Caitlyn Jenner is hailed as the most widely recognizable transgender hero, and rightfully so — after spending much of her life in the spotlight, both as a renowned athlete and a reality TV star, the celebrity formerly known as Bruce Jenner made the brave decision to come out as transgender to Diane Sawyer.
Her fame made her the target of massive backlash, but it also gave her the platform from which to honor the transgender trailblazers who’d come before her. Though few people have had the prominence of Jenner, countless transgender heroes have quietly waged their own battles throughout history.
While there’s still a lot of work to be done, we’ve singled out the following influential individuals whose courageous decisions to be true to themselves have helped the transgender community reach unprecedented levels of acceptance.
During the American Civil War, it wasn’t unheard of for women to pass themselves off as men in order to enlist as soldiers. In fact, more than 240 people were known to have done so. While many of them simply dressed as men in order to help with the war effort and later returned to their lives as women, Albert Cashier was among those who lived out his life as a man.
An Irish immigrant, cashier served in the Union army, but had passed as male in order to find work since he was a child. Cashier lived as a man for 50 years, despite several hospital stays during which his secret was discovered. However, when his birth sex was revealed at the Watertown State Hospital for the Insane, he was forced to wear women’s clothes.
Fortunately, his wishes were respected in death and he was buried in uniform with full military honors under his chosen name.