Sunday, October 06, 2013

Repost: LGBT History Month: Christine Jorgensen*

*originally posted October 6, 2009

Christine Jorgensen, the first widely-known individual to have sex reassignment surgery--from male to female, was born George Jorgensen, Jr., the second child of George William Jorgensen Sr. and Florence Hansen Jorgensen. As a young boy in the Bronx, he described himself as a "frail, tow-headed, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games". But for all intents and purposes, George was what you might describe as 'normal.' He graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in 1945 and shortly thereafter was drafted into the Army.

When George returned to New York after his military service, he grew concerned about his "lack of male physical development", and became interested in the possibility of sex reassignment surgery. George, now on his way to becoming Christine, began taking female hormones on her own, while researching the subject with the help of Dr. Joseph Angelo, a husband of a classmate at the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School.

Jorgensen intended to go to Sweden, where she had found the only doctors in the world performing this type of surgery. During a stopover in Copenhagen, 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. She chose the name Christine in honor of Dr. Hamburger.

During this first round of surgeries, 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, when the procedure became available in the U.S., Jorgensen obtained a vaginoplasty under the direction of Dr. Angelo and a medical advisor Harry Benjamin.
Christine became news on December 1 1952 when the New York Daily News carried a front-page story, "Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty", announcing that Jorgensen had become the recipient of the first "sex change". This claim is not true; this type of surgery had been performed by German doctors in the 20s and 30s. The difference this time was that Christine Jorgensen was the first to receive hormone therapy as part of her transition from male to female.

Back in New York, Jorgensen was an instant celebrity. There was speculation that Jorgensen leaked her story to the press, but true or not, the publicity created a platform for Christine, who seemed hungry for fame. New York radio host Barry Gray asked her if jokes such as "Christine Jorgensen went abroad, and came back a broad" bothered her and she only laughed and said they didn't bother her at all. But another encounter demonstrated that Jorgensen could be offended by some queries: while appearing on The Dick Cavett Show, Christine became offended when Cavett asked her about her romantic, sexual, life with her "wife". Christine walked off the show.

Following her vaginoplasty, Jorgensen planned to marry John Traub, but the engagement was called off. In 1959, she announced her engagement to Howard J. Knox, in Massapequa, New York, where her father had built her a house after her reassignment surgery. That marriage also never happened because the couple couldn't obtain a marriage license; Jorgensen's birth certificate still listed her as biologically male.

During the 70s and 80s, Jorgensen toured university campuses to lecture about her experiences. She was known for her directness and polished wit and once demanded an apology from Vice-President Spiro Agnew, after he called another politician "the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party".

Christine also worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer; she played Madame Rosepettle in the play "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad", and, in her cabaret act she loved singing "I Enjoy Being a Girl". At the end of each performance, Christine would make a quick change into a Wonder Woman costume, until Warner Communications, who owned the Wonder Woman copyright, demanded she cease and desist. She did, only after changing the character into "Superwoman" who wore a large letter 'S' on her cape.

Jorgensen continued her act, performing at Freddy's Supper Club on the upper east side of Manhattan through 1982 when she performed twice in the Hollywood area. Jorgensen said in 1989, the year she died of bladder and lung cancer, that she had given the sexual revolution "a good swift kick in the pants".


On This Day In LGBT History

October 6, 1928
-The New York Times reported that George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells had protested the seizure of the lesbian novel “The Well of Loneliness” by English customs agents. The novel had been published in France and was being imported into England.

October 6, 1968 – 12 people in Los Angeles gathered for the first service of Metropolitan Community Church. Rev. Troy Perry founded the church with a primary outreach to the LGBT community.

October 6, 1981 – The Supreme Court of Canada refuses to hear appeal of The Body Politic. Last resort of appeal exhausted; TBP back to retrial.

October 6, 1989 – The NAMES Project Quilt was displayed in Washington DC, with 10,848 panels.

October 6, 1989 – In reaction to a small, peaceful protest against federal neglect of people with AIDS, about 200 San Francisco police officers rioted in the Castro neighborhood, beating protesters and passersby, sweeping seven city blocks of all pedestrians, and placing thousands in homes and business under house arrest for the duration.

October 6, 1993 – A lesbian in Bentonville Arkansas announced she would appeal a court decision to give custody to her ex-husband because of her sexual orientation.

October 6, 1993 – Martina Navratilova withdrew from the suit challenging the constitutionality of Colorado’s Amendment 2, which had been approved by voters and would have banned gay rights laws in Colorado. She said it was due to tennis commitments.

October 6, 1997 – The US Supreme Court refused to hear a case filed by Sandy Nelson, a reporter who was demoted because she refused to stop her off-duty campaigning in support of a gay rights initiative in Washington. The Washington Supreme Court had ruled that a law barring discrimination in employment for political views did not apply to newspapers.

October 6, 1998 – Twenty-one year old gay college student Matthew Shepard of Wyoming was pistol whipped and tied to a fence in a field. He would die of his injuries at a hospital in Ft Collins, Colorado.

October 6, 1998 – The Ford Foundation gave a $100,000 grant to the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches for its programs targeting at-risk gay and lesbian youth.

October 6, 1999 – Donna Brazile, an out lesbian, became Al Gore’s campaign manager. She was also the first African-American woman to manage a presidential run.

October 6-7 1973 – In Quebec City the first pan-Canadian conference of gay organizations is hosted by Centre humanitaire d’aide de libération

1 comment:

Harpers Keeper said...

Thanks for a great post. I had forgotten about October being the anniversary of Matthew Shephard's murder. Thanks to returning that to top of mind.

And I did not know of the Dick Cavett/Christine Jorgenson incident. Interesting