Christine Jorgensen – transformation from transgender G.I. to tabloid star is reported in the New York Daily News with startling reality. Her story is known to many but here is an insightful view that you may not have heard
From Denmark one day in June 1952 did there arrive at the Bronx home of Board of Education carpenter George Jorgensen and his wife, Florence, a letter from 26-year-old George Jr., or Brud, as the family called him, who, several years earlier, following a brief service in the United States Army and a term of employment at the New York office of the RKO-Pathe newsreel people, had relocated to Copenhagen to pursue a career as a magazine photographer. Brud’s tone suggested that there was something he wished to share.
I am now faced with the problem of writing a letter, one which for two years has been in my mind. The task is a great one . . . . I want you to know that I am healthier and happier than ever. I want you to keep this in mind during the rest of this letter.
The Jorgensens blinked. Whatever could Brud be talking about?
Life is a strange affair . . . . At times it is obvious something has gone wrong . . . . We humans are perhaps the greatest chemical reaction in the world . . . . Among the greatest working parts of our bodies are the glands . . . . An imbalance in the glandular system puts the body under a strain in an effort to adjust . . . . I, along with millions of other people, had such a system imbalance . . . .
Brud seemed to be leading up to something here.
Right from the beginning I realized that I was working toward the release of myself from a life I knew would always be foreign to me . . . . Even as I write these words, I have not yet told you the final outcome of the tests and an operation last September. I do hope that I have built this letter properly, so you already know what I am going to say now.
I am still the same old Brud, but, my dears, nature made the mistake I have had corrected.
And now I am your daughter.
Mr. and Mrs. Jorgensen Sr., understandably thunderstruck, a few months later proceeded to do what anyone would naturally do with such a painfully intimate confessional from a loved one. They handed it over, when he picked up a tip and came knocking, to a reporter from the New York Daily News.
EX-GI BECOMES BLONDE BEAUTY, the News exclusively informed about a gazillion popeyed readers on Monday morning the 1st of December. BRONX YOUTH IS A HAPPY WOMAN AFTER MEDICATION, 6 OPERATIONS. It was not strictly correct, as the early popular surmise had it, that the former George Jorgensen Jr. was the world’s first surgical transsexual. But he certainly was the first surgical transsexual to suddenly become a page one sensation around the globe.
Two thousand chemical injections. Glandular and psychological transformations. Cosmetic procedures. Tuckaroonies. “The wizardry of medical science!” boomed all the papers. Not unproudly, actually. These were remarkable times, weren’t they? In her room at the Copenhagen State Hospital, Christine Jorgensen fast got over her initial horror at the great burst of unexpected publicity and welcomed in the world press. Reporters were quite taken with her. “She has beautiful, emotional, feminine hands,” burbled one scribe. “She laughed, her blue eyes sparkling and her blonde hair in pretty curls around her broad shoulders.” Happily cried Christine: “My miserable masquerade is ended!”
Young George Jorgensen had grown up enduring one of those really awkward childhoods. He preferred hopscotch to football. He liked to play tea party with the neighborhood girls. He liked to play dressup. Mother Nature, he began to divine, had blundered: He wasn’t really a boy, and he was never supposed to have been one. There had been a mixup here. Somehow he had drawn the wrong card. In the Bronx of the 1940s, this was not an everyday postulation. At Christopher Columbus High School, the regular fellers had been none too kind to George.
At Copenhagen’s more progressive Serum Institute, there had been diagnosis and liberation. Now, back home in America breathlessly sexology-conscious these days in any case, thanks to the researches of Dr. Alfred Kinsey for weeks on end the public prints were full of sobersidedly clinical explorations of the hermaphroditic and pseudohermaphroditic conditions. “Christine Jorgensen does not walk alone in the mystery land of human sex,” one expert wrote. “There are perhaps thousands of Americans living in doubt or ignorance about their true sex. Some are men who really are women. Some are women who really are men . . . . Sometimes the mysterious controls go awry.”
“I never realized my son wasn’t normal,” reflected George Jorgensen Sr. back home on Dudley Ave. in the Bronx. “He’d never been in any trouble.”
“Why, my son was in the Army for 16 months,” added Christine’s mom.
“Did he like the Army?” a reporter leered.
“Who likes the Army?” Mother Jorgensen shrugged.
For U.S. doctors, the case raised thorny ethical issues. Medically, if they remained silent, they were giving tacit approval; already they were besieged by it seemed like half the homosexuals in America, all demanding the same operation. The Journal of the American Medical Association launched a skeptical inquiry into exactly what had occurred; there were many suggestions that Christine was little more than a hoax. Indeed, in Denmark, surgeons conceded that in fact George Jorgensen Jr. had been neither a hermaphrodite nor a pseudohermaphrodite, merely an extreme queen. None of this kept Christine from swiftly emerging as the world’s No. 1 poster girl for forward-looking sociosexual enlightenment. “Many more persons should overcome their shyness and do the same,” she proposed.
She played down the personal-bravery part: “Does it take bravery for a person with polio to want to walk?”
On Thursday the 12th of February 1953, Christine Jorgensen part solemn medical experiment, part cultural pioneer, part circus freak came home.
Mobs met her at she got off the plane at International Airport, fashionable and slinky and Tallulah Bankhead-esque. “Look, Ruthie, she used to be a man!” brayed one mom, holding up her small daughter for a better view. Reporters shouted questions as she made her way to a waiting car. “What about marriage?” “Do you still have to shave?” A week later, wrapped in a mink stole, she took a driver’s test, and the papers all had a fine time cranking out woman-driver stories. Actually, the examiner said, she drove very well.
By now there was no hope she could ever quietly pursue any career, and Christine Jorgensen resigned herself to making her living being Christine Jorgensen. She wrote the story of her life for the Hearst newspapers’ American Weekly magazine. A Hollywood producer announced he was going to make her a movie star. The Hotel Sahara in Las Vegas talked about building a revue around her. Soldiers in Korea voted her Miss Neutral Zone of 1953.
“She’s a beautiful girl,” her mother had to admit.
By year’s end she was making $5,000 a week at the Latin Quarter. First she sang “Getting to Know You,” then she made a costume change and did comedy. “Won’t it be funny if my child got on my knee and said, `Mama, tell me about your boyhood!’ ” she cracked, and audiences just howled. She was hoping someday to do “Anna Christie” in summer stock.
“We women are getting up in the world,” she told the Daily News. “Look how many of us are in government now.”