Few people have met a transsexual and many have no clue about what we are. I thought it might be helpful to tell you guys about the first popular transsexual who actually made a big media-splash years ago. Her name is Christine Jorgensen.
You might not have heard of her; if so, that's because her story was before your time. When it happened, though, it was HUGE.
The year was 1952, shortly after World War II. A man who grew up in New York, George Jorgensen, who went to Denmark to receive gender-reassignment surgery after taking female hormones on his own. When George returned, he re-named himself Christine and tried to live as a woman. Although never confirmed publicly, George was probably "intersexed," which means he had indistinct genitalia.
What happened at the time was a local tabloid newspaper (New York Daily News) saw an opportunity to exploit George's story so they sent photographers and reporters to Idlewild Airport (now Kennedy Airport) where a crazy mob-scene took place. The newspaper then ran a headline, "Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty", which plugged into the cultural standards of the day: first, focusing on veterans as the ideal of masculinity and, second, citing the common sexualization of women at the time. Remember, it was 1952.
Other media followed the story and Jorgensen became the subject of innumerable newspaper and magazine articles, TV-segments, and even a (poorly-made) movie.
Christine Jorgensen, more than anyone, popularized the notion of transsexualism. I remember seeing adults watching stories in the media about her when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.
After her gender-reassignment, Jorgensen had a career as a stage actress and singer. Charismatic, she presented herself as a glamorous, well-coifed and beautifully-dressed lady. During the 1950s and 1960s, Christine toured with a nightclub act in which she sang and did impressions. She appeared to capacity crowds at clubs from Havana to Las Vegas.
Throughout her life, Christine also had to endure an endless series of bad jokes and ridicule. Entertainers, even on TV and in respectable forums, made fun of her for laughs. One of our Vice Presidents (Spiro Agnew), who later resigned in disgrace after being accused of a crime, taunted another politician by calling him "the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party."
Jorgensen died in 1989 of cancer. Half a century after her big debut, someone created a website devoted to her story.
Have you heard of Christine Jorgensen? What do you think of her story?
Oh, she's gorgeous! Proper class. I'd never heard about this before, thank you for sharing such a fascinating story.ReplyDelete
Wow, I had never heard of Christine! Thanks for sharing her story. That must have taken an inhuman amount of courage to be true to herself in such a close-minded time. It reminds us of how far we've come...and how far we have left to go.ReplyDelete
This is really illuminating to me. I am just thinking how our society do not understand people who do not conform to a set ideal. I can't even imagine how difficult it must have been for her to take the plunge in a day and age where she knew she would be taunted and ridiculed as long as she lived.ReplyDelete
Thanks for letting us know about her Ally.
I have never heard of Christine, but she was a stunner. Thank you for sharing her story - I agree with Tashrin that she was a very brave woman.ReplyDelete
Question - have you read Middlesex?
Amazing and inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing this. She was brave and absolutely stunning.ReplyDelete
I have heard of Jorgensen and can recall my parents speaking of her when I was growing up. Wasn't there another famous trans-sexual who played tennis? And then of course, the famous travel writer, Jan Morris.ReplyDelete
Several years ago, a student in a large weekend confab that I taught in with a team of teachers underwent gender re-assignment. She/HE made us all aware of what was happening and it was fascinating to watch from a distance.
Thank you for sharing her story! I bet it took courage to "BE WHO YOU ARE" in 1952!ReplyDelete
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A very interesting post. I hadn't heard of her, but as someone with a dear friend who is trans, I think it's an interesting, powerful story to hear.ReplyDelete
Per Gracey's comment, I highly suggest Middlesex. It's a great book. Also if you're at all into comic books, Intersexuality (can be read online here).
This is so awesome! I think I may have heard of her before but I didn't have her story on my radar at present :) I know there were a few female-to-male cross-dressing and possibly trans people in the US earlier than this, in the first half of the 20th century or even the late 19th century, but they certainly didn't get surgery.ReplyDelete
I had never heard her story - she certainly took the lead, specially back in the day.ReplyDelete
Never heard of the story. But she looks beautiful and classy. I can't even imagine what she had to go through. You need guts to be different, I applaud her bravery.ReplyDelete
Yes, I have heard of her before. Thanks for sharing her story with more people. She looks like a glamorous and gorgeous lady! xo style, she wroteReplyDelete
i had never heard of her but i love to read about interesting people who made an impact on history. thanks for teaching me something new :)ReplyDelete
I'm familiar with her story. I've always been surprised that after the transition, she was so very feminine looking. The only transsexuals I've known have not been so fortunate.ReplyDelete
Some are, some aren't. A lot has to do with how testoterone has developed male secondary characteristics before transitioning. Some developments can't be reversed or covered.ReplyDelete
My attitude is a little unorthodox: I don't believe being treated as your correct gender is a surgerical or physical problem; I believe it is a social problem. We don't say biological men or women who look a little different aren't men or women; why should we say that about transsexuals?
Oh, my - she is the picture of 50s grace and style! I can't believe I've not run across her story before. I know it must be hard enough being transsexual and dealing with opinions these days in 2011; can't even imagine in the 50s. You'd think with all the popular (and positive) documentaries out about it now on cable that people wouldn't still get upset over Chaz on "Dancing With the Stars," for God's sake, but I do think society is making a shift toward the better. At least, I hope so! Women like her obviously started paving the way.ReplyDelete
P.S. Megan is absolutely right about Middlesex. One of my favorite books EVER.ReplyDelete
I'm re-reading your blog from the beggining (I missed so much esp. when didn't know you). her story is amazing! thank you so much for sharing!ReplyDelete