In December 2015, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced that the Pentagon would open all combat jobs to women. Why was this such a massive deal? Because it shattered the U.S. military’s final “brass ceiling.” Even though women have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past 15 years, thousands of jobs remained off-limits until this year. We’re pretty sure that the badass women on this list would approve of the decision. Why’s that? Because they had to cross-dress in order to fight on the frontlines.
1. Hannah Snell
On June 2, 1750, a Marine named James Gray made the following announcement in a London pub:
“Why gentlemen, James Gray will cast off his skin like a snake and become a new creature. In a world, gentlmen, I am as much a woman as my mother ever was, and my real name is Hannah Snell.”
As you can probably imagine, the gentlemen were gobsmacked by the news that their good friend James was actually a chick named Hannah Snell. Never heard of her? You’re in for a treat. Born in 1723, Hannah was an Englishwoman who disguised herself as a man so she could fight for King and Country. How’d she alight on such an unconventional career path? Her husband ran out on her after their infant daughter died. Snell heard a rumor that he was in the military, so she borrowed her brother-in-law’s identity so she could give him a well-deserved ass whooping. She later discovered that her hubbie had been executed for murder. But that didn’t stop her from pursuing an adventurous military career disguised as James Gray. Snell eventually sold her story to the London publisher Robert Walker, who published her account, The Female Soldier, to great acclaim. It’s a page-turner.
2. The Chevalier d’Éon
The Chevalier d’Éon | Wikimedia Commons
The Chevalier d’Éon was a famous French spy with androgynous physical characteristics and a razor-sharp mind. Born in 1728, D’Éon played a key role in negotiating the Peace of Paris in 1763, whichformally ended the Seven Years’ War between France and Britain. In addition to being a skilled diplomat, D’Éon was, by most accounts, one of the more fascinating figures of the 18th-century. Hesuccessfully infiltrated Empress Elizabeth of Russia‘s court by posing as a woman, but publicly identified as a man for the first 49 years of his life. In 1777, he began dressing as a woman—claiming to have been female at birth. When Louis XVI told the decorated spy to pick a gender and stick to it,D’Éon defected to England. London society welcomed D’Eon with open arms and she dressed as a woman for the next 33 years. A post-mortem autopsy reportedly concluded that D’Éon was anatomically male. Was the Chevalier transgender? It’s hard to say. Here’s what we do know: theChevalier d’Éon was a grade-A badass.
3. Loretta Janeta Velazquez:
Loreta Janeta Velázquez as herself (right) and disguised as “Lieutenant Harry Buford” (left)
Did you know that as many as 400 women cross-dressed so they could fight on the frontlines during the Civil War? All of these women were hardcore badasses, but Loretta Janeta Velazquez took it to a whole ‘nother level. Born in 1824 to a rich Cuban family, she got super annoyed when her husband joined up with the Confederates in 1861. Why? Because she wanted to go with him. She found a novel way of getting around the problem:
“Not content with life alone, Velazquez decided to use her wealth to finance and equip an infantry battalion, which she would bring to her husband to command. She cut her hair, tanned her skin, and went by the name Lt. Harry T. Buford. She went on to fight in various battles, including Bull Run and Shiloh, but her gender was twice discovered and she was discharged.”
What’d she do once her cover was blown? She became a cross-dressing spy. Some people are just more interesting than the rest of us.