George Jorgensen Becomes Christine Jorgensen Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Christine Jorgensen’s gender reassignment surgery marked a crucial and necessary distinction between transsexualism and homosexuality. It also changed the way medical professionals, and society in general, viewed transsexuality and the significance of gender identity to personal well-being.

Summary of Event

George William Jorgensen, Jr., received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army in 1946 and became a woman—Christine Jorgensen—on September 24, 1951. She had taken the name Christine, a female variant of the name Christian, to honor Danish doctor Christian Hamburger, the surgeon who performed her gender reassignment surgery. Also, for more than one year before the surgery, Hamburger had supervised Christine’s (George’s) comprehensive—and necessary—hormone treatment. [kw]George Jorgensen Becomes Christine Jorgensen (Sept. 24, 1951) [kw]Jorgensen Becomes Christine Jorgensen, George (Sept. 24, 1951) Transgender/transsexuality[Transgender transsexuality];and gender reassignment Gender reassignment;early cases Gender identity;transsexuality and [c]Health and medicine;Sept. 24, 1951: George Jorgensen Becomes Christine Jorgensen[0410] [c]Science;Sept. 24, 1951: George Jorgensen Becomes Christine Jorgensen[0410] [c]Transgender/transsexuality;Sept. 24, 1951: George Jorgensen Becomes Christine Jorgensen[0410] Jorgensen, Christine Hamburger, Christian

From early childhood, George believed he was different from most boys. As he developed, he was small of stature and weighed less than one hundred pounds when he first attempted to join the Army. He had almost no body hair, his spontaneous gestures were distinctly feminine (or were interpreted as feminine), and his male organs were underdeveloped. George had been humiliated and taunted at school. He later had difficulty finding and holding jobs because of reactions to his effeminacy. People were uncomfortable with him.

In his teens, George was deeply conflicted about his sexuality, and he denied being gay. Rather, he was convinced that he was a woman who, through some accident of birth, had been “trapped in a man’s body,” a common phrase that reflects society’s lack of knowledge about the life experiences of those who believe their given gender at birth does not “match” the gender they feel to be. Fortunately, George had supportive and understanding parents who, although bewildered by his gender identity, Gender identity;transsexuality and did not condemn him for feeling different.

The estimated 3 percent of the population who were considered to have “gender dysphoria” Gender dysphoria;transsexuality and generally had few places to turn for psychological counseling and adequate, professional, medical advice. Most who were thought to be gender dysphoric were considered gay or lesbian and were referred to psychologists or psychiatrists who either attempted to “convert” them to heterosexuality or tried to help them adjust to being gay or lesbian.

In 1945, George had been drafted. He served in the Army for more than one year before being honorably discharged following a life-threatening case of pneumonia. In the Army, he worked clerical jobs and did not fit in easily among his coworkers. He maintained a low profile and had little social contact with his fellow soldiers.

In high school, George had worked part time in a library, so he had access to books related to homosexuality and gender variance. He had to read the books clandestinely, though, because they were secured, which also made them difficult to get to for the reading public. He read about research in endocrinology, which suggested that hormone treatment could be used to “help” transsexuals. Subsequently, he contacted Harold Grayson, a noted endocrinologist, but Grayson referred him to a psychiatrist, who suggested a lengthy course of psychiatric treatment to address what he diagnosed as homosexuality, which was believed to be a psychiatric disorder by the American Psychiatric Association until 1973.

George could not afford this course of treatment but, more crucially, he knew it was not what he needed. He was frustrated because he could not find individuals with professional knowledge of sexuality and of gender issues. Realizing that the psychiatrist’s treatment would be of little help, George rejected it and then continued on his own to study endocrinology; he also took courses in medical technology.

George first traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark in May, 1950, after Helen Johnson, a friend he had known in Los Angeles and who had relocated to Copenhagen, told him about medical research in Scandinavia involving transsexuals. Severely strained financially, George was able to afford only a one-way ticket to Denmark. He had saved enough money to live for a few months in his new surroundings without working. Johnson put George in touch with her doctor, who then referred him to specialists on transsexuality, including Christian Hamburger. The doctor, in meeting with George, told George he was likely transsexual, not homosexual.

Because George was to participate in an experiment on the effects of human hormones, the Danish government paid for his treatment, which began in August, 1950. To be absolutely sure that the experiment was conducted according to the best medical protocols, Hamburger insisted that George consult a psychiatrist, which remains a standard of care for those considering gender reassignment surgery. After several sessions, during which the psychiatrist examined George in depth, he gave his consent to proceed with the course of treatment proposed by Hamburger. Meanwhile, Hamburger asked George to provide urine samples to test for the effects of the hormone treatment.

George had applied to the U.S. embassy in Copenhagen to obtain a new passport that would reflect his gender and name changes, and the embassy granted the new passport. Bureaucratic stumbling blocks with Danish officials, however, temporarily stalled the surgery. The Medico-Legal Council of the Danish Ministry of Justice had to approve the procedure, a requirement that was further complicated because George was not a Danish citizen. These problems were overcome, however, and on September 24, 1951, Hamburger started with the surgery, removing George’s testicles. In October, 1952, the doctor removed George’s penis; the following procedure involved shaping a vagina, which would be lined with sensitive penile tissue.

On June 8, 1952, George, now Christine, talked with her parents. The hormone treatments had reshaped her body so that she now had breasts and presented as a woman. Christine’s father shared this news with friends at the Danish-American social club to which he belonged. One of its members sold the information to the New York Daily News, which triggered a huge wave of publicity. Christine’s reassignment surgery was not the first such surgery performed, however. There had been at least thirty before her, from several places around the world, but Christine’s was the first to generate the national and international publicity that followed the surgery.

Upon her return to the United States in 1953 following a three-year absence, Christine wrote what became a highly popular autobiography (published in 1967); she also became an entertainer, but she had been banned from making appearances in many cities and at military bases in the United States. She lived the rest of her life in California, where she died of bladder cancer in 1989.

Significance

The most significant effect of Christine Jorgensen’s heroic struggle to change her gender was that it made a crucial and necessary distinction between transsexuality and homosexuality. Making such a distinction was important to her because she was fighting her battle with the medical profession in a country (the United States) in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s that fiercely opposed the idea of changing one’s gender. Society believed gender dysphoria to be a sickness like homosexuality and not a critical aspect of a person’s self-identity. Furthermore, the reassignment surgery, which at the time could be done outside the United States only, changed the way in which medical professionals, and even the general public, view transsexuality and the critical importance of gender identity to personal well-being.

The publicity that followed Christine’s gender reassignment brought “out of the closet” many transsexuals who had often been considered “freaks of nature” and “one of a kind.” It soon became evident, however, that substantial numbers of people are transsexual. Many had been very unhappy, severely depressed, and almost pathologically secretive until the Christine Jorgensen story was unfolded in newspapers and magazines throughout the world. News of Christine’s gender reassignment opened the doors of discussion and debate concerning gender reassignment, transsexuality, and sexuality in general.

After 1953, gender reassignment clinics began to appear in many parts of the world. The Scandinavian countries, particularly Denmark and Sweden, were early centers for such treatment in Europe, with Hamburger’s Statens Seruminstitut in Copenhagen among the most pioneering of such centers. In Asia, Thailand has established sexual reassignment clinics, often combined with plastic surgery clinics, throughout the country.

Many countries have made it possible for postoperative transsexuals to have their official records altered to reflect their change of gender. At one time, Christine wanted to marry but could not because her birth certificate did not reflect her postoperative gender, even though her passport and other official documents identified her as a woman. As same-gender marriage continues as a controversial issue in the United States and other countries during the early years of the twenty-first century, questions also continue regarding the legality of marriage of those who have undergone gender reassignment. In the United Kingdom, transsexuals can now legally marry. It is doubtful that prohibitions against transsexual marriage will long be supported in other Western countries.

In some countries, transsexuals who wish to marry are not forced into marriage according to their gender at birth. That is, a person named a girl at birth who reassigns her gender to that of a man is not required to marry a man in order for the marriage to be legally recognized. However, a transsexual woman (born a boy), for example, cannot legally marry a man born a boy. Judge Van der Reijt, chair of the Dutch Gender Identity Foundation, suggested that the best way to deal with the legal problems faced by transsexuals and transgender people is to ignore noting the gender of newborns on birth certificates, a notation Van der Reijt considers virtually useless. Transgender/transsexuality[Transgender transsexuality];and gender reassignment Gender reassignment;early cases Gender identity;transsexuality and

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Benjamin, Harry. The Transsexual Phenomenon. New York: Julian Press, 1966. Available at http:// www.symposion.com/ijt/benjamin/.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bullough, Vern L., ed. Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Califia, Patrick. Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism. 2d ed. San Francisco, Calif.: Cleis Press, 2003.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chiland, Collette. Transsexualism: Illusion and Reality. Translated by Philip Slotkin. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2003.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Denny, Dallas, ed. Current Concepts in Transgender Identity. New York: Garland, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Devor, Holly. FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Feinberg, Leslie. Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come. New York: World View Forum, 1992.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jorgensen, Christine. Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography. San Francisco, Calif.: Cleis Press, 1967.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lev, Arlene Istar. Transgender Emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for Working with Gender-Variant People and Their Families. New York: Haworth Clinical Practice Press, 2004.

1952: APA Classifies Homosexuality as a Mental Disorder

November 21, 1966: First Gender Identity Clinic Opens and Provides Gender Reassignment Surgery

December 15, 1973: Homosexuality Is Delisted by the APA

1978: Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association Is Founded

1993: Intersex Society of North America Is Founded

June 17, 1995: International Bill of Gender Rights Is First Circulated

1996: Hart Recognized as a Transgender Man

1998: Transgender Scholarship Proliferates

February 21, 2003: Australian Court Validates Transsexual Marriage

November 20, 2003: Transgender Day of Remembrance and Remembering Our Dead Project

May 17, 2004: Transsexual Athletes Allowed to Compete in Olympic Games

April 4, 2005: United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual Marriage

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