A Genderaffirming Surgery Gripped America In 1952: ‘I Am Your Daughter

A Genderaffirming Surgery Gripped America In 1952: ‘I Am Your Daughter

When the New York Daily News came out with the headline “GI Name Becomes Blonde Beauty; Operations transform Bronx youth.” On December 1, 1952, Christina Jorgensen was still recovering from surgery in a hospital bed in Denmark.

The 26-year-old sailed there two years ago looking for answers and eventually wrote to his parents explaining why. “Nature made a mistake which I have corrected,” he wrote in a letter leaked to the Daily News. And now I'm your daughter.

Long before the word "transgender" became part of our common lexicon, Christine Jorgensen's revelations wowed audiences. As the scientific horizons of post-war America expanded, its transformation gave rise to the intriguing and, to some, unsettling notion that a person can change their gender.

“Christine Jorgensen News is a seismic event for transgender people. They draw attention to opportunities that many people don't realize," said Susan Stryker, author of Transgender History: The Roots of Today's Revolution and Professor Emeritus of Women's and Gender Studies. at the University of Arizona.

When Jorgensen was born in New York in May 1926, the experiments that ultimately helped him were being conducted in Europe. Austrian scientist Eugen Steinach had conducted sex-change experiments on animals a decade earlier, and German physician Magnus Hirschfeld had begun research in Berlin looking for biological causes for those who challenged conventional wisdom about sexuality.

Among those praised by Hirschfeld was Lili Elbe, the star of the 2015 film The Danish Girl, who underwent a series of surgeries and died in 1931 from complications from her last operation. The Hirschfeld Institute for the Sciences of Sex, caught on the wave of Nazi ideology, was destroyed in 1933 and the contents of its library burned. Hirschfeld was exiled, but his ideas remained.

None of this was known to young Jorgensen, who “knew very well that I was different from other children,” he recalled in his 1967 autobiography. Born into a close-knit family of Danish immigrants, he struggled with “painful” feelings. loneliness." in his youth, Jorgensen wrote knowing that "no acceptable level of youth is acceptable".

He entered the army in 1945, performing administrative work for soldiers released at the end of World War II. Working and living among the soldiers who "chased the girls," he was "ashamed of them and absolutely unable to share their enthusiasm," he later wrote. Jorgensen had romantic feelings for a friend, painfully one-sided feelings.

Reflecting on his military service two decades later, Jorgensen recalls this as an epiphany that "convinced me more than ever that I was not George Jorgensen, Jr."

Dropping out in 1946, Jorgensen traveled west in search of a career in Hollywood. But he is haunted by a sense of belonging that geography cannot decipher. He returned to New York and tried to "convince" himself that his photographic work, his favorite artistic medium, "would be highly satisfactory," he wrote.

In 1948, she turned to a psychiatrist who wanted to cure her of her feminine tendencies. But when Jorgensen found a book on male hormones in the library in late 1948, it “opened the door to a great new perspective,” he later recalled, hoping there was an explanation for his feelings. The scientific terminology is rich, but it echoes Jorgensen's experience and suggests possible answers.

She enrolled in Jorgensen's medical technician class, managed to obtain the powerful female hormone estradiol, and began experimenting on herself. She learns from her classmate's doctor husband that medicine and related research is overseas.

In the spring of 1950, Jorgensen left for Denmark, to live with relatives there, "with a one-way ticket to a new life."

There, Christian Hamburger, a Danish endocrinologist, convinced Jorgensen that "your problems are deeply rooted in the cells of your body," as he later wrote. He began experimenting with hormone injections, closely monitoring Jorgens, including daily diuresis; he affectionately refers to himself as "guinea pig". After obtaining legal and psychiatric clearance, Jorgensen prepared for the operation in September 1951, the first of three to complete the process.

"George Jorgensen will never come home," he later wrote in American Weekly . This change meant that he needed to get a new passport in Denmark. The name she chose reflects her gratitude and love for her doctors: in May 1952, she appeared as Christine Jorgensen.

It was also time to tell his parents about the reason for his trip, which he kept a secret for fear of causing pain and embarrassment. In a letter that soon circulated throughout the United States, she assured them that her daughter was "healthier and happier than ever."

Although the parents struggled to understand the full meaning, they replied, "We love you more than ever."

When Jorgensen landed in New York City on February 12, 1953, he stepped off a brightly lit plane with a police escort, high heels and a fur coat. Journalists asked questions.

“Thank you for coming,” he told them. But I think it's too much.

But the attraction of the media is growing. According to one magazine, Jorgensen and his transition were the most talked about stories of 1953, surpassing the executions of spy suspects Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

“It was like the world had changed and new ideas about gender, technology and the human ability to be an engineer were very relevant at the time,” said author and professor Stryker. "Jorgensen epitomized this new techno-cultural moment after World War II."

They studied every inch of Jorgensen. Her height and weight were considered public records (“she never wore a belt or needed one,” wrote the Los Angeles Times), while the shape of her legs or lack of facial hair were written in haunting detail. Each behavior is analyzed based on the perceived level of femininity.

Speculation about the limits of her female anatomy also abounds. The New York Post article "The Truth About 'Christine' Jorgensen" argued that she was not a woman because she used to have male organs; others subtly explain that someone like Jorgensen "may be a wife, but not a mother".

At first, Jorgensen refused to share intimate details, but later she became calmer, openly comparing herself to a woman who had a hysterectomy. He also quickly adjusted to fame. By 1953 he had an agent and many nightclubs ready to debut. He toured throughout the 1950s and 1960s, making a living from show business.

“I figured if they wanted to see it,” he recalls, “they would have to pay.”

Behind the scenes, Jorgensen has received thousands of letters from fans very grateful that she is now a public figure who embodies and shares her struggles with gender identity.

“I was brought to tears when I realized how often the problems in my life were repeated by other people,” Jorgensen wrote in American Weekly. He singled out a letter in which he thanked "for the hope you have given to so many people on whom nature has played a joke."

Not everyone is so kind. On a tour of Washington D.C. in 1953, he wrote in his autobiography, he was not allowed to use the ladies' restroom, a dispute that continues to this day. (Jorgensen, in a 1957 interview, dismissed questions about whether the women thought there was a "man" among them when they used a public toilet.) In 1965, soldiers refused to serve in the military in Germany.

But intense publicity, both positive and negative, has highlighted the medical possibilities of sex-affirming treatment. In 1954, a similar operation was carried out by another American, Charlotte McLeod, who flew to Denmark. In 1966, endocrinologist Harry Benjamin, who had studied with Hirschfeld in Germany, published a medical book, The Transsexual Phenomenon, which introduced the term into public discourse.

Benjamin writes that without Jorgens, the treatment of transgender people "could still be considered something outside the realm of medical science."

Legal clarity is delayed. When Jorgensen applied for a marriage license in 1959, his birth certificate was rejected. In 1966, a New York court ruled against gender reassignment on birth certificates, Anonymous v. Weiner

Jorgensen says he has no regrets about his completely unconventional life or being a cultural figure. “Just think, all these wonderful things wouldn’t have happened to me if it had been kept a secret,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1988, a month before his death from cancer at age 62.

Her personal search marked a radical change that she felt after returning to Denmark.

“Do you understand what success means to me for thousands of people?” Jorgensen wrote to friends in 1950: "Because I am not alone in this suffering."

Lisa Littman on gender dysphoria, trans youth and intellectual acuity.

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