Christine Jorgensen: Breaking barriers for transgenders
As we mark Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance, we remember Christine Jorgensen, who broke down barriers as the first person in the US to undergo a successful sex reassignment surgery.
After her surgery, Jorgensen parlayed her newfound fame to become the spokesperson for transsexual and transgender people.
Christine Jorgensen: Trapped in a man’s body
Born in 1926, Jorgensen grew up in the Bronx, New York to parents George William Jorgensen Sr. and Florence Davis Hansen. Back then, she was known as George William Jorgensen, Jr.
In her autobiography, she described herself as “frail, blond, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games.”
Teit Ritzau, a Danish doctor and documentary maker who made a film about in Jorgensen in the ’80s, said, “The young Jorgensen never identified himself with homosexuality but rather as a woman who happened to be in a man’s body.”
From high school, she was drafted in the US Army. When she was discharged, Jorgensen began to research about gender reassignment and began taking female hormones.
After reading about Christian Hamburger, a Danish doctor who had done experiments on gender therapy, she used her family connections to fly to Copenhagen to talk to the doctor.
Hamburger was the first doctor to diagnose her as transsexual. Jorgensen said; “Dr Hamburger didn’t feel there was anything particularly strange about it.”
Christine Jorgensen: Transformation into a woman
Hamburger supported Jorgensen’s transformation. In honor of the physician, Jorgensen adopted the name ‘Christine.”
After a year of hormone therapy, Jorgensen underwent the first of a series of operations. This was an improved procedure that had been used on the Danish artist Lili Elbe in Berlin in the 1930s.
“Remember the shy, miserable person who left America? Well, that person is no more and, as you can see, I’m in marvelous spirits,” Jorgensen wrote after the procedure.
She also wrote to her parents: “Nature made a mistake which I have had corrected, and now I am your daughter.” Fortunately, her parents were supportive of her decision.
When she returned to the US in 1952, the New York Daily News carried the headline, “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell.”
However, there was relatively little hostility to the fascination given to her by the media and the public.
Christine Jorgensen: Making gender waves
Jorgensen gave an exclusive to the American Weekly magazine. In return, the magazine paid her $20,000 and oversaw her return to New York from Denmark.
Likewise, she received theatre and film contracts, as well as being invited glamorous parties. Afterwards, she became an entertainer and nightclub singer at Freddy’s Supper Club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
She died at the age of 62 in 1989 of cancer.
Though Jorgensen influenced other transsexuals to change their genders in birth certificates and their names during her time, more importantly, she also redefined gender with the difference between “psychological sex” and “biological sex.”
She was also willing to fight for who she was. As she once said: “The answer to the problem must not lie in sleeping pills and suicides that look like accidents, or in jail sentences, but rather in life and the freedom to live it.”