Christine Jorgensen led a remarkable life and traversed a path less travelled. Sexual re-assignment surgery is still a complex maneuver. Yet, at 24 years of age, Christine was ready to brave it out for the sake of sanity and personal peace. To see disappointment in loved ones, risk relationships, yet fight for the self – that is the Jorgensen story.
“Nature made a mistake, which I have corrected.”Christine Jorgensen, The Intersection of Star Culture in America & International Medical Tourism
Origins Of the Quote
While the world is most familiar with the short line that is a powerful motto on its own. It is actually a part of a letter that she had written explaining the change. It is a honest, simple and powerful letter. “I have changed, changed very much, as my photos will show, but I want you to know that I am an extremely happy person, and the real me, not the physical me, has not changed. I am still the same old “Brud”. Love, Chris”
Dr. Christian Hamburger was the doctor who made the complicated procedure possible for George Jorgensen. Tormented in his own body and mind, she underwent a series of therapeutic sessions to embrace his identity.
Sexual reassignment is complex and time-consuming process, and it was complete by the time he was 26. He was ever so ready for Christine.
George had left the American shores and gradually eased into the life in Denmark. Doctor Christian had asked him what name he had chosen for himself for this new person, new passport and new identity. Honouring the doctor – George had chosen ‘Christine’.
Christine lived and worked in Denmark for a few years as a photographer. She did not tell anyone at home for two years about the entire process that she had undertaken. It was intensely personal and perhaps unfathomable for those who knew her.
It was only once the transformation was complete that George/Christine sent photographs and a letter home. The letter explained that there was a glandular imbalance. She wrote about how he was inherently different from the body she was born into. It must be known that Christine’s grandmother was a staunch supporter.
The Person Behind the Words
Christine Jorgensen, was born George William Jorgensen, Jr.in 1926, New York. An American, George captured international headlines in the early 1950s as the first person in the United States to undergo a successful gender-reassignment operation.
At an early age, Jorgensen was acutely aware that she identified as female. She detested boys’ clothing and hankered after her older sister Dorothy’s pretty dresses. She wrote in American Weekly in 1953 about her trials. Even as a teenager, Jorgensen said that she felt “lost between the sexes.”
Christine wasn’t confused or gay, she was uncomfortable.
She didn’t like boys. Near the end of high school, Jorgensen found a diversion from this painful personal battle. Photography. Her father was an amateur photographer and two set up a darkroom at home. She also took classes at the New York Institute of Photography. the freedom to create art and experiment was a godsend. One where she could express himself and gender had nothing to do with it.
All Battles Are Not On The Surface
During WWII, George signed up for service and served in the U.S. Army at Fort Dix. He worked very hard and earned a name and reputation. After the war – she finally moved to Denmark, and worked various jobs. Dr. Christian Hamburger really helped realise his dream of becoming who he was. After a long treatment, and undergoing extensive psychotherapy, series of hormone injections, Jorgensen underwent many surgical operations. The announcement of her transformation in 1952, made Christine an instant celebrity.
Hollywood and the world of glamour beckoned Christine. A glamorous and effervescent woman, she was no longer a shy boy. She lived comfortably on the proceeds of her lecture, performing at a nightclub as well. So from the royalties from her book and her work, she made a comfortable earning. Her book called Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography was published in (1967), was later adapted into the film The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970).
Jorgensen, remained unmarried but and happy. In her final years, she battled bladder and lung cancer. She died in 1989, San Clemente, California.
Some Final Thoughts
The vintage Daily News ran the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty” in 1953, the same year February 1953 issue of The American Weekly, published her article. The Daily and then later Life magazine celebrated her heroism during the war and in life. She had courageously embraced her feminine qualities and her truth.
They celebrated her choices, her hair, make-up and fashionable clothes. 1952 was also a time when gay and lesbian WWII veterans were stripped of their medals and fired because of their sexual orientation.
So why was Jorgensen celebrated when other members of the LGBTQ community were shamed?
Being exposed to or labeled as a homosexual was the worst nightmare for service members. It meant prison time, a dishonourable discharge, or court-martial. Jorgensen said “I wanted to be accepted by the army for two reasons. Foremost was my great desire to belong, to be needed, and to join the stream of activities around me. Second, I wanted my parents to be proud of me.”
Christine concealed her attraction to men and kept to herself, achieving the rarer feat of keeping her sexual life apart from her duty. She was conscious of not bringing disrepute. In the army, Christine outdid herself as a clerical worker On VE Day she managed thousands of discharged soldiers. She was honourably discharged in December 1946.
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