Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christine Jorgensen-Sixty Years Later

While Christine Jorgensen was quietly convalescing in a Danish hospital after the second of her genital surgeries on November 20, the news about her being the first post World War II transwoman was about to explode literally into New York's and eventually the world's consciousness.

Dr Magnus Hirschfeld and his Berlin institute had already done the first trans surgeries with Lili Elbe and 'Dorchen' back in 1930-31.  Christine was the first post World War II to do so after undergoing hormone replacement therapy under Dr. Christian Hamburger and his team.. 

On December 1, 1952 the headline for the New York Daily News blared 'EX-GI BECOMES BLONDE BEAUTY', thus triggering the ongoing fascination of America and the world with us transpeople.

That December 1952 headline knocked a nuclear test at Eniwetok Atoll off the front pages and also created a news feeding frenzy that only became more pronounced when then 27 year old Christine  returned home to New York on February 13, 1953.

It is a sixty year period that has seen surgery for transwomen evolve through the efforts of people such as Georges Bourou, Roberto Granato, Stanley Biber, Yvon Menard, Sanguan Kunaporn, and a girl like us in Marci Bowers.

It is also a period that has seen the knowledge of the medical and social side of transsexualty grow through the efforts of Harry Benjamin, organizations such as WPATH and in many cases, transpeople themselves.

Christine Jorgensen as our pioneering American transwoman would be followed by legions of other transwomen and transmen not only here, but around the world such as Great Britain's April Ashley and France's Coccinelle.   There were countless others who eventually had surgery and under the protocols of the time faded into society never to reveal their status as transwomen while other picked up the advocacy torch to fight for the human rights of people like themselves. 

Christine was the first to deal with trans celebrity status.  She navigated the media onslaught that greeted her upon her return to the States.  She wrote her life story in an autobiography that sits on my bookshelf now and became a movie.  She had a career in entertainment and Hollywood. She did the education at university campuses as a lecturer in the 1970's and 1980's.   She did the television interviews on the shows of the day such as Donahue and Dick Cavett .  She worked with the medical professionals of her time such as Dr. Harry Benjamin while living her life to best of her ability until she passed away in May 1989 of lung and bladder cancer the day before my 27th birthday. 

Christine also dealt with the societal frustrations that many transpeople still deal with today.   She was denied the opportunity to get married in 1959 because her birth certificte still had 'male' on it.  She was loved by some and vilified by others.  But she was happy and never regretted what she'd gone through to become a pioneering #girllikeus.

She also gave a name and a face to what people were suffering with and was the trans icon of many of my trans elders who were kids during that time period.  When Jorgensen passed away on May 3, 1989 in San Clemente, CA I was well into gathering information and making the moves to get hormones to facilitate my own transition that would happen for me in 1994.

Some people consider Christine Jorgensen's arrival in New York and her stylishly stepping off that SAS airplane from Copenhagen at what is now JFK airport the opening moments of the sexual revolution in the United States and there's a plausible argument that could be made for that.   

As she said in the film that was made several years before her death in which she returned to Denmark to reunite with the medical team that made her transition possible, "We didn't start the sexual revolution but I think we gave it a good kick in the pants!"

But Christine Jorgensen is also the starting point for our public fascination with and at times sixty year contentious discussion of transsexality on many levels   It's also the beginnings of a worldwide journey of discovery and evolution for those of us who are gender variant.   It also jump started the still evolving medical and societal thinking concerning gender identity and the causes and treatment of transsexuality.

And we transpeople owe a lot to her sixty years later for being courageous enough to start that journey.

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