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Christine Jorgensen
Jorgensen on the cover of Christine Jorgensen Reveals, her only interview released (1958) that was released as an album. A theatrical show of the same name depicts the 1957 one-hour interview of Jorgensen by Nipsey Russell.
Jorgensen on the cover of Christine Jorgensen Reveals, her only interview released (1958) that was released as an album. A theatrical show of the same name depicts the 1957 one-hour interview of Jorgensen by Nipsey Russell.
Born (1926-05-30)May 30, 1926
The Bronx, New York City, New York
Died May 3, 1989(1989-05-03) (aged 62)
San Clemente, California
Nationality American
Ethnicity European American

Christine Jorgensen (May 30, 1926 – May 3, 1989) was an American trans 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 graduating high school in 1945 and shortly afterwards was drafted into the US Army for World War II. After her service she attended several schools, worked, and around this time heard about transitioning surgery. She travelled to Europe, and in Copenhagen, Denmark obtained special permission to undergo a series of operations starting in 1951.

She returned to the United States in the early 1950s and her transformation was the subject of a New York Daily News front page story. She became an instant celebrity using the platform to advocate for transgender people, known for her directness and polished wit. She also worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer, and recorded several songs.[1]

Early life[edit | edit source]

Christine Jorgensen was born George William Jorgensen, Jr., the second child of the carpenter and contractor George William Jorgensen Sr. and his wife, Florence Davis Hansen. She grew up in a crime-ridden area of the Bronx, New York City and described herself as having been a "frail, blond, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games".[2]

Jorgensen graduated from Christopher Columbus High School (Bronx, New York)|Christopher Columbus High School in 1945 and shortly afterwards was drafted into the US Army.

After being discharged from the army, Jorgensen attended Mohawk College in Utica, New York,[3] the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School in New York City. She also worked briefly for Pathé News.

Sex reassignment surgery[edit | edit source]

Returning to New York after military service and increasingly concerned over (as one obituary later called it) a "lack of male physical development",[4] Jorgensen heard about sex reassignment surgery. She began taking the female hormone ethinyl estradiol and researching the surgery with the help of Dr. Joseph Angelo, the husband of a classmate at the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School.[4] Jorgensen intended to go to Sweden, where the only doctors in the world who performed the surgery were located. During a stopover in Copenhagen to visit relatives, she met Dr. Christian Hamburger, a Danish endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy. Jorgensen then stayed in Denmark and took hormone replacement therapy under Dr. Hamburger's direction. She obtained special permission from the Danish Minister of Justice to undergo a series of operations in that country.

On September 24, 1951, surgeons at Gentofte Hospital in Copenhagen performed an orchiectomy on Jorgensen.[5] She referred to how the surgery affected her in a letter to friends on October 8, 1951:

"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."[5]

In November 1952, thirteen months after her first procedure, 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."[5]

She then returned to the United States and eventually obtained a vaginoplasty when the procedure became available there. The vaginoplasty was performed under the direction of Dr. Angelo, with Harry Benjamin as a medical advisor.[4]

Jorgensen chose the name Christine in honor of Dr. Hamburger. She became a spokesperson for transsexual and transgender people.

Publicity[edit | edit source]

When the New York Daily News, December 1, 1952, carried a front-page story (under the headline "Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty") announcing that Jorgensen had become the recipient of the first "sex change", it caused a sensation. However, the claim that this was the first was not true, as this type of surgery had previously been performed by pioneering German doctors in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Danish artist Lili Elbe and "Dorchen", both patients of Magnus Hirschfeld at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research) in Berlin, were known recipients of such operations in 1930-31. 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 on February 13, 1953; it was later speculated that she leaked her story to the press. The first authorized account of her story was written by Jorgenson herself in a February 1953 issue of The American Weekly, titled "The Story of My Life." The publicity created a platform for her, and she used it to advocate for transgender people. 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 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.

Later life[edit | edit source]

After her vaginoplasty, Jorgensen planned to marry John Traub, a labor union statistician, but the engagement was called off. In 1959, she announced her engagement to Howard J. Knox, a typist, in Massapequa, 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 a male. In a report about the broken engagement, The New York Times noted that Knox had lost his job in Washington, D.C., when his engagement to Jorgensen became known.[6][7]

During the 1970s and 1980s, 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 Spiro T. Agnew, the U.S. vice president, when he called another politician "the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party" (Agnew refused her request).[8]

Jorgensen also worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer, and recorded several songs.[1] In summer stock, she played Madame Rosepettle in the play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad. In her nightclub act, she sang several songs, including "I Enjoy Being a Girl", and at the end 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. Jorgensen continued her act, performing at Freddy's Supper Club on the upper east side of Manhattan until at least 1982, when she performed twice in the Hollywood area: once at the Backlot Theatre, adjacent to the discothèque Studio One, and later at The Frog Pond restaurant. This performance was recorded and has been made available as an album on iTunes. In 1984, Jorgensen returned to Copenhagen to perform her show and was featured in Teit Ritzau's Danish transsexual documentary film Paradiset ikke til salg (Paradise Not for Sale).

Jorgensen said in 1989, the year of her death, that she had given the sexual revolution "a good swift kick in the pants". She died of bladder and lung cancer four weeks short of her 63rd birthday.

References in media[edit | edit source]

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, during his earlier career as a calypso singer under the name 'The Charmer', recorded a song about Jorgensen, "Is She Is Or Is She Ain't".[9] (The title is a play on the 1940s song, "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby".)

The Christine Jorgensen Story, a fictionalized biopic based on Jorgenson's memoir, premiered in 1970. John Hansen played George/Christine.

The Quantum Leap episode "What Price Gloria" depicts Sam Becket time traveling to 1961 and assuming the host identity of a female secretary. At the end of the episode, Sam confronts his womanizing boss and rebuffs his advances by saying that he's a man, prompting the boss to ask if he "had a Christine Jorgensen," to which Sam corrects him, saying, "Not was a man, am a man."

In Christine Jorgensen Reveals, a stage performance at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Jorgensen is portrayed by Bradford Louryk. To great critical acclaim, Louryk dressed as Jorgensen and performed to a recorded interview with her during the 1950s while video of Rob Grace as the comically inept interviewer, Mr. Nipsey Russell, played on a nearby black-and-white television set. The show went on to win Best Aspect of Production at the 2006 Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, and it ran Off-Broadway at New World Stages in January 2006. The LP was reissued on CD by Repeat The Beat Records in 2005.

Transgender historian and critical theorist Susan Stryker directed and produced an experimental documentary film about Jorgensen, titled Christine in the Cutting Room. In 2010, she also presented a lecture at Yale University titled "Christine in the Cutting Room: Christine Jorgensen's Transsexual Celebrity and Cinematic Embodiment".[10] Both works examine embodiment vis-à-vis cinema.

Jorgensen is a character in Nick and Jake, a novel by Tad Richards and Jonathan Richards, published in 2012 by Arcade Publishing.[11]

Jorgensen is mentioned as the first transgender person in the first chapter of John Varley's 1992 novel, Steel Beach.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Christine Jorgensen Website". Christinejorgensen.org. http://www.christinejorgensen.org/. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  2. from Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Biography, her 1967 autobiography, quoted by Michelle Ingrassia in Newsday, "In 1952, He Was a Scandal: When Jorgensen decided to change his name — and his body — the nation wasn’t quite ready." May 5, 1989
  3. "Education: Students Wanted". Time. September 2, 1946. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,803949,00.html?promoid=googlep. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Jorgensen, Christine (30 May 1926-3 May 1989)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Jorgensen, Christine (1967). Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography. New York, New York: Bantam Books. p. 105. ISBN 978-1-57344-100-1. 
  6. "Bars Marriage Permit: Clerk Rejects Proof of Sex from Christine Jorgensen", The New York Times, April 4, 1959
  7. A Changed Man - Medical Specialization - New York - Newsday[dead link]
  8. "Miss Jorgensen Asks Agnew for an Apology", The New York Times, October 11, 1970.
  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9Qd_fMwNSU[dead link]
  10. "Trans/gender Awareness Week – Susan Stryker – "Christine in the Cutting Room: Christine Jorgensen's Transsexual Celebrity and Cinematic Embodiment"". http://lgbtq.yale.edu/events/susan-stryker-christine-cutting-room-christine-jorgensens-transsexual-celebrity-and-cinematic. [dead link]
  11. "''Arcade Publishing''". Arcadepub.com. 2012-09-01. http://www.arcadepub.com/book/?GCOI=55970100128110&CFID=3098616&CFTOKEN=6325b3ce58c72c06-0C948790-C29B-B0E5-31E860E6F52678D5&jsessionid=8430f38aef17fe2c9b20381ee3432d205222. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 

External links[edit | edit source]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Jorgensen, Christine (1967). Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography. New York, New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 978-1-57344-100-1. 

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