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.
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.