Famed Transsexual Christine Jorgensen Out of the Spotlight
The doorbell chime at the secluded hillside home brings a torrent of barking from two small terriers lodged behind the closed front entrance.
A woman opens the door, quiets the pets and ushers the visitor into her sun-filled home decorated with an abundance of lush green plants. She is dressed conservatively in black pants and a black-and-pink floral blouse. Her blonde hair is neatly coiffed, and a collection of rings adorns her slender hands.
Christine Jorgensen keeps a low profile these days.
Thirty-five years ago, Jorgensen traveled from New York to Denmark as tall, thin, introverted George William Jorgensen Jr., only to return to the states two years later as a willowy blonde named Christine Jorgensen.
Not the First
Although Jorgensen was not the first person to undergo a sex-change operation in Europe, the publicity earned her a permanent spot in history.
Jorgensen, then a 24-year-old photographer, had believed that the operation would remain private. Only a select group of family and friends plus the medical team knew of the surgery. It was a shock when she received a copy of an international wire service bulletin while she lay on a hospital bed in Denmark recovering from her second operation on Dec. 1, 1952.
One headline in New York read: “Bronx GI Becomes a Woman--Dear Mom and Dad, Son Wrote, I Have Now Become Your Daughter.”
“I can recall my bitter resentment,” Jorgensen said in a recent interview. “Who, I wondered, could have exposed such a totally private episode to the blinding glare of publicity and the outside world?”
As a male, Jorgensen had secretly guarded his sexual confusion for many years.
“When I was growing up, I developed into a frail, tow-headed, introverted child; I learned quickly that society laid down some firm ground rules concerning my behavior. A little boy wore trousers and had his hair cut short. He had to learn to use his fists aggressively, participate in athletics, and, most importantly, little boys didn’t cry.
“It must have been around this stage that I became aware of the differences between my sister, Dolly, and me. Those differences to me lay in the order of masculine and feminine things. Dolly had long blonde hair and wore dresses, both of which I admired but which were not allowed to me. I was upset and puzzled by this,” she said.
After the surgery, Jorgensen was inundated with offers. Warner Bros. wanted her to perform in pictures or nightclubs; somebody else offered $500 weekly if Jorgensen joined a strip show.
Mobbed at Airport
“When I arrived at the then-New York International Airport on Feb. 13, 1953, I was met by a crowd of 300 shoving reporters, newsreels and still photographers. I later learned that it was the largest assemblage of press representatives in the history of the airport to that point.
“I could never understand why I was receiving so much attention,” she said. “Now, looking back, I realize it was the beginning of the sexual revolution, and I just happened to be one of the trigger mechanisms.”
She made nightclub appearances, acted, wrote and lectured. Her autobiography was published by Bantam Books in 1967.
“I remember saying to the publishers at Bantam that if I speak at the colleges, the kids wouldn’t know who I was. Bantam responded: ‘Are you kidding? You are in their textbooks,’ ” she recalled.
In the ‘70s, she voluntarily backed away from the public eye.
“I have retired more times than there are people,” she said. “When the nightclubs ended, I retired; when the book was published and over, I retired; when the lectures came to a halt, I retired again.”
For the last five years, Jorgensen has been working on another book, which, she said, “will include all the wonderful people I have met and the wonderful things that have happened to me.”
“I will talk about the changing social attitudes I have encountered over the years, and the development of modern surgical procedures used on sex reassignments,” she said.