Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Jack the Lad

This is the second of my three articles on transgender veterans from three different conflicts.

Today we learn about a veteran of the Philippine-American War and a Red Cross volunteer called Jack Bee Garland (1869-1936), though he used several other names during his lifetime. I’ll refer to him as Jack throughout. Even though he lived his entire life as biologically female Jack spent most of it living as a man. He lived for the last few decades of his life without anyone thinking he was anything other than a man, and his physical gender was only discovered after his death.

Louis Sullivan (1951-1991), himself transgender, wrote a biography of Jack in 1990 in which he concluded that Jack should be regarded as a transman rather than a cross-dresser.

Jack came from a privileged family. His father was the first Mexican Consul in San Francisco and his mother was the daughter of a US Congressman and Supreme Court judge. They gave their child, born a girl, the name Elvira Virginia Mugarrieta. Despite their privileged background the family suffered because the Mexican government refused to pay Jack’s father. When the father died in 1886 he left his widow and five children almost destitute.

Jack had always been regarded as something of a tomboy by his mother, and it was his father’s death which seemed to signal the decision that Jack wanted to live as a man. He began dressing in men’s clothes shortly afterwards.

In 1897 Jack was “uncovered” as a woman masquerading as a man in Stockton, California. He became a cause célèbre for a while and joined the Stockton Evening Mail as a reporter. This part of his life is more suitable for another article at another time, so let’s move on to his military service.

War between the USA and Spain broke out in 1899. The conflict lasted less than a year with the Spanish relinquishing their Philippine colony to the sovereignty of the USA. Unfortunately there were many in the Philippines who resisted American rule and demanded complete independence.

Jack decided to go with the American troops to the Philippines as a medic. He knew that women were not allowed to serve in war hospitals, society at that time still not accepting that women could stand the emotional stress. “All my ambition and interest and inclination naturally gave me the fever to go to Manila when things were at their liveliest there”, Jack would later write in “My Life as a Soldier”, his account of the conflict seen through the eyes of a biological female veteran.

In October 1899 Jack enlisted as a cabin boy on board the troop ship “City of Para”. On reaching Hawaii his identity was discovered and he was thrown off the ship. Now the only way he could get to the Philippines was as a stowaway on the same ship. Some of the sailors and officers helped to smuggle Jack on board dressed in naval uniform and kept him hidden. A planned “discovery” of him by the sailors back-fired when Jack was arrested and held prisoner until the ship reached Manila. He escaped through a window and went into hiding again until it was safe for him to go ashore.

Although never officially enlisted into the army Jack experienced the conflict in the Philippines from as near to the front line as it was possible to get, even for a male civilian. He lived alongside the soldiers in the encampments and accompanied them on hikes and got to know everything about the combat from first-hand accounts.

Jack took on several jobs. His Hispanic family background proved particularly useful and he worked as an interpreter. He also helped to treat the wounded and sick and became a Red Cross volunteer with the US Hospital Corps. As with many other conflicts before modern warfare the largest number of casualties were from disease rather than combat. Men injured in battle with injuries which today would not be life-threatening died from tropical diseases.

Jack’s war experience ended in August 1900 when he returned to the USA. He left a grateful and appreciative band of military comrades, most of whom had known he was biologically female and had always treated him with respect. They gave him the nickname “Lieutenant Jack”. Before his departure Jack was presented with an inscribed gold medal. The soldiers had clubbed together and raised $200 to pay for the presentation themselves. Jack received no official medal from the US government, and it tells us something of the high esteem in which Jack was held by the US troops. Jack arrived back in San Francisco wearing the uniform of a Second Lieutenant.

Jack wrote up his experiences in the Philippines for the San Francisco Examiner as mentioned above under the title of “My Life as a Soldier”. On his death in 1936 Jack’s biological gender was discovered (he had successfully kept it hidden for three decades. Details of his life emerged, including his service in the Philippines and many people, his sister included, campaigned for Jack to be given a military funeral. It was denied.

Even though Jack was not an enlisted soldier his experience on the front line earns him the title of veteran. Quite often it is only the armed fighting men who are remembered, but I find a particular affinity with Jack Bee Garland’s story because my grandmother’s first husband and my grandfather were both non-combatant medics on the front line. One was a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps who died in 1916 on HMHS Britannic, and the other was invalided while serving as a stretcher-bearer during the Battle of the Somme.

And so, with this article, I pay tribute to Jack Bee Garland, my family members, and all those others who have served on the front line as medics and nurses.

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