just recognized past contributions like ...
Amelio Robles Avila Becomes A Revolutionary Hero
History is so full of Mulan stories that Disney could honestly make a whole miniseries. Women dressing as men in order to fight has been a whole thing for just about every group on Earth. The Mexican Revolution was no different.
However, unlike those other fighters (who usually did it to avoid sexual assult), Amelio Robles Avila was fully committed to transitioning into his male identity. Robles joined the army sometime between 1911-1912 and transitioned a few years later. In the middle of fighting a goddamn war, Robles had no time for also fighting ignorance and would simply pull a pistol on anyone questioning his gender. Wait, did we say "pull a pistol?" We meant "shoot to kill," which Amelio did to two men who attacked him and tried to reveal his sex.
Aside from his extreme courage in expressing his identity, he showed extreme courage in battle, too. Robles was a respected commander who rose to the rank of Colonel and said guerilla warfare gave him "the sensation of being completely free," -- which is some straight-up Rambo shit. After getting through the war, Robles settled down, got married, and adopted a kid with his wife ... But not before becoming the first trans person in Mexico to have their identity recognized by the government.
James Barry Gets An MD
Look, you can't have a war without some wounded. And it's generally a good idea to take care of your wounded; otherwise, they can't go back out and throw their bodies at your war. Anyway, James Barry wasn't a soldier, but he was a pretty goddamn important military doctor for the British Empire. He rose to the rank of Inspector General of military hospitals, the doctor equivalent of a Brigadier General. Barry even performed the first successful C-section -- success here defined as the mother and child both survived, because Jesus, the 19th century was depressing.
Quick disclaimer: it's impossible to be a "good colonialist." That said, Barry seemed to help things everywhere he went: he improved sanitation in South Africa, worked for better conditions in the West Indies, and helped contain a cholera epidemic in Malta. We know, we know, containing an epidemic seems easy now, with all of our science and medical expertise, and-- haha, just kidding.
Anyway, James Barry was a helpful dude! He frequently advocated for improved housing and nutrition, making the apparently unprecedented connection between decent living conditions and public health. When he finally died of dysentery in 1865, he demanded to be buried in the clothes he was wearing, and his body remain unwashed. This request was ignored, but Major D.R. McKinnon, the man who signed Barry's death certificate, said his gender was "none of my damn business."
Sadly, that didn't stop the secret from getting out. British press reported on "the woman" who got an MD and served in the military for 40 years, which the military huffily denied while sealing Barry's records for a century. Real mature reactions all around, but, as we've said, the 19th century was goddamn depressing.
Running Eagle Led Raiding Parties
The North Piegan tribe, members of the Blackfoot Confederacy now based mostly in Montana, had some rather strictly enforced gender roles. Women were expected to be pretty submissive and attached to their husbands. Like, constant-clinging-and-excessive-doting levels of submissive. Laying on their laps around fires, displays of affection, all on top of other domestic duties like cooking food and washing clothes -- and this was before the era of washing machines and microwavable easy mac. Sounds exhausting.
An exception was made, though, for "manly-hearted women." This maybe isn't the most sensitive way to describe someone who doesn't conform to the binary, but the Piegan tribe almost got to the point where they had a third gender. For indigenous people around the world, "two spirits" is an accepted thing.
One such figure was the legendary Pi'tamakan, who got a first taste of combat when the tribe's hunting party was attacked. Pi'tamakan saved her father's life from the Crow attackers, and then retaliated against the Crow by killing one of their warriors and stealing 11 horses. We can't even steal one horse in Red Dead Redemption without getting shot. Do you have to whistle like Gandalf taming Shadowfax? Doesn't seem sustainable for 11 whole-ass horses. But Pi'tamakan did it.
The tribe rewarded her with the name "Running Eagle," making her the first woman in tribal history to be given a male name. The name had only been given to a select few warriors prior to her, and she responded by becoming a highly respected warrior, regularly leading hunting and raiding parties. For a tribe with such rigidly defined gender roles, we'd say becoming the leader, not just a participant, of hunting and raiding parties is pretty impressive.
The Viking Birka Warrior
Okay, so if that last entry was leaning into non-conformity, this one shines a light how dumb the modern binary obsession can get. For centuries, people assumed the grave of this 10th-century Viking warrior was a man, because, well, all the stuff in the grave -- high-quality weapons, horses, a gaming set (GamerBros apparently existed in the 10th century). Not only did the grave contain a bunch of warrior paraphernalia, what wasn't there was significant, too: namely, the absence of domestic tools typically buried with Viking women.
Anyway, in 2017, a research team led by Charlotte Hendenstierna-Jonson basically said, "Whoops, our bad," and revealed the person in the grave was a woman. While this shouldn't be too strange--the all-female Valkyries were very much part of Viking mythology and Viking literature is littered with strong women winning battles -- people nevertheless lost their shit when the Birka Warrior's gender was announced. The research team faced significant backlash from other historians, with some even speculating that they analyzed the wrong set of bones. It was bogus, sexist criticism based on little more than "dudes fight, women cook, the stuff in the grave was fighting stuff." That criticism isn't simply insulting to the researchers. It just highlights how stupid it is to think of gender in strict binary terms.
What is so difficult about imagining that there must have been a Viking woman who felt happier on the battlefield with the bros? Whether the Birka warrior was trans or a badass woman, the goddamn Vikings thought she was an incredible warrior.
Albert Cashier Fights In The Civil War To Escape The Bordem Of Shoe Making
Life was hard for an Irish immigrant in the 1800s. But life was especially hard when your stepdad dressed you as a boy so you could work at a shoe factory. Not even one of the fun factories, like where they make chocolate and sing songs. A goddamn shoe factory.
In a happy twist of fate, though, gender-swapping for the sake of child labor allowed Albert Cashier to have the gender affirmation he may never have received otherwise. Presumably sick of that new-shoe smell, Cashier decided to fight on the correct side of the U.S. Civil War. He enlisted in the Union's Army of Tennessee in 1862 and fought the entire war without anyone discovering he was trans despite being hospitalized for chronic diarrhea. (Which we're pretty sure killed 70% of our Oregon Trail characters growing up.). Absolute king shit (ahem).
After the war, he worked for Senator Ira Lish ... who would go on to hit Cashier with his car. (Which is really not a fate we expected to befall a Civil War vet.) The accident eventually led to his outing, which led to the military threatening to revoke his pension for "fraud" and actually committing him to an insane asylum.
Here's a little nibble of good news, though, as a treat: Once word got out, Albert's army buddies rallied for him until the pension board agreed to keep the payments coming. When he died, Cashier was buried with full military honors.
Top image: via Wikimedia Commons