Christine Jorgensen

From Susan's Place Transgender Resources
Jump to: navigation, search

Christine Jorgensen (May 30, 1926 – May 3, 1989) was the first widely-known individual to have sex reassignment surgery—in this case, male to female. She is also the author of the following book: Jorgensen, Christine (1967). Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography. ISBN 1573441007. OCLC 268214.  Out of Print

Early life

Jorgensen was born George William Jorgensen, Jr., the second child of George William Jorgensen Sr., a carpenter and contractor, and his wife, the former Florence Davis Hansen. Jorgensen grew up in the Bronx and later described himself as having been a "frail, tow-headed, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games".[1]

Jorgensen graduated from Christopher Columbus High School (Bronx, New York) in 1945 and shortly thereafter was drafted into the US Army|.

After being discharged from the Army, Jorgensen attended Mohawk College in Utica, New York,[2] the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School in New York City, New York. Jorgensen briefly worked for Pathé News.

Sex reassignment surgery

When she returned to New York after her military service, increasingly concerned over (as one obituary called it) her "lack of male physical development",[3] Jorgensen heard about the possibility of sex reassignment surgery, and began taking the female hormone ethinyl estradiol on her own. She researched the subject with the help of Dr. Joseph Angelo, a husband of one of Jorgensen's classmates at the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School.[3] She intended to go to Sweden, where she had found the only doctors in the world performing this type of surgery at the time. At a stopover in Copenhagen to visit relatives, however, Jorgensen met Dr. Christian Hamburger, a Danish endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy. She ended up staying in Denmark, and under Dr. Hamburger's direction, was allowed to begin hormone replacement therapy, eventually undergoing a series of surgeries.

During this first round of surgeries in Copenhagen, Jorgensen was castrated. According to an obituary, "With special permission from the Danish Minister of Justice, Jorgensen had his testicles removed first and his still-undeveloped penis a year later. Though technically a eunuch, Jorgensen received large doses of hormones, which led to changes in his body contours and fat distribution, and, with help from the American ambassador, had his passport changed to identify him as female and began life as a woman." Several years later Jorgensen obtained a vaginoplasty, when the procedure became available in the U.S., under the direction of Dr. Angelo and a medical advisor Harry Benjamin.[3]

Jorgensen chose the name Christine in honor of Dr. Hamburger. She became a spokesperson for transsexual and transgender people.


A media sensation developed on December 1 1952 when the New York Daily News carried a front-page story (under the headline "Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty") announcing that in Denmark, Jorgensen had become the recipient of the first "sex change". This claim is not true, however, as the type of surgery in question had actually been performed by pioneering German doctors in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Danish artist Lili Elbe and "Dorchen", both patients of Dr Magnus Hirschfeld at the Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin, were known recipients of such operations in 1930-31. What was different in Jorgensen's case, however, was the added prescription of hormone therapy.

When Jorgensen returned to New York in February 1953, she became an instant celebrity. There has been serious speculation that Jorgensen leaked her story to the press, but in any case, the publicity created a platform for Jorgensen, who used her publicity for more than fame. New York radio host Barry Gray asked her if 1950s jokes such as "Christine Jorgensen went abroad, and came back a broad" bothered her. She laughed and said that they did not bother her at all. However, another encounter demonstrated that Jorgensen could be offended by some queries: Jorgensen appeared on an episode of The Dick Cavett Show, in which the host offended her by asking about the status of her romantic life with her "wife", and she walked off the show; because she was the only scheduled guest, Cavett spent the rest of that show talking about how he had not meant to offend her.

Later life

Following her vaginoplasty, Jorgensen planned to marry John Traub, a labor-union statistician, but the engagement was called off. In 1959, she announced her engagement to Howard J. Knox, a typist, in Massapequa, New York, where her father had built her a house after her reassignment surgery. The couple was unable, however, to obtain a marriage license because Jorgensen's birth certificate still listed her as biologically male. In a report about the broken engagement, The New York Times noted that Knox had lost his job in Washington, D.C., when his engagement to Jorgensen became known.[4][5]

During the 1970s and 1980s, Jorgensen toured university campuses and other venues to speak about her experiences. She was known for her directness and polished wit and once demanded an apology from Spiro T. Agnew, the U.S. vice president, when he called another politician "the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party".[6]

Jorgensen also worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer and recorded a number of songs.[7] In summer stock, she played Madame Rosepettle in the play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad. In her nightclub act, she sang several songs, including "I Enjoy Being a Girl" and at the end made a quick change into a Wonder Woman costume: as she later recalled in her act, Warner Communications, owners of the Wonder Woman character's copyright, demanded that she cease and desist from using the character, which she did, substituting a new character of her own invention, "Superwoman" which was marked by the inclusion of a large letter 'S' on her cape. Jorgensen continued her act, performing at Freddy's Supper Club on the upper east side of Manhattan until at least the Fall of 1982 when she performed twice in the Hollywood area—once at the now-closed Backlot Theatre adjacent to the discothèque Studio One and later at The Frog Pond restaurant, also now closed. This was recorded and has been made available as an album on iTunes. In 1984, Jorgensen returned to Copenhagen to perform her show and was featured in Teit Ritzau's Danish transsexual documentary film Paradiset ikke til salg (Paradise not for sale).

Jorgensen said in 1989, the year of her death, that she had given the sexual revolution "a good swift kick in the pants". She died of bladder and lung cancer at age 62.

References in media

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, during his earlier career as a calypso singer under the name 'The Charmer', recorded a song about Jorgensen, "Is She Is Or Is She Ain't".[8]

Jorgensen is referred to in the 1994 movie Ed Wood as the original inspiration for the movie that became Glen or Glenda?. She is also the subject of a 1970 film The Christine Jorgensen Story. Jorgensen was also referred to in the Quantum Leap episode "What Price Gloria", when Sam has leapt into a female secretary in 1961 (all his prior 'leaps' having been into the bodies of men). When he reveals to a cocky boss that he is in fact a man, the boss asks him if he "pulled a Christine Jorgensen".

In Christine Jorgensen Reveals, a stage performance at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Jorgensen is portrayed by Bradford Louryk. To great critical acclaim, Louryk dressed as Jorgensen and performed to a genuine recorded interview with her during the 1950s while video of Rob Grace as the comically inept interviewer, Mr. Nipsey Russell, played on a nearby black-and-white television set. The show went on to win Best Aspect of Production at the 2006 Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, and it ran Off-Broadway at New World Stages in January 2006. The LP was reissued on CD by Repeat The Beat Records in 2005.

Transgender activist and theorist Susan Stryker is currently producing a documentary Christine in the Cutting Room a feature-length film about her career as a filmmaker and photographer. It is in pre-production, with production scheduled for 2009.


  1. from Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Biography, his 1967 autobiography, quoted by Michelle Ingrassia in Newsday, "In 1952, He Was a Scandal: When Jorgensen decided to change his name — and his body — the nation wasn’t quite ready." May 5, 1989
  2. Students Wanted - TIME
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Jorgensen, Christine (30 May 1926-3 May 1989), who achieved fame by undergoing a surgical sex change, was born George William Jorgensen, Jr
  4. "Bars Marriage Permit: Clerk Rejects Proof of Sex from Christine Jorgensen", The New York Times, 4 April 1959
  5. A Changed Man - Medical Specialization, New York, Newsday -
  6. "Miss Jorgensen Asks Agnew for an Apology", The New York Times, 11 October 1970. Agnew refused her request.
  7. Christine Jorgensen Website

External links


*Some information provided in whole or in part by