Christine Jorgensen (born George William Jorgensen, Jr. May 30, 1926 in The Bronx, New York City, USA; died May 3, 1989) was famous for having been the first widely-known individual to have sex reassignment surgery—in this case, male to female.

Christine Jorgensen


Early life

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 herself 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 in 1945 and shortly thereafter was drafted into the US Army.

After he was 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. He briefly worked for Pathé News.

Sex reassignment surgery

When she returned to New York after her military service and increasingly concerned over what one article called her "lack of male physical development",[3] Jorgensen heard about the possibility of sex reassignment surgery, began taking the female hormone ethinyl estradiol on her own, and 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.[4] 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 surgeon and specialist in sex-reassignment surgery. She ended up staying in Denmark and under Dr. Hamburger's direction was allowed to begin hormone replacement therapy and eventually underwent a series of surgeries. During this first round of surgeries in Copenhagen, Jorgensen was castrated. According to an article, "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 her passport changed to identify her 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.[5]

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

Research into the work of Dr. Hamburger and his colleagues has uncovered a more complicated approach to transsexualism and sex-reassignment surgery, according to "Transvestism", a paper that "Jorgensen's Danish clinicians, Drs. Christian Hamburger, Georg Stürup and Dahl-Iversen, wrote for the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1953." Danish scientists "Preben Hertoft and Thorkil Sorensen who have studied the medical files and interviewed psychiatrist Dr. Georg Stürup claim that 'the original intention of the medical team was not to change a man into a woman, but to help a man who suffered from his homosexual impulses'. Hamburger and his colleagues revealed their anxiety about homosexuality when they commented: 'At any rate, from a eugenic point of view it would do no harm if a number of sexually abnormal men were castrated and thus deprived of their sexual libido.'"[1] This same research has determined that Hamburger and his colleagues argued against the creation of a vagina in a post-operative transsexual, which scholar Christine Crowle has stated as evidence that the team intended for their sexual reassignment surgeries "to produce a gender performance not a sexual performance".


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 they did not at all. However, another notorious encounter demonstrated that Jorgensen could be offended by some queries: Jorgensen once appeared on The Dick Cavett Show. Cavett insulted her by asking about the status of her romantic life with her "wife", and she walked off the show; since she was the only guest scheduled, 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 Massepequa, 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.[6][7] 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".[8]

Jorgensen also worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer and recorded a number of songs.[9] 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 Theater 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's autobiography, U.S. paperback edition

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

References in media

Black Muslim 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".

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 1970s 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. 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 Theater Festival, and ran Off-Broadway at New World Stages in January 2006. The LP was reissued on CD by Repeat The Beat Records in 2005.

See also


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

External links