By Stephanie Barajas
During the 1950’s, Christine Jorgensen’s story brought the matter of sex change to the center stage of American public consciousness. With the revelation of her transition from male to female, Christine Jorgensen educated the public on the subject of transsexuality. Her story forced doctors and scientists to revisit the terms of sexuality and reveal the distinctions between homosexuality and transsexuality. Christine Jorgensen managed to take her personal story and turn it into a tale of inspiration and awareness.
Christine Jorgensen was born as George Jorgensen Jr. on May 30, 1926 to parents George Jorgensen and Florence Davis Hansen Jorgensen in the Bronx. She was born into a Danish-American family and was raised with the help of a close-knit extended family (Meyerowitz, 53). Her father was the primary bread earner and her mother was a devoted stay at home wife, who looked after her husband and children (Moore). In essence, Christine enjoyed a pleasant childhood. The family lived in a nice neighborhood, where both Christine and her sister were enrolled in public school, attended summer camp and went on family vacations (Meyerowitz, 53). Hers was a typical, white, middle-class upbringing.
From an early age, Christine noticed that something was wrong and she felt that she was different from other boys her age (Shuman). As a young child, Christine hated everything associated with boys. She hated short hair, hated boys clothing and did not enjoy things such as fighting or participating in sports, like many of the boys her age did. Instead of sports and fighting, toy trucks and cars, Christine dreamed of playing with girls and baby dolls (Moore). She also found herself becoming envious of her sister Dorothy and her beautiful long hair, and resented the fact that she and Dorothy were not alike (Moore). Christine would later state that the feelings concerning her identity made her feel extremely unhappy and hopeless as a child. She knew something was wrong, but could not do anything about it (Moore). As Christine progressed through her childhood, the people surrounding her also began to notice that she was in fact different from other boys but summed it up as Christine exhibiting female tendencies (Moore).
As Christine reached her teenage years it became more obvious to her and others that she was different from all the other boys. One thing in particular that made Christine realize that she was different from those around her were the feelings of attraction which she began to develop for other males, specifically male friends (Moore). Although Christine developed strong feelings for some of her male friends, she later recalled that she never received any of the same feelings from them in return (Moore). At this point, Christine felt extremely confused and torn about her sexuality and her attraction to men. Despite the fact that she had developed feelings and was attracted to other men, she refused to admit or accept the fact that she might be gay (Shuman). Instead, Christine felt that she was a woman who had somehow ended up in the wrong body, essentially feeling trapped inside the body of a man (Shuman).
After Christine graduated from high school in 1945, she unsuccessfully tried to enlist in the army twice but was rejected because of her small stature (Moore). After being denied entrance into the U.S. army, less than six months later she was drafted. However, her small boyish stature prevented her from earning anything more than a desk job (Moore). Even though Christine had tried her best to fulfill the male gender role, especially by enlisting in the army, she still did not fit in among other men. Serving in the army for a little over a year, Christine remained isolated from the other soldiers and rarely interacted with them (Shuman). Not long after enlisting, Christine was honorably discharged following an illness.
Christine then moved to Hollywood in hopes of finding a job as a photographer but soon after discovered this was not as simple as she thought it would be (Moore). Christine’s move to Hollywood, however, was not a complete failure. While in California, Christine spoke about her personal confusion and turmoil for the first time, confiding in two of her closest friends that she felt that “she had the emotions of a girl” (Meyerowitz, 54).
In 1948, Christine Jorgensen returned to the East Coast and enrolled in photography classes at the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, Connecticut. At the same time, she still continued to look for answers concerning her feelings and turmoil in her life as a man (Moore). While in Connecticut, Christine read about an endocrinologist who was performing experiments with hormones on animals (Meyerowitz, 54). Christine wondered if hormonal treatment could possibly be the answer she had always searched for. After her discovery, Christine contacted a noted endocrinologist, Dr. Harold Grayson, who immediately rejected Jorgensen’s wish to possibly undergo hormonal treatment in order to fix what she felt was wrong. Grayson instead referred her to a psychiatrist where she could get help in getting rid of her female inclinations (Moore). Jorgensen knew this was not what she needed and refused psychiatric treatment that attempted to “fix” her, still believing that there had to be a biological reason for the way that she felt (Moore). Finally in May 1950, Jorgensen traveled to Denmark after learning from a friend that medical research was being performed on transsexuals (Shuman). Christine met with Dr. Christian Hamburger, a specialist on transsexuality (Shuman), and he told her that she was not a homosexual but most likely a transsexual (Shuman). Finally, Christine had answers that confirmed what she had always felt.
On September 24, 1951, Dr. Hamburger began Christine’s sex reassignment surgery free of charge as part of his experiment. He completed the series of procedures in October of 1952. In June, 1952, Christine shared the news of her sex change with her family in a letter where she wrote, “I have changed, changed very much, as my photos will show, but I want you to know that I am an extremely happy person and the real me, not the physical me, has not changed. I am still the same old “Brud.” But nature made a mistake, which I have had corrected, and I am now your daughter” (Moore). Her family was very open and welcoming and declared that their love for their daughter was still the same as it had been before (Moore).
Although it is disputed how Christine’s story was leaked to the press, some suggest Christine leaked it herself. Christine claims she was betrayed by a family friend, others claim it was a lab technician who revealed the story. Nevertheless, the New York Daily News broke the story of Christine’s transformation on December 1, 1952 with the headline “Ex-G.I. Becomes Blonde Bombshell” (Meyerowitz, 62). After this first newspaper revelation, more and more reporters wanted in on the sensational story and immediately Christine became a media sensation. The media was obsessed with Christine’s physical presentation (Meyerowitz, 63), and they picked at every detail of her appearance. The newspapers buzzed about how feminine she looked, how graceful she was and how she appeared to have successfully turned into a woman. The media wanted to know everything about her. Did she have a boyfriend? Did she want to marry in the future? (Meyerowitz, 63). Jorgensen used all the media attention to her advantage. After returning to New York, she began to make appearances where she shared her story, even using the spotlight to promote her night club act (Meyerowitz, 74).
The significance of Jorgensen’s story lies in the fact that she took control of her own story (Theophano). Although it was first reported as a sensational story of sex reassignment, she took advantage of the media coverage and used it to educate the public on transsexualism and its distinction apart from homosexuality (Theophano). Jorgensen’s story pushed doctors to redefine their terms on transsexuality and encouraged scientific research on surgical intervention (Meyerowitz, 97). Furthermore, just as significant was the fact that Christine’s story encouraged other transsexuals who might be feeling the same way she had her entire life, to seek help. She represented a symbol of hope.
The following are links to videos of Christine Jorgensen:
- Meyerowitz, Joanne J. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2002. Print.
- Moore, Michelle. "Heaven's Oldest Gift Christine Jorgensen's Story." Transgender Community News (2004): 21-36. LGBT Life with Full Text. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.
- Shuman, R. Baird. "George Jorgensen Becomes Christine Jorgensen." LGBT History, 1855-1955 (2005): 35-38. LGBT Life with Full Text. Web. 25 Oct. 2012.
- Theophano, Teresa. "Jorgensen, Christine (1926-1989)." GLBTQ Arts (2006): 1-3. LGBT Life with Full Text. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.