Christine Jorgensen: Out in the Open

Another week, another article. Today’s article is on one of the first transgender people who openly expressed her gender identity: Christine Jorgensen. 📝

Jorgensen can be considered as quite brave to be so open and transparent about her identity. During the 50s the transgender community was not as accepted as nowadays, and even today the community still faces great obstacles, still fights for their rights of existence and deals with discrimination which we as society have to work on. But that’s something we could write different article on. In her time Jorgensen used her voice to educated people and empower the queer community. With this she was part of the early movement that fought for queer rights, building upon work that others had already done before her. 🏳️‍🌈 🏳️‍⚧

Read more about her life and how she impacted our society in the full article below!

Christine Jorgensen | * 30-05-1926 | † 03-05-1989 | USA | Actress, Nightclub Singer, Trans Rights Activist

The woman that this article is dedicated to is incredibly brave, especially for her time. Christine Jorgensen was the first transgender woman to take on publicity for her gender identity and her sex reassignment surgery in the United States. This happened during the 1950s, right after the war, when very little still was known and even less accepted from the transgender community. But, instead of being shamed for her identity, Jorgensen became famous and she used her voice to educate people and to empower the queer community. This was absolutely groundbreaking in the 1950s and it has made a huge impact on the normalisation of the transgender and queer community nowadays. 

Jorgensen was born in 1926 during the interwar period in New York. She got a male name assigned at birth, but never really felt like a man. She graduated from Christopher Columbus Highschool in 1945. It was here that she found out that her attraction to her male friends was not because she was gay, but merely because she was a woman trapped in a male body.  Right after, when she was just 19, she joined the U.S. army, to participate in WWII. During these times she still publicly identified as a man, but when she got back from the war, she found out about sex reassignment surgery through her various jobs that she took on in New York.   

A friend of hers helped her with her hormone intake, and slowly but surely Jorgensen began her transition. Sex reassignment surgery had been performed for the first time in 1930 on Lili Elbe in Germany, but now the best doctors were available in Sweden. Thus in 1950 Jorgensen packed her bags and moved to Sweden, but on a short stop in Denmark she met doctor Christian Hamburger. Hamburger was a Danish surgeon who was specialized in the surgery that Christine was seeking for. He was the first one to diagnose Jorgensen to be a woman instead of a gay man, which started a process of two years where she underwent hormone treatment, psychiatric evaluations and finally surgery to remove her male genetalia. This is not to be confused with the sex reassignment surgery that women undergo nowadays. Jorgensen had to live without any genitalia at all for quite a few years, until she was able to receive a vaginoplasty years later in the United States. Jorgensen had to change the Danish law to even perform the castration for the purposes of gender identity. She was able to do so after the Danish prime minister gave the green light. 

Therefore it was not so much the surgery but the hormones that helped Jorgensen the most in presenting as a woman. There was a profound transformation where her skinny male body slowly changed into the contours of a woman. This was different from women like Lili Elbe, who only underwent the sex reassignment surgery during the Weimar period.

When Jorgensen returned to the United States in 1952, after finally removing her penis, it was she herself that leaked information about her transformation to the press. Headlines hit the papers: ‘Ex-GI becomes Blonde Beauty’. Despite the soft tone of this article, Jorgensen received a lot of horrific comments and threats merely for her identity. Throughout the years she became widely known for her directness and her wit, laughing off all the tasteless jokes. She gained a lot of success because of her public exposure in Hollywood, becoming an actress and nightclub dancer. But despite her fame her life wasn’t easy at all. She received a lot of criticism throughout her career and failed to be married twice. The first time the engagement was broken down due to the harsh criticism, and the second time she wasn’t allowed to marry the second time because of her male birth certificate.   

But Jorgensen was persistent to be who she wanted to be. She made a career for herself in entertainment and from the 1960s all throughout the 1980s she used her story to lecture at universities all throughout the United States on gender identity. 

Unfortunately she passed away of cancer in 1989, presumably due to the experimental surgeries and hormones that she took. But nonetheless, Jorgensen left a huge legacy. Due to her highly publicized transition she was a pioneer in shining light on LGBTQ+ issues. Jorgensen was without doubt a ‘kick in the pants’ of the sexual revolution and by purely owning who she is and visibly being comfortable in her own skin, she paved the way for many more transgender people to follow. 

Want to see a little more of Christine Jorgensen? I suggest watching this short video, to get an impression of her bravery and her stance on transgenderism: Christine Jorgensen: 60 years of sex change ops


Author: Siene Verbeek
Image: Marlijn Metzlar

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