Christine Jorgensen was an American transgender woman who made headlines in the early 1950s for having sex reassignment surgery.
Who Was Christine Jorgensen?
In the early 1950s, Christine Jorgensen became widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery and transitioning from male to female. She told her story to the press for a fee and later developed a nightclub act. Jorgensen retired to South California in the early 1970s and died of bladder and lung cancer in 1989.
Christine Jorgensen was born George William Jorgensen, Jr., on May 30, 1926, in the Bronx, New York. At an early age, Jorgensen became aware that she identified as female. She hated boys’ clothes and wondered why her clothes were so different from her older sister Dorothy’s pretty dresses, she wrote in American Weekly in 1953.
As a teenager, Jorgensen said that she felt “lost between the sexes.” She was more envious of girls than interested in them. Near the end of high school, Jorgensen found a diversion from her personal struggle — photography. Her father was an amateur photographer and two set up a darkroom at home. She also took classes at the New York Institute of Photography.
Decision to Transition to Female
Jorgensen had to put her photography interest aside when she was drafted into the military in 1945. Being small and slightly built, she ended up working as a clerk at Fort Dix, New Jersey. After being discharged in 1946, Jorgensen floundered for a bit before deciding to transition to female.
In 1950, Jorgensen traveled to Denmark to begin the transformation from male to female. The treatment, available only in Europe at the time, included hormone therapy and several operations. Her story became public in 1952 while she was still in a Copenhagen hospital, making big news in the United States. Overwhelmed by the attention, Jorgensen had to deal with such headlines as “Bronx ‘Boy’ Is Now a Girl” and “Dear Mum and Dad, Son Wrote, Have Now Become Your Daughter.”
Returning home to United States in 1953, Jorgensen was met by a sea of reporters at a New York airport. After answering a few questions, she said “I thank you all coming, but I think it’s too much.” Becoming more comfortable with her newfound fame, Jorgensen told her story to American Weekly magazine for a fee. She also developed a nightclub act, later saying, “I decided if they wanted to see me, they would have to pay for it,” according to The New York Times. In her act she often sang “I Enjoy Being a Girl.”
While she never questioned her choice, many members of the public and the media did not understand and made Jorgensen the subject of ridicule. Even the government was not willing to fully recognize her as a female. In 1959, she announced that she was engaged but was denied a marriage license because her birth certificate listed her as “male.”
Although some rejected her, others found her engaging and fascinating. Along with performing, she was a popular lecturer and author of 1967’s Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Biography. Her life even made the big screen in 1970’s The Christine Jorgensen Story.
Legacy and Death
Jorgensen retired to South California in the early 1970s. She died of bladder and lung cancer on May 3, 1989. Jorgensen’s very public transformation from male to female launched a national discussion about gender identity, and her story stands as an inspiring example to others who also experience gender dysphoria.