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Queer Person in History: Christine Jorgenen

Born on May 30, 1926 in the Bronx, NY, Christine Jorgensen would later become the first Trans Woman Celebrity in the United States. Growing up Jorgensen noted that she had more feminine qualities compared to her male peers, leading to a sense of other-ness. Add to this that she was attracted to her male peers but never felt the identity “gay” quite fit, Jorgensen spent much of her adolescence not exactly comfortable in her own skin. One thing that helped Christine throughout these formative years was her very close relationship with her grandmother. Christine would speak of the acceptance and support that her grandmother gave to her in those early years.

After graduating high school, Christine tried to enlist in the US Army but was rejected because of her frail stature. She would spend the next period of her life as a civilian attempting to find her way. One such attempt was attending Dental Hygienist school. This was during the ramp up of WWII. Then just like Captain America, the rejection from the Army wasn’t the end for Jorgensen’s military story. On May 31, 1944, she was drafted in the US Army and would serve 14 months at the close of WWII performing various clerical roles until she was honorably discharged in 1946. It was during this time that Christine was made aware of a book by Paul De Kruif titled, The Male Hormone, in 1945. This book could be credited as Christine’s formal introduction to the trans-identities.

From this moment, Christine began more intensive research and speaking with healthcare professionals in Europe, culminating in her 1950 trip to Denmark. Denmark was meant to only be a short stop on her way to Sweden to meet with doctors there to begin her medical transition process, but Denmark would become her last destination. While in Denmark, Christine met a physician, Christian Hamburger, who offered to oversee Christine’s medical transition process for free. The process would end up taking 2 years. On Dec. 1, 1952, Christine was welcomed back to the States to much fanfare as an article was ran in LIFE magazine, Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty. And while Jorgensen became an instant celebrity and socialite because of her transition, it was not all rainbows and caviar.

Soon journalists, having contacted some of the European medical team that oversaw Jorgensen’s treatments, unearthed details about Christine’s then-current status as a biological woman, namely the absence of a vagina. It would take an additional 2 years before Jorgensen would complete a vaginoplasty, shutting the negative press up for good in May 1954. One can’t help but think that this surgical procedure may have been partially attributed to societal pressures she was facing from the media, but her name would continue to be on America’s lips throughout the next 3 decades. 1967 saw Christine’s autobiography, and then 1970 saw the film adaptation. Christine passed away from cancer in May of 1989.

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