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People Profile: Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen was born George William Jorgensen, Jr., on May 30, 1926, in the Bronx, New York. She was the first American born person to come out publicly as transgender and her transition was highly publicized. She was the first transgender celebrity and a pioneer.

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Jorgensen was aware of her female identity at an early age and often did not understand why she was not able to wear the same clothes as her older sister. She felt “lost between the sexes” as a teen and was often envious of other girls. Not long after finishing high school she was drafted into the United Staes Army during world war II. After being discharged from the army, Jorgensen attended Mohawk College in Utica, New York, the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School in New York City.

“REMEMBER THE SHY, MISERABLE PERSON WHO LEFT AMERICA? WELL, THAT PERSON IS NO MORE AND, AS YOU CAN SEE, I’M IN MARVELOUS SPIRITS.” – CHRISTINE JORGENSEN

It was at the Manhattan Medical and Dental school where she met Dr. Joseph Angelo who was the husband of a classmate. Upon hearing about her desire to transition Dr. Angelo helped her research the process and learn about sexual reassignment surgery which was being performed in Sweden. During a stopover in Copenhagen to visit family she met Dr. Christian Hamburger, a Danish endocrinologist. Jorgensen began hormone replacement treatments under his supervision. It was from there where she was able to obtain special permission from the Danish Minister of Justice to undergo a series of gender reassignment operations in that country. From 1951 to 1952 in Copenhagen she underwent both an orchiectomy and a penectomy. Upon completing her first surgery in 1951 she was quoted as follows in a letter she sent to her friend n the United Staes, “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.”

She returned to the United Staes to have a vaginoplasty with the help of Dr. Angelo and the guidance of Harry Benjamin who had been working with her while studying the transgender condition. It was from here news of Christine Jorgensen’s transition would gain worldwide notoriety and she was instantly thrusted into the limelight.

Jorgensen became a transgender spokesperson and she influenced many other transexuals to change their names and sex on their birth certificates. She started the conversation about the transgender experience along with debates over sex and science. She was the first American to make people think about the meaning of gender. Her experience influence most of the studies and knowledge we have today about gender. Thanks to her the thought that gender was binary and static came into question.

Jorgensen returned to the United States in 1952. On December 1, 1952, she appeared on the cover of the New York Daily News under the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell”. While living in New York in 1053 she wrote an article titled “The Story of My Life” in The American Weekly. She also once walked off of the Dick Cavett show in 1968 after she was offended when Cavett asked her about the status of her romantic life with her “wife”; because she was the only scheduled guest, Cavett spent the rest of that show talking about how he had not meant to offend her.

Jorgensen was to marry John Traub, a labor union statistician, but the engagement was called off. In 1959 she was engaged to Howard J. Knox, a typist, in Massapequa, New York, where her father had built her a house after her reassignment surgery. They were unable to obtain a marriage license because Jorgensen’s birth certificate listed her as male. Knox also lost his job in Washington DC when the engagement became known.

Christine Jorgensen worked as an actress and entertainer. In the 1970’s and 1980’s she became a public speaker about her transgender experience. She was an activist for the community and true pioneer. She started the national discussion regarding what it means to be transgender. She was a woman of class, experience and education. She was not afraid to be who she was. Christine Jorgensen died in 1989 from lung and bladder cancer.

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