All of us at Box Turtle Bulletin wish you a very fabulous Christmas.
170 YEARS AGO: Albert Cashier: 1843-1915. It’s unclear when Jennie Irene Hodgers undertook a male identity, but by 1862 the Irish native was living in Illinois when he decided to enlist in the union army. He enlished as Albert Chashier and served in Company G as part of the Army of the Tennessee under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Company G fought in the siege of Vicksburg, the Red River Campaign and at Guntown, Mississippi. Cashier’s fellow soldiers noticed that he was small and standoffish, but thought little about it. He was once captured by the Confederate army, but escaped back to Union lines after overpowering a guard. He remained in the Union army until he and the rest of his company were mustered out in 1865.
After the war, Cashier worked as a private handyman for Illinois State Senator Ira M. Lish at his estate in Saunemin. Cashier also workd as a farm hand, church janitor, and cemetery worker. As a man, Cashier registered and voted in elections long before women’s suffrage came into being, and he claimed a veteran’s pension. He successfullly maintained his male identity until 1911, when he was hit by a car and broke his leg. The attending physician discovered his biological gender, but in an amazingly forward-thinking move, the physician decided to respect Cashier’s privacy, sharing the secret only with the superintendent of the Soldiers and Sailors Home at Quincy, where Cashier was then living. It was only after Cashier’s mind deteriorated and he was moved to Watertown State Hospital in 1913 when attendants discovered his birth gender and forced him to wear a dress. But when Cashier died on October 10, 1915, he was buried in his Civil War uniform and given a full military funeral. His grave stone in Saunemin cemetary simply reads: “Albert D.J. Cashier. Co. G., 19 Ill. Inf.” Sometime in the 1970s, a second tombstone was placed with Cashier’s birth name added.
105 YEARS AGO: Quentin Crisp: 1908-1999. He was always a gender-bending raconteur, even going back to when he was the object of endless teasing in elementary school. In 1926, he studied journalism at King’s College London, but switched to art at Regent Street Polytechnic. He also visited the cafes and pubs of Soho’s Old Compton Street, which is still the heart of the gay community in London. It was then that he decided that his life’s work would be “making the existence of homosexuality abundantly clear to the world’s aborigines,” and he did so by developing the flamboyant style that would become his signature. When World War II broke out, he tried to join the Army, but was rejected on medical grounds — “sexual perversion” was the diagnosis. He remained in London during the Blitz, and placed himself at the service of American G.I.’s, so to speak. That’s where Crisp picked up his love for all things American.
In 1968, he achieved success with his third book, an autobiography he titled The Naked Civil Servant. The title referred to his job as a paid nude model for government-supported art schools, which he described as “like being a civil servant, except that you were naked.” The book at first didn’t sell well, but it led to a documentary featuring him talking about his life while sitting in his flat filing his nails. That documentary eventually led to the 1975 television adaptation of The Naked Civil Servant, featuring John Hurt as Crisp. Crisp’s second career as professional raconteur and lecturer was launched, touring Britain with his one man show, and moving to New York permanently in 1981 to fulfill a longtime dream. Before moving to the States, he was reportedly asked at the US Embassy in London if he were a practicing homosexual. He replied, “I didn’t practice. I was already perfect.” But his sharp-tongued wit also got him in trouble. During the early years of the AIDS crisis, he recklessly joked that AIDS was the latest “fad.” He made a pact with a New York performance artist named Penny Arcade that he would live to be a hundred years old, with a decade off for good behavior. He died just one month before his 91st birthday.
Here he is in a Q&A session in Los Angeles following a lecture on style:
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