Christine Jorgensen was born on May 30, 1926. She was an American trans woman who became famous for having sex reassignment surgery. Jorgensen was born and raised in Bronx, New York City. After graduating high school in 1945, she got into the U.S. Army for the World War II. After her service, while attending schools, she heard of the sex reassignment surgery. She went to Europe and Copenhagen and obtained a special permission to go through a series of operations from 1951.
Upon return to the U.S. in the early 1950s, her transition became the front page of the New York Daily News. She became an instant celebrity and used the platform to advocate for transgender people. She also worked as an actress, nightclub entertainer and also recorded several songs.
Jorgensen’s birth name was George William Jorgensen Jr., the second child of a carpenter. She described herself as “frail, blond, and an introvert”.
She graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in 1945 and joined the U.S. Army at the age of 19.
After discharge, she attended several schools and colleges. She also worked for Pathe´ News.
Upon her return to New York after military service, she was very worried about the lack of male physical development when she came to know about sex reassignment surgery. She began taking estrogen and with the help of a known doctor, started researching the surgery. At that time, the surgery was only available in Sweden. During a stopover in Copenhagen on her journey from New York to Sweden, she met Dr. Christian Hamburger and went hormone replacement therapy there. The name Christine was chosen in his honor.
She obtained special permission from the Danish Minister of Justice allowing her to go through a sequence of operations in the country. In 1951, surgeons performed orchiectomy on Jorgensen. She wrote the following in a letter to her friends “As you can see by the enclosed photos, taken just before the operation, I have changed a great deal. But there are other changes that are much more valuable. I was a shy and miserable person when I left America? That’s all in the past and as you can see, I’m in marvelous spirits.”
In 1952, she underwent a penectomy. After returning to the U.S. and eventually obtained a vaginoplasty when the procedure became available there. Later, in the preface of Jorgensen’s autobiography, Harry Benjamin gave her credit for the growth of his research. He wrote, “Indeed Christine, without you, probably none of this would have happened; the grant, my publications, lectures, etc.”
Jorgensen was a celebrity when she came back to New York in February 1953. Jorgensen herself wrote the first account of her story in a February 1953, titled “The Story of My Life”. The publicity gave her a stage which she used to advocate for transgender people.
In 1959 she announced her engagement to typist Howard J. Knox in Massapequa Park, New York, where her father had built her a house post her surgery. However, the couple failed to obtain a marriage license since Jorgensen’s birth certificate stated her as male.
In 1967, Jorgensen moved to California after passing away of her parents. Her autobiography is called Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography. This book documented her life experiences and personal perspectives on major events in her life. She became well-known for her straightforwardness and polished wit. Jorgensen also worked as an actress, nightclub entertainer and recorded several songs. In the nightclub act, she used a new character of her own invention, Superwoman, who was marked by the inclusion of a large letter S on her cape.
She died 1989 due to bladder and lung cancer. She died four weeks short of her 63rd birthday.
Due to Jorgensen choosing this path, transgender identity started being legitimized and explored as a subject. Jorgensen’s immensely publicised transition brought to light gender identity and shaped a new culture.
Jorgensen urged other transgenders to change their sex on birth certificates and their names. For the first time, there were complications over sex and science and the changing definition of sexuality.
In her own words, ”I am very proud now, looking back, it was the sexual revolution that was going to start with or without me.”
Christine was included in the Legacy Walk in 2012. Legacy Walk is an outdoor display which celebrated LGBT history and people.
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