This is a story that has been lost to time and now it’s being resurrected. I remember some of the headlines but not much else. I was little then. “Woman of the Year” in 1953, at the same time as the McCarthy hearings and the round up of gays. This is why I am posting this. The convoluted scare tactics would soon be over due to its insidious beginnings. Today, the issue of trans people is better understood but also under attack by the fearful.

UNITED STATES – AUGUST 07: Christine Jorgensen leaving on the S. S. United States. (Photo by Fred Morgan/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Written by Bea Mitchell

Christine Jorgensen was a truly trailblazing American trans woman. A former soldier, she was the first person to become widely known in the US for having gender-affirming surgery.

Her story is a fascinating one and shows how – almost overnight – she became a pop culture icon. She was also treated more sensitively than you might expect for a trans person who was born in 1926, and in 1953 was named a ‘Woman of the Year’ by the Scandinavian Societies of Greater New York.
 
Christine was born under the name George William Jorgensen Jr and grew up in the Bronx, New York. She described herself as a “frail, blond, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games.”

From GI Joe to GI Jane: Christine Jorgensen’s Story | The National WWII Museum | New Orleans (nationalww2museum.org)

After graduating, Christine was drafted into the US Army for World War II. Following her time in the army, she gained permission to move to Denmark, where she had gender-affirming care, which began in 1951.

“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” – Christine Jorgensen

In December 1952, when she returned to America, the New York Daily News splashed Jorgensen across their front page under the headline “Ex GI becomes blonde beauty,” making her instantly famous.

The article read: “Operations Transform Bronx Youth. George Jorgensen Jr. son of a Bronx carpenter served in the Army for two years and was given honorable discharge in 1946.

“Now George is no more. After six operations, Jorgenson’s sex has been changed and today she is a striking woman, working as a photographer in Denmark.

“Parents were informed of the big change in a letter Christine Jorgensen (that’s her new name) sent to them recently.”

 

In 1967, Jorgensen wrote an autobiography titled Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography. Throughout her life, she received thousands of letters, both positive and negative, but the majority of the letters were from others with the same problems asking for help and guidance. She only wished that she could help all the individuals who reached out to her, but in a way she did by staying true to her identity and being a role model for others. Jorgensen went on to use her story to lecture at colleges across the United States on gender identity. Her life captivated and influenced so many that, in 1970, Hollywood created a film based on Jorgensen’s life called, The Christine Jorgensen Story.

I became interested in her story when I visited the Women’s Military Museum in Arlington VA. last summer and it brought back memories of her story. So, I leaned into it. I hope you do too. It is a beautiful tribute to the women patriots.

On May 3, 1989, Jorgensen died from bladder and lung cancer. Although gone, her incredible story still resonates and offers hope for transgender veterans as they pursue self-fulfillment. Jorgensen concluded that “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 freedom to live it.”

This Trans Woman was Named ‘Woman of the Year’ in 1953
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