Christine Jorgensen May 30, — May 3, was an American transgender woman who was the first person to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery. Jorgensen grew up in the Bronx , New York City. Shortly after graduating from high school in , she was drafted into the U. Army during World War II. After her military service, she attended several schools and worked; it is during this time she learned about sex reassignment surgery.
Jorgensen traveled to Europe, and in Copenhagen , Denmark , obtained special permission to undergo a series of operations starting in She returned to the United States in the early s and her transition was the subject of a New York Daily News front-page story.
She became an instant celebrity, known for her directness and polished wit, and used the platform to advocate for transgender people.
She also worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer and recorded several songs. Jorgensen, who was originally named George William Jorgensen, Jr. She was the second child of carpenter and contractor George William Jorgensen, Sr. Jorgensen later described herself as having been a "frail, blond, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games.
Army at the age of Returning to New York after military service, and increasingly concerned over, as one obituary later called it, a "lack of male physical development",  Jorgensen heard about sex reassignment surgery. She began taking estrogen in the form of ethinylestradiol and started researching the surgery with the help of Joseph Angelo, the husband of a classmate at the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School. During a stopover in Copenhagen to visit relatives, she met Christian Hamburger , a Danish endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy.
Jorgensen stayed in Denmark and underwent hormone replacement therapy under Hamburger's direction. She chose the name Christine in honor of Hamburger. She obtained special permission from the Danish Minister of Justice to undergo a series of operations in that country. On September 24, , surgeons at Gentofte Hospital in Copenhagen performed an orchiectomy on Jorgensen. As you can see by the enclosed photos, taken just before the operation, I have changed a great deal. But it is the other changes that are so much more important. Remember the shy, miserable person who left America?
Well, that person is no more and, as you can see, I'm in marvelous spirits. In November , doctors at Copenhagen University Hospital performed a penectomy. In Jorgensen's words, "My second operation, as the previous one, was not such a major work of surgery as it may imply. She returned to the United States and eventually obtained a vaginoplasty when the procedure became available there.
The vaginoplasty was performed under the direction of Angelo, with Harry Benjamin as a medical adviser. He wrote, "Indeed Christine, without you, probably none of this would have happened; the grant, my publications, lectures, etc.
What was different in Jorgensen's case was the added prescription of female hormones. Jorgensen was an instant celebrity when she returned to New York in February Soon after her arrival, she launched a successful nightclub act and appeared on TV, radio, and theatrical productions. The first of a five-part authorized account of her story was written by Jorgensen herself in a February issue of The American Weekly , titled "The Story of My Life" and in , she published her autobiography, Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography , which sold almost thousand copies.
The publicity following her transition and gender reassignment surgery became "a model for other transsexuals for decades. She was a tireless lecturer on the subject of transsexuality, pleading for understanding from a public that all too often wanted to see transsexuals as freaks or perverts Ms Jorgensen's poise, charm, and wit won the hearts of millions.
New York radio host Barry Gray asked her if jokes such as "Christine Jorgensen went abroad, and came back a broad " bothered her. She laughed and said that they did not bother her at all. However, another encounter demonstrated that Jorgensen could be offended by some questions.
When she appeared on an episode of The Dick Cavett Show , the host asked a question about the status of her romantic life with her wife, Jorgensen walked off the show's set. As she was the only scheduled guest, Cavett spent the rest of that show stating that he had not meant to offend her. After her vaginoplasty , Jorgensen planned to marry labor union statistician John Traub, but the engagement was called off. In she announced her engagement to typist Howard J.
Knox in Massapequa Park, New York , where her father had built her a house after her reassignment surgery. However, the couple was unable to obtain a marriage license because Jorgensen's birth certificate listed her as male. After her parents died, Jorgensen moved to California in She left behind the ranch home built by her father in Massapequa and settled at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, California , for a period of time.
During the s and s, Jorgensen toured university campuses and other venues to speak about her experiences. She was known for her directness and polished wit. She once demanded an apology from Vice President Spiro T. Jorgensen also worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer and recorded several songs. In her nightclub act, she sang several songs, including "I Enjoy Being a Girl," in which, at the end, she made a quick change into a Wonder Woman costume. She later recalled that Warner Communications, owners of the Wonder Woman character's copyright, demanded that she stop using the character; she did so, and instead used a new character of her own invention, Superwoman, who was marked by the inclusion of a large letter S on her cape.
This performance was recorded and has been made available as an album on iTunes. Jorgensen was the first and only known trans woman to perform at Oscar's Delmonico Restaurant in downtown New York, for which owners Oscar and Mario Tucci received criticism.
Jorgensen said in , the year of her death, that she had given the sexual revolution a "good swift kick in the pants. Her ashes were scattered off Dana Point, California. Jorgensen was faced with a world that placed strong societal emphasis on adhering to gender binaries and strict notions of masculinity and femininity.
When Jorgensen was first exposed to the book The Male Hormone in the s, the same traditional ideas of masculinity were reinforced through its pages. As the book posed, masculinity could be restored to individuals by utilizing male hormones. It was then that Jorgensen realized that the attitudes of the book were not aligned with her personal experiences and questions about gender identity.
She refused to dismiss her personal sentiments and questions as confusion about sexuality and began taking estrogen. The significance of Jorgensen choosing this path was one of the first stages of transgender identity being legitimized and explored as a subject for both Jorgensen and the American public. Jorgensen's highly publicized transition helped bring to light gender identity and shaped a new culture of more inclusive ideas and accepting notions about the subject.
As a transgender spokesperson and public figure, Jorgensen influenced other transgender people to change their sex on birth certificates and to change their names. Jorgensen's case was also significant because, for the first time, it led to complications over sex and science and the changing definition of sexuality.
Gender was thought of as a set binary where one could only be male or female that was permanent, but Jorgensen's case questioned that stability. Gender was not the set binary as people once thought of it, and doctors were redefining gender with the term " psychological sex. Jorgensen was an example of the new definition; her gender was not a result of her biological sex.
The question of what determined sex emerged, and the spectrum of sexual identity included chromosomes, genitalia, and body actions. This spectrum was not very clear, nor definitive; people did not know which of the three determined someone's sex.
Due to Jorgensen's surgery, her definition of sexual identity changed, and this led the challenge to the public thinking about the definition of biological sex. The topic was complicated overall, as doctors tried to define and reclassify sexuality, but that did not come easily.
For example, doctors tried to distinguish transsexuality from transvestism and homosexuality , but at the same time also tried to decontextualize them to make it simpler for people to understand. Traditional gender norms were questioned, and Jorgensen reinforced what it meant to be a woman despite her birth sex as she fulfilled and embodied the notions of femininity. She saw herself as a founding member in what became known as the " sexual revolution. It was the sexual revolution that was going to start with or without me.
We may not have started it, but we gave it a good swift kick in the pants. Chuck Renslow and Dom Orejudos founded Kris Studios as a male physique photography studio, named in part to honor Jorgensen. The Christine Jorgensen Story , a fictionalized biopic based on Jorgensen's memoir, premiered in John Hansen played Jorgensen as an adult, while Trent Lehman played her at age 7. To critical acclaim, Louryk dressed as Jorgensen and performed to a recorded interview with her during the s while video of Rob Grace as comically inept interviewer Nipsey Russell played on a nearby black-and-white television set.
Transgender historian and critical theorist Susan Stryker directed and produced an experimental documentary film about Jorgensen, titled Christine in the Cutting Room. The book Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History's Great Personalities, by journalist Claudia Kalb, devotes a chapter to Jorgensen's story, using her as an example of gender dysphoria and the process of gender transition in its earliest days. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Christine Jorgensen. San Clemente , California , U.
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