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Who is Christine Jorgensen?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 July 2014
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Christine Jorgensen was an American woman who is perhaps most famous for being one of the most prominent early transsexuals. While Jorgensen was not the first transsexual in the United States, she became quite famous, and used her fame to champion the rights of transsexuals and to discuss sex and gender in the United States. For many members of the transsexual community, Christine Jorgensen is an inspiring icon and pioneer.

Jorgensen was born George William Jorgenson in 1926. He studied as a photographer, and then served in the Second World War. Upon returning to his hometown of New York after the war, Jorgensen started taking feminization hormones under the direction of Dr. Joseph Angelo, and eventually traveled to Europe with the intent of receiving sexual reassignment surgery. Jorgensen ended up in Denmark, receiving numerous surgeries from Dr. Christian Hamburger and taking additional hormones. While not the first transsexual, Christine Jorgensen did make history by combining long-term hormone replacement therapy with her surgeries, and by receiving vaginoplasty.

Christine Jorgensen returned to the United States in 1953, shortly after New York newspapers made her famous with headlines like “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty.” Jorgensen became a very socially prominent figure, appearing on numerous talk shows and consenting to a wide range of interviews. The questions asked often bordered on the offensive, and Christine Jorgensen came to be known for her remarkably diplomatic approach to such questions. Jorgensen worked actively to educate the public about transsexuality, and she also performed as a dancer and actress.

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Her personal life was marred by several frustrated relationships, including an attempt at marriage which was siderailed by the fact that Jorgensen's legal sex was still officially “male.” She was also outspoken in the media, and wrote an eponymous autobiography. She was also noted for her often acerbic wit and lack of fear when it came to speaking publicly. Jorgensen died from cancer in 1989.

There is some debate as to why Christine Jorgensen transitioned. Some evidence seems to suggest that she was frustrated by the lack of male sexual development, and that she thought she might be more comfortable as a woman. Transsexual activists, however, have stuck to the story that Christine Jorgensen was a true transsexual woman who was eager to shed her male body. Whatever the reasons for her transition, Jorgensen ended up benefiting from eugenics laws in Denmark, which promoted castration for homosexuals, and some of the members of her surgical team even suggested that sex changes could be used as a “solution” to homosexuality.

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Discuss this Article

titans62
Post 7

I am wondering if there are any movies or television biographies that deal with Christine Jorgenson, and I do not mean Glen or Glenda.

I feel like someone like Jorgenson is a person in history that is both a social reformer as well as an important figure in the area of science, for being the first person to go through such a procedure.

As a social reformer I feel like she has not been fully appreciated throughout history and that she forced herself to be active in the media, not just to gather attention for her, but to gather attention and awareness for people like her.

We are nearly fifty years since her surgery and although progress has been made I do not feel that people like Jorgenson have not been given enough attention to their cause and I am wondering if directors out there have noticed this and created any movies or television specials highlighting the life of this social reformer?

jmc88
Post 6

I once heard of a story where she was being interviewed on television and the host of the show flat out asked if she was truly a woman and she got very angry and stormed off of the stage.

This incident occurred in the 1960's I believe and this was a time when it was very early in the GLBT movement and these were people that were not fully accepted or understood by society.

The host's question could be used as a metaphor to show the ignorance and judgmental nature of society at this time concerning these types of issues and the fact that during these times GLBT people were not accepted by society.

Of course, times are better nowadays, despite there still being intolerance as well as a multitude of misunderstanding concerning the topic and I really think that if someone like Christine Jorgenson was alive today then there would be more successful activism and more awareness to the public.

Izzy78
Post 5

@cardsfan27 - That is a great story and shows how Jorgenson managed to reach a lot of people, but you forgot to mention the name of the film which is "Glen or Glenda."

Despite not being in the film or the film even being about her Jorgenson is always associated with this movie as it was one of the first movies to address the issue of gender in this way. One has to think that if it were made better or more successful it may have had more of an impact on society during the 1950's.

I have not heard much about Jorgenson addressing this film, though. It could be due to the bad quality of this film that she chose to simply not address it at all and chose to focus on other topics that she could address.

cardsfan27
Post 4

First time I ever heard of Christine Jorgensen was when I saw the movie Ed Wood, which starred Johnny Depp and was a fictional biography on the life of Director Ed Wood.

Ed Wood's fame comes from creating some of the worst movies known to Hollywood and unfortunately the first film that made him well known in this regard was a movie that was originally supposed to be a biography about Christine Jorgenson.

However, Jorgenson, although outspoken, did not want to see her life fictionalized and depicted on screen at this point in her life and that caused Ed Wood to re-think how to make the film.

Because of Ed Wood's open trasvestitism he sqw Christine Jorgenson as an inspiration, so he still wanted to make the film, but he starred as himself and based it on his own life and his own struggle to let people know his true self.

Despite the movie not being about Christine Jorgenson and it being one of the worst movies ever made, it did at least allow the director to come to terms and allow himself to show people who he was and he has Jorgenson as an inspiration for doing that.

JaneAir
Post 3

How interesting that Christine Jorgensen ended up benefitting from some pretty discriminatory laws. I'm guessing that might be the reason why Jorgensen went to Denmark for her surgery in the first place instead of just getting it done in the United States!

It sounds like she had a really interesting life, but I would hate for people to start looking at sex reassignment as a "cure" for homosexuality. Hopefully we've moved beyond that as a society by now!

Azuza
Post 2

@SZapper - Well, it would obviously be a good thing for the transsexual community if they could hold up Christine Jorgensen as an example of a "true transsexual woman," whatever that means. Since Jorgensen is no longer alive, pretty much anyone can say whatever they want about her motivations.

Anyway, I kind of admire the fact that Jorgensen consented to all those interviews and kept her cool all the time. It seems like a sex change is probably a pretty personal thing. I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't want to share that with the public!

SZapper
Post 1

What an interesting figure! I would be really interested in reading a Christine Jorgensen biography and learning more about her life story. It can't have been easy to be a transsexual in the mid-1950's. I'm pretty sure it's not even easy to be one now!

One thing I have to say though, I hope activists aren't promoting an untrue version of why Jorgensen wanted to become a woman. If she simply thought she would be more comfortable, what's the problem with that? I feel like sexuality and gender don't have to be shoved into a narrow little box where there is only one explanation for everything.

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