First openly transgender American
With Nov. 12-19 designated as Transgender Awareness Week, it’s appropriate to highlight Christine Jorgensen, the first American transgender to announce her change openly.
Christine was born George Jorgensen, Jr. May 30, 1926 in the Bronx, NY. She felt at an early age that she was in the wrong body. Boys’ clothes did not appeal to her, and she wished she could wear the pretty dresses like her sister did.
Jorgensen’s father was an amateur photography, and as a teen, she became interested in the hobby, so the two had a darkroom at their home. She was interested enough to take classes at the New York Institute of Photography.
The military intervened, however, and she was drafted into the Army in 1945 and was assigned as a clerk at Fort Dix, NJ. At this time Jorgensen saw an article about Dr. Christian Hamburger, a Danish physician experimenting with hormones for gender therapy. Jorgensen was intrigued, and after being discharged, she considered changing her sex. At the time, gender transformation therapy was only available in Europe.
It wasn’t until 1950 that Jorgensen traveled to Denmark, ostensibly to visit relatives since both her parents were from Denmark. She contacted Dr. Hamburger, who diagnosed her as transsexual.
Jorgensen began the year-long series of hormone therapy. An increase in her mammary glands and increase in hair growth on her scalp were the first signs of change. A series of operations to change genital organs from male to female followed.
She returned to the U.S. in the early to middle 50s as a very attractive blond, and never hid her transformation. Her parents were supportive of her change. She made a living giving speeches and as a nightclub entertainer with her theme song being “I Enjoy Being a Girl.”
Jorgensen was denied a marriage license in 1959 because her birth certificate said “male.” She never married.
She moved to California in the 1970s and remained there until her death from bladder and lung cancer on May 3, 1989.
Christine Jorgensen; personal autobiography (1967)
Transgender History, second edition: The Roots of Today’s Revolution by Susan Stryker (2017)
Jorgensen: The Power of Transgender Visibility (Transgender Empowerment Book 4) by Leigh Goodwin (2018)