“Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty” blared the Daily News in 1950. George Jorgensen, a quiet Bronx native, shocked the nation by returning from a trip to Denmark transformed into Christine. While not the first American to undergo sex-reassignment surgery, Christine was the country’s first trans-celebrity.
While never identifying as gay, a teenage Jorgensen became convinced he was trapped in a woman’s body. Then, in the late 1940s, during a stint in the military, he came across an article about a Danish doctor who was experimenting with gender therapy. His parents were both Danish-born, so with family connections making it an easy trip to justify, he headed to Copenhagen without telling anyone about his real intentions.
The physician, Dr. Christian Hamburger, encouraged Jorgensen to first take on a female identity and begin dressing as a woman in public. Jorgensen did so, naming herself after her surgeon. Finally, after more than a year of hormone therapy, Jorgensen went under the knife in a series of operations.
Jorgensen never disclosed details about her new anatomy, but did touch on the subject in interviews. “Everyone is both sexes in varying degrees,” she said in 1958. “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.”
For the most part, the public supported Christine Jorgensen, followed by showbiz. Theater and film contracts rolled in. Throughout the 1960s and 70s she made a comfortable living, touring the country as an entertainer, actress, and singer. She also toured college campuses speaking about her experiences.
She retired to California in the early 1980s. Shortly thereafter she was diagnosed with cancer. She died in 1989, at the age of 62. Several years before her death, she returned to Denmark for a reunion with her reassignment doctors. Speaking to the media, she acknowledged the milestone her surgery represented. “We didn’t start the sexual revolution, but I think we gave it a good kick in the pants!”