Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen (May 30, 1926 – May 3, 1989) was an American trans woman who was the first person to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery. She had a successful career as an actress, singer, and recording artist.

Christine Jorgensen
Christine Jorgensen 1954.jpg
Christine Jorgensen in 1954
Born(1926-05-30)May 30, 1926
DiedMay 3, 1989(1989-05-03) (aged 62)
EducationMohawk Valley Community College,[1] The Progressive School of Photography,[2] Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School[3]
Occupation(s)Actress, night club singer, recording artist
Known forPioneering gender reassignment

Jorgensen was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. After her service as a military clerical worker Christine pursued a photography career,[4] attended several schools, and worked. It was during this time she learned about sex reassignment surgery and traveled to Europe, where in Copenhagen, Denmark, she obtained special permission to undergo a series of operations beginning in 1952.[5]

Upon her return to United States in the early 1950s, her transition was the subject of a New York Daily News front-page story. She became an instant celebrity, known for her directness and polished wit, and used the platform to advocate for transgender people.

Jorgensen often lectured on the experience of being transgender and published an autobiography in 1967.


Early lifeEdit

Jorgensen was the second child of carpenter and contractor George William Jorgensen, and his wife Florence Davis Hansen, and was given the male name George William, after her father,[6] at birth. She was raised in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx, New York City and baptized a Lutheran.[1] She later described herself as having been a "frail, blond, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games".[7][8][9]

Jorgensen graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in 1945 and was soon drafted into the U.S. Army at the age of 19. After being discharged from the Army, she attended Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, New York,[1][10] the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School in New York City. She also worked briefly for Pathé News.

Gender transitionEdit

Returning to New York after military service, and increasingly concerned over, as one obituary later called it, a "lack of male physical development",[11] Christine Jorgensen heard about sex reassignment surgery. She began taking estrogen in the form of ethinylestradiol and started researching the surgery with the help of Joseph Angelo, the husband of a classmate at the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School.[11] Jorgensen intended to go to Sweden, where the only doctors in the world who then performed the surgery were located. During a stopover in Copenhagen to visit relatives, she met Christian Hamburger, a Danish endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy. Jorgensen stayed in Denmark and underwent hormone replacement therapy under Hamburger's direction. She chose the name Christine in honor of Hamburger.

Doctor Hamburger explained the gender hormone procedure, "The first sign was an increase in size of the mammary glands and then hair began to grow where the patient had a bald patch on the temple. Finally the whole body changed from a male to a female shape.'' More than a year after beginning hormone therapy Christine was finally able to get her first surgery. However, Christine herself never publicly explained her new anatomy or the result of the surgery but she did say "Everyone is both sexes in varying degrees. I am more of a woman than a man… Of course I can never have children but this does not mean that I cannot have natural sexual intercourse - I am very much in the position right now of a woman who has a hysterectomy," in 1958.[12]

Her parents were both from Denmark, so her trip for reassignment surgery was easy to disguise as a trip to visit family. She did not tell anyone her plan for procedures on the trip, because she was called crazy and hadn't been supported in America.[12]

She obtained special permission from the Danish Minister of Justice to undergo a series of operations in that country. On September 24, 1951, surgeons at Gentofte Hospital in Copenhagen performed an orchiectomy on Jorgensen.[13] In a letter to friends on October 8, 1951, she referred to how the surgery affected her:

As you can see by the enclosed photos, taken just before the operation, I have changed a great deal. But it is the other changes that are so much more important. Remember the shy, miserable person who left America? Well, that person is no more and, as you can see, I'm in marvelous spirits.[13]

In November 1952, doctors at Copenhagen University Hospital performed a penectomy. In Jorgensen's words, "My second operation, as the previous one, was not such a major work of surgery as it may imply."[13]

She returned to the United States and eventually obtained a vaginoplasty when the procedure became available there. The vaginoplasty was performed under the direction of Angelo, with Harry Benjamin as a medical adviser.[11] Later, in the preface of Jorgensen's autobiography, Harry Benjamin gave her credit for the advancement of his studies. He wrote, "Indeed Christine, without you, probably none of this would have happened; the grant, my publications, lectures, etc."[14]


Jorgensen was publicly outed when her letter to her parents in New York leaked to the press. She had planned to keep her transition a secret but she was forcefully outed by the New York Daily News. Her letter stated "Nature made a mistake which I have had corrected, and now I am your daughter."[12]

The New York Daily News ran a front-page story on December 1, 1952, under the headline "Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty", announcing (incorrectly) that Jorgensen had become the recipient of the first "sex change".[15] This type of surgery had previously been performed by German doctors in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Dorchen Richter and Danish artist Lili Elbe, both patients of Magnus Hirschfeld at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin, were known recipients of such operations.[16]

After her surgeries, Jorgensen originally stated that she wanted a quiet life of her own design, but once returning to the United States, the only way she could manage to earn a living was by making public appearances.[17] Jorgensen was an instant celebrity when she returned to New York in February 1953. A large crowd of journalists met her as she came off her flight, and despite the Danish royal family being on the same flight, they were largely ignored in favor of her.[18] Soon after her arrival, she launched a successful nightclub act and appeared on TV, radio, and theatrical productions. The first of a five-part authorized account of her story was written by Jorgensen herself in a February 1953 issue of The American Weekly, titled "The Story of My Life" and in 1967, she published her autobiography, Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography, which sold almost 450,000 copies.[19]

The publicity following her transition and gender reassignment surgery became "a model for other transsexuals for decades. She was a tireless lecturer on the subject of transsexuality, pleading for understanding from a public that all too often wanted to see transsexuals as freaks or perverts ... Ms Jorgensen's poise, charm, and wit won the hearts of millions."[20] However, over time the press was much less fascinated by her and started to scrutinize her much more harshly. She was often asked by print media if she would pose nude in their publications.[17]

Later lifeEdit

Knox and Jorgensen after being denied a marriage license, April 1959

After her vaginoplasty, Jorgensen planned to marry labor union statistician John Traub, but the engagement was called off. In 1959 she announced her engagement to typist Howard J. Knox in Massapequa Park, New York, where her father had built her a house after her reassignment surgery. She and Knox settled down and joined a Lutheran church.[21] However, the couple was unable to obtain a marriage license because Jorgensen's birth certificate listed her as male. In a report about the broken engagement, The New York Times reported that Knox had lost his job in Washington, D.C., when his engagement to Jorgensen became known.[22][23]

After her parents died, Jorgensen moved to California in 1967. She left behind the ranch home built by her father in Massapequa and settled at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, for a period of time.[24] It was also during this same year that Jorgensen published her autobiography, Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography,[25] which chronicled her life experiences as a transsexual and included her own personal perspectives on major events in her life. In her autobiography Jorgensen revealed her struggles with depression. She explained how her mental health deteriorated and she contemplated suicide but she did not do it because she was able to live as her true self. She wrote “The answer to the problem must not lie in sleeping pills and suicides that look like accidents, or in jail sentences, but rather in life and the freedom to live it.” [4]

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. She once demanded an apology from Vice President Spiro T. Agnew when he called Charles Goodell "the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party". Agnew refused her request.[26]

Jorgensen also worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer and recorded several songs.[27] In summer stock, she played Madame Rosepettle in the play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma'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", in which, at the end, she made a quick change into a Wonder Woman costume.

She later recalled that Warner Communications, owners of the Wonder Woman character's copyright, demanded that she stop using the character; she did so, and instead used a new character of her own invention, Superwoman, who 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 1982, when she performed twice in the Hollywood area: once at the Backlot Theatre, adjacent to the discothèque Studio One, and later at The Frog Pond restaurant. This performance 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 er ikke til salg (Paradise Is Not for Sale). Jorgensen was the first and only known trans woman to perform at Oscar's Delmonico Restaurant in downtown New York, for which owners Oscar and Mario Tucci received criticism.[27]

She died of bladder and lung cancer on May 3, 1989, aged 62. Her ashes were scattered off Dana Point, California.[28]


Jorgensen's highly publicized transition helped bring to light gender identity and shaped a new culture of more inclusive ideas about the subject.[19] As a transgender spokesperson and public figure, Jorgensen influenced other transgender people to change their sex on birth certificates and to change their names.[citation needed] Jorgensen saw herself as a founding member in what became known as the "sexual revolution".[19] Jorgensen stated in a Los Angeles Times interview, "I am very proud now, looking back, that I was on that street corner 36 years ago when a movement started. It was the sexual revolution that was going to start with or without me. We may not have started it, but we gave it a good swift kick in the pants."[29]

In 2012 Jorgensen was inducted into Chicago's Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people.[30]

In 2014, Jorgensen was one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood noting LGBTQ people who have "made significant contributions in their fields".[31][32][33]

In June 2019, Jorgensen was one of the inaugural 50 American "pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes" included on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City's Stonewall Inn.[34][35] The SNM is the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history,[36] and the wall's unveiling was timed to take place during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.[37]

In popular cultureEdit

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".[38] (The title is a play on the 1940s Louis Jordan song, "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby".)

Chuck Renslow and Dom Orejudos founded Kris Studios, a male physique photography studio that took photos for gay magazines they published, which was named in part to honor Jorgensen.[39][40][41][42]

Posters for the Ed Wood film Glen or Glenda (1953), also known as I Changed My Sex and I Led Two Lives, publicize the movie as being based on Jorgensen's life.[43] Originally producer George Weiss made her some offers to appear in the film, but these were turned down.[44] Jorgensen is mentioned in connection with Glen in Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood (1994), but Jorgensen is not depicted as a character.

The Christine Jorgensen Story, a fictionalized biopic based on Jorgensen's memoir, premiered in 1970. John Hansen played Jorgensen as an adult, while Trent Lehman played her at age seven.

In Christine Jorgensen Reveals, a stage performance at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Jorgensen was portrayed by Bradford Louryk. To critical acclaim, Louryk dressed as Jorgensen and performed to a recorded interview with her during the 1950s while video of Rob Grace as comically inept interviewer 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 historian and critical theorist Susan Stryker directed and produced an experimental documentary film about Jorgensen, titled Christine in the Cutting Room. In 2010 she also presented a lecture at Yale University titled "Christine in the Cutting Room: Christine Jorgensen's Transsexual Celebrity and Cinematic Embodiment".[45] Both works examine embodiment vis-à-vis cinema.

The 2016 book Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History's Great Personalities, by journalist Claudia Kalb, devotes a chapter to Jorgensen's story, using her as an example of gender dysphoria and the process of gender transition in its earliest days.


  • Jorgensen, Christine (1967). Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography. New York, New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 978-1-57344-100-1.

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b c Docter 2013, p. 57.
  2. ^ Docter 2013, p. 59.
  3. ^ Docter 2013, p. 67.
  4. ^ a b Boomer, Lee. "Life Story: Christine Jorgensen". Women & the American Story. Retrieved December 6, 2022.
  5. ^ "21 Transgender People Who Influenced American Culture". Time.
  6. ^ "Christine Jorgensen".
  7. ^ Jorgensen, Christine (1968). Christine Jorgensen: a personal autobiography. New York: Bantam. p. 8. OCLC 1023834324.
  8. ^ Jorgensen 1967, p. 8
  9. ^ Ingrassia, Michelle (May 5, 1989). "Transsexual Superstar: In 1952, She Was a Scandal: When Jorgensen decided to change his name—and his body—the nation wasn't quite ready". Newsday. p. A1.
  10. ^ "Education: Students Wanted". Time. September 2, 1946. Archived from the original on February 20, 2009. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  11. ^ a b c Bullough, Vern L. "Jorgensen, Christine (30 May 1926 – 3 May 1989)". Archived from the original on February 22, 2009.
  12. ^ a b c "Christine Jorgensen: 60 years of sex change ops". BBC News. November 29, 2012. Retrieved December 6, 2022.
  13. ^ a b c Jorgensen 1967, p. 105
  14. ^ Jorgensen 1967, Preface
  15. ^ Zimmerman, Jonathan. "Caitlyn Jenner, meet Christine Jorgensen". NY Daily News. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  16. ^ Meyerowitz, Joanne J. (June 30, 2009). How Sex Changed. Harvard University Press. pp. 19–21. ISBN 978-0-674-04096-0.
  17. ^ a b Kelly, Erin (June 2, 2015). "Call Her Christine: The Original American Trans Celebrity". All That's Interesting, 2. Retrieved September 17, 2020.
  18. ^ Kelly, Erin (June 2, 2015). "Call Her Christine: The Original American Trans Celebrity". All That's Interesting, 1. Retrieved September 17, 2020.
  19. ^ a b c Meyerowitz, Joanne (2006). "Transforming Sex: Christine Jorgensen in the Postwar U.S.". OAH Magazine of History. 20 (2): 16–20. doi:10.1093/maghis/20.2.16. JSTOR 25162028.
  20. ^ Whittle, Stephen (June 2, 2010). "A brief history of transgender issues". The Guardian. Retrieved August 22, 2019.
  21. ^ Jorgensen, Christine (2000). Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography. ISBN 9781573441001.
  22. ^ "Bars Marriage Permit: Clerk Rejects Proof of Sex from Christine Jorgensen". The New York Times. April 4, 1959.
  23. ^ Myers, Donald P. "A Changed Man – Medical Specialization". New York. Newsday. Archived from the original on February 20, 2009.
  24. ^ Jorgensen 1967, p. 265
  25. ^ Jorgensen 1967
  26. ^ "Miss Jorgensen Asks Agnew for an Apology". The New York Times. October 11, 1970. p. 46.
  27. ^ a b "Christine Jorgensen Website". Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  28. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons (3rd ed.). McFarland & Company, Inc. 2 (Kindle Locations 24299-24300).
  29. ^ Beene, Richard (September 3, 1988). "Christine Jorgensen Is Fighting a New Battle". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
  30. ^ Salvo, Victor. "2012 Inductees". The Legacy Project. Retrieved November 29, 2014.
  31. ^ Shelter, Scott (March 14, 2016). "The Rainbow Honor Walk: San Francisco's LGBT Walk of Fame". Quirky Travel Guy. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
  32. ^ "Castro's Rainbow Honor Walk Dedicated Today". SFist. September 2, 2014. Archived from the original on August 10, 2019. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  33. ^ Carnivele, Gary (July 2, 2016). "Second LGBT Honorees Selected for San Francisco's Rainbow Honor Walk". We The People. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  34. ^ Glasses-Baker, Becca (June 27, 2019). "National LGBTQ Wall of Honor unveiled at Stonewall Inn". Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  35. ^ Rawles, Timothy (June 19, 2019). "National LGBTQ Wall of Honor to be unveiled at historic Stonewall Inn". San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Archived from the original on June 21, 2019. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  36. ^ Laird, Cynthia. "Groups seek names for Stonewall 50 honor wall". The Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  37. ^ Sachet, Donna (April 3, 2019). "Stonewall 50". San Francisco Bay Times. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  38. ^ "Voice of Islam". The Guardian. London. November 8, 1995. p. A7.
  39. ^ Baim, Tracy; Keehnen, Owen (2011). Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow. Prairie Avenue Productions. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-46109602-3.
  40. ^ "Chuck Renslow, Chicago gay community icon and International Mr. Leather contest founder, dies at 87". Chicago Tribune.
  41. ^ "Remembering transgender pioneer Christine Jorgensen".
  42. ^ Materville Studios - Host of Windy City Times (May 21, 2008). "Kris: The Physique Photography of Chuck Renslow - 12839 - Gay Lesbian Bi Trans News - Windy City Times". Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  43. ^ "'I Led 2 Lives' Based on the Lives of Christine Jorgensen".
  44. ^ Rhodes, Gary D. (1997). Lugosi: His Life in Films, on Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0257-1.
  45. ^ "Trans/gender Awareness Week – Susan Stryker – "Christine in the Cutting Room: Christine Jorgensen's Transsexual Celebrity and Cinematic Embodiment"". Archived from the original on July 20, 2012.

General and cited referencesEdit

External linksEdit