Picture a day

Jan 1

The Story of My Life By Christine Jorgensen

Chrsitine Jorgensen
(5/30/1926 - 5/03/1989)

Christine Jorgensen is sometimes referred to as the first MtF transsexual to undergo a sex change operation.  This is not true (operations took place as early as 1931), she was someone who first made the US in general aware of transsexualism.  She used her accidental outing to the public as an opportunity to advance her career, as well as spreading awareness about transsexuality.

I started to write up a short biography, but then I found the autobiography that Jorgensen wrote herself for American Weekly (a now defunct magazine).  As far as I’ve been able to find, this story hasn’t been reprinted anywhere, and American Weekly doesn’t exist any longer to ask for permission to reprint it.  I found scans of the original pages at a hilariously bad tribute site for Jorgensen.

They’re really hard to read, so I figured I could transcribe them and share.  They were originally printed in five weekly installments.  I’ve typed up one so far and my carpal tunnel is acting up, so I’ll do the rest when I’m able.

For the parts I wasn’t able read, I have (?) or (sp) in parentheses.  The images below are from the magazine as well.

It was an average cold, gray morning in Copenhagen and there was nothing unusual to suggest that this day, December 1, 1952, was to be one of the most memorable days of my life as I lay in my bed at the famous Rigshospitale.

I was momentarily lost in thought.  In a matter of weeks I would be home in New York, if my plans worked well, and for the first time my parents would see their new 26-year old daughter, Christine, the girl who would forever replace the only son they ever had.

Knowing George Jorgensen, Jr., the boy I had been, would never return because he no longer existed, I had come to Denmark in 1950 when life as George was no longer tolerable.

Now, after two and a half years of medical and surgical treatment, I had been changed from an apparent man to a woman.

Credit for my remarkable sex transformation goes to Dr. Christian Hamburger, the great hormone specialist; Dr. George Sturup (sp?), famous psychiatrist; and Professor Dahl-Iversen (sp?) and his assistant, Dr Poud Yogh-Andersen (sp?), noted plastic surgeons.

There was only a short time on that December morning for dreaming about my personal miracle, which I then hoped always to keep from the world at large.  As the clock struck 10, a strange young woman came into my room, quite unceremoniously took my hand and said, “I have a telegram for you from New York.”

That could only mean one thing, a death in the family.

I thought: Which one of those dear to me at home could it be—my mother, my father, my sister Dorothy, her husband, or her two-year-old daughter, whom I had never seen?

When I finally found courage to pick up the message and read it, my whole world tumbled down around my ears.

The press telegram told me that my carefully guarded secret had been blasted(?) across the front pages of the American newspapers: “BRONX EX-GI BECOMES A WOMAN!”…”DEAR MUM AND DAD, SON WROTE, I’VE NOW BECOME YOUR DAUGHTER.”

Those were among the headlines which I later had to face without shuddering.  Gone was my naive dream that I might return to the United States and fit into the pattern of normal living.

The woman at my bedside, a Danish journalist, told me that today my story would be in screaming headlines in Denmark, too.

Before I had time to decide what I should do, a nurse arrived with an airmail letter for me.  It was from my mother.

It began: “this is one of those difficult letters to write because Aunt Edie in Chicago has just died…”

The tears that had not flowed before now came freely.  The shock of the initial telegram left me cold and this second piece of bad new seemed to open some emotional door within me. 

The journalist had a deadline to meet.  She asked questions.  My answers I cannot recall.  Then she left me with what I believe was a sincere regret for the job she had to do the following day.

I received a large bouquet of flowers from her within an hour after my first shock.  I realized from the flood of letters, telegrams and telephone calls that I, who had been obscure, suddenly had become a celebrity.

I sat like a puppet awaiting the master to pull the strings that gave me life.  While confusion revolved around me, my one clear thought was that I must speak to my doctors, for the would help me.

I was alone and frightened and needed their reassuring presence.  The nurses wheeled my bed to a small room where I could use the telephone.

As Dr. Hamburger’s calm voice came over the telephone it was as though a weight had been lifted from my mind.  And as I lay back on my pillow in that semi-darkened room, a little boy of five or six—that little boy who had been me—came clearly into focus.  I could hear him cry out in the darkness for release from that unknown something which tortured him.  The telephone rang and the little boy disappeared.

This was the first of about 50 transatlantic calls.  American reporters were working feverishly at ferreting out details of my life, but I could not open the door on my childhood and let them see how mixed up my hates and loves had been.

In my mind I saw a picture of a frail little boy praying before he went to sleep: “Dear God,” he said, “Send me a dolly for Christmas, just like those my sister Dorothy has.”

That little boy did not doubt God when he received a bright red train instead, but he was confused because he didn’t like trains, or baseball bats, or toy guns.

The confusion persisted and magnified, but I couldn’t speak of that to the men who were asking over the transatlantic wire whether I had become a sweater girl, and if I slept in pajamas or a nightgown.  After the first few moments of such interrogation, I was saying to myself: “How can the world seriously be interested in answers to many of the questions that are being thrown at me?  This is an outstanding medical achievement and 50 percent of the queries about it border on the ridiculous.”

Then the questions that were not ridiculous began to pour in.  They were wrung from the hearts of men and women who, from their own tragic experiences in what I choose to call the “no-man’s land” of sex, suspected that tremendous forces had driven me to the drastic step of transformation.

"What can be done for us?" they asked.

And then I knew that I must tell the world the real story of how and why it was possible and absolutely necessary for George Jorgensen to be transformed into Christine.  In telling it here, I might note that I’ve changed the names of certain places and people, in order to save them from possible embarrassment.

Tears came to my eyes as I recalled how often the problems of my life have been repeated in others.

(Insert: CHRISTINE’S DOCTOR SAYS: As a doctor, I naturally am interested in the medical significance of Christine Jorgensen’s story, but I am not interested in the medical aspect alone.  Important, I think, is the courageous fight Christine has made.  In overcoming a problem that threatened to ruin her life, her fortitude has been extremely inspiring.  -Christian Hamburger, M.D.)

I didn’t worry any more about the people who scoffed at me as a publicity seeker.  They never have seen the frightened littler person who lived for more than 23 years in the guise of George Jorgensen, Jr., better known to family and friends in New York as “Brud.”

It soon became evident, as offers engulfed me, that I could make a quick fortune at the sacrifice of my self-respect—and the crucification of others who would follow me—if I wanted to go into the nightclub circuit.

I was only saddened, however, by cables like this one from a girl in Louisiana: “Can offer you $500 a week net to co-star with me in two-woman strip show playing five theaters in United States Midwest this coming summer.”

"None of the telegrams ask if I have any talent," I told my friends, when my sense of humor returned, "But they all want me to perform.  My musical ability and my singing voice are not of Metropolitan caliber, as you all very kindly have informed me, so what do  they expect me to do, appear in local nightclubs wearing ostrich feathers?"

I already have lived too many wasted years before daring to become the girl nature intended me to be, and after the first brief shock I was sincerely glad that my story had come out.  I had become a pioneer with a message, my doctors told me.  Yet I still was concerned with the effect this sudden limelight would have upon my parents.

It was like being in front of a firing squad.

My father told me later that a newspaperman had come into their home and said he had enough material about me to print a story without their help, and if they wanted it to be accurate, they had better give him complete details.

They gave this reporter some photographs and my letter to my parents dated June 8, in which I said: “I have changed very much, as my photos will show.  But I want you to know that I am extremely happy and that the real me, not the physical me, has not changed.  I am still the same old Brud, but, my dears, nature made a mistake which I have corrected and now I am your daughter.”

In it I explained that I had been a victim of glandular imbalance and had come to Copenhagen to be treated by Dr. Hamburger and others.

Some writers reported thereafter that I had been given 2,000 injections.  What a human pin cushion I would have been!

News of my experience was taken much more casually in Denmark than in America.  Europeans look upon matters pertaining to sex as one’s own personal affair.  Nevertheless, the time came when I found it necessary to steal out the back door of the hospital into a waiting car and seek refuge in the home of friends.

Although my trunks already had been sent to America and photographs of this luggage had been duly recorded for posterity by anxious cameramen, who now were photographing anything connected with Christine, it had become impossible for me to return home immediately.

Over a much more important transatlantic telephone call than any I had received before, my parents and I secretly planned that they would spend Christmas with me in Denmark.  We felt that we were right to believe that it should be our privilege to have this reunion be a private affair, far from prying eyes.

Perhaps we all did become a bit more dramatic than necessary in order to preserve for ourselves, alone, the first sacred moment when my Mom and Dad would look at me and say: “She is ours, we love her.”

At approximately 5 o’clock on Thursday evening before Christmas (Denmark time), I waited in a taxi at a rear entrance to Kastrup Air Terminal in Copenhagen.  When I spoke to one of the officials of the Scandinavian Airlines System, he recognized me immediately and invited me into his private office where no newsmen were permitted.

The plane on which I expected my parents to arrive was announced.  I peered anxiously through a peephole in the door.  Then over the loudspeaker I heard a voice say: “Will Mr. and Mrs. Chris Schmidt please come to the information booth.”

"There they are," I whispered, "and I’ll bet my Dad feels like an international spy trying to get behind the iron curtain.  I wonder if he and Mom are traveling incognito and if he’ll be wearing a false mustache?"

The moments of trying to single Mom and Dad out seemed endless and then a little couple, completely unknown to me, stepped forward.  There really was a Mr. and Mrs. Chris Schmidt, and my parents were not on the plane.

Now I know that at five o’clock (New York time) on that same Thursday evening, my parents, also yearning for complete privacy in our meeting, were getting into an airplane in a hangar at New York’s Idlewild Airport with no eyewitnesses except a few airline attendants.

Neither of them ever had flown before, but they boarded the huge transatlantic airliner and sat in the cold and the darkness for two hours before take-off.

A wire informed me of their flight number and the hour of their arrival in Copenhagen and, as a final bit of strategy in the long battle of wits with pressmen and photographers, I announced with apparent reluctance that my parents would arrive by train—and, presumably, most of the reporters when to Hovedbanegaard, the main railroad station.

When the Scandinavian Airlines System plane from Paris came in, my father was greeted by one of the line’s men in uniform, who said, “Chris sent me,” and my mother, temporarily separated from Dad, clutched a strange woman by the arm, pretending that they were friends.

There were tears on Mom’s face and Dad gave a hasty brush to his eyes as they were ushered into the office where I had waited two consecutive nights earlier.

I learned, during those first three weeks in December, that many kind people become inconsiderate when something sensational is involved, and without thought or pity, they willingly force inconspicuous people into a cruel limelight.

Yes those appealing letters to me that say, “Your story is my story; please help,” make me willing to bare the secrets of my confused childhood and youth in the hope that they will bring courage, as well as understanding, to others.

I was born on May 30, 1926.  There was nothing unusual about my advent into this world and I was not noticeably abnormal in any way except that I was slightly tongue-tied.  A quick snip of a surgical instrument corrected that minor defect.

I never grew to be as husky as other little boys in the community and, as early as I can remember, I wondered why I had to wear clothes so different from my sister Dorothy’s pretty dresses.

I hated boys’ suits and I hated little boys for their rough-and-tumble games, which I never joined, and for the questioning look I always seemed to see in their eyes.

"Sissy, sissy," they would call after me when they saw me playing jacks or jumping rope with Dorothy and her girl friends.

Early in life, I showed a stubbornness of purpose that in later years I have had occasion to be grateful for.  I can remember my grandmother illustrating this with the following story: I was about four years old and was spending the day with Nanna while my mother attended some social function.  When we went shopping I demanded candy.  “Not now,” Nanna said, “You are going to eat in a moment.”  “Then I’ll go home.” I answered and started down the street.

Nanna followed, block after block, but at a distance.  When I reached another store I stopped, turned and saw her, and said: “Candy now?”

The answer still was no, and true to my word, I plodded all the way home.

It was not this stubbornness that caused me to stay in the kitchen playing with pots and pans when my father had made special plans for me to help him build a boat.  Why, I wondered, should someone who really was a little girl and only masquerading in boy’s clothes be made to play carpenter?

The girls’ camp that Dorothy attended in summer was a delight to me but of course I could only be an occasional visitor.

At the age of six, when I was sent to a boys’ camp, I was alone for the first time in a group of what I chose to regard as strange ruffians.  I didn’t like the set-up, and rebelled at being bossed by a camp counselor who had none of the big sisterly qualities I’d found in the director of my sister Dorothy’s camp.

My parents didn’t insist that I stay, and every summer after that I was shipped off into the country in up-state New York to visit some distant relatives.  I loved taking in the hay and riding in the hay wagon.

Down across the railroad tracks there was a place where we all went swimming.  Some of the boys swam in their birthday suits, but I always wanted to be well covered, preferring a top as well as swim trunks.

This probably was because of my overly slight physique and I know this feeling of shyness about exposing myself to view carried over into later years.  I was a good swimmer but never sat around in swim trunks.  I always changed immediately into my regular clothes.

My school days probably were those of an average youngster of a studious type and I belonged to a clique of boys and girls in grammar school that met for parties at various homes, frequently at mine.

We hadn’t yet reached the paring-off stage and so I didn’t realize that my attitude toward girls was one of envy rather than admiration.

I recall one incident which left a vivid impression upon me, so vivid that even now it remains clear in my mind.  I was about eight or nine years of age at the time, I had found, or in some way acquired, a piece of needlepoint.  I loved that little piece of handiwork.

I kept it in my desk at school and was quite upset one day to find it missing.  I suddenly was confronted by the teacher, and, much to my surprise, my mother.  In the teacher’s hand was my needlepoint, held up for ridicule.

I hated that teacher.  She cheapened something I loved, and she hurt my mother.  That teacher should have realized that this little boy, who was not going to follow the normal pattern of development, needed help, not ridicule.

It was my sister who began noticing my feminine qualities.  I remember one day as we walked home from school she said, “Why do you carry your books that way?  It looks silly for a boy,”  I had my books up in my arms, just as Dorothy had hers.

Other boys swung them along at their sides.  This was something that I never had thought of before.

Again, when Dorothy was in college and I was about 14, she devoted an entire thesis to the effects of environment on the development of a child.  I never saw that thesis, but I’m told I was the subject of it and that my sister won considerable acclaim for analyzing my girlish ways and crediting their development to the fact that I played with girls so much when I was a child.

When I was about 14 or 15 I started working evenings in a local library to earn spending money, and during that time I told my parents that I wanted to take a week-end trip to Washington.

I went, established myself at a boarding house, and set off to see the sights.  Because of my library experience, I didn’t neglect to visit the Library of Congress, to see if their system worked any more efficiently than ours in New York.

While I was on that trip I thought a great deal about the growing disturbance within me.  I now realized that I was different from other boys and I didn’t understand how or why.

Some of the disturbance centered around a friend, Tommy, who was about four years older than I.  He was a fine young man who was beginning to be interested in girls.

I’d notice I felt jealous.  That wasn’t right, I knew, so I vowed I’d always keep that feeling a secret.  I didn’t know then that this emotion would later torture me to such an extent that I would beg for death if no other solution could be found.  My doctors later told me that my physical system and body cells(?) were attuned to feminine reactions in matters of affection as well as in my ability to adapt to many social situations.

The days of confusion and doubt had begun and I was on the brink of the struggle to overcome them.

In next week’s installment, Christine will continue her life story by telling of the lonely confusion of her teen-age years, her determination to make a career of photography—preferably in the movie industry—her months in the U.S. Army as P’vt, George Jorgensen, Jr., her return to civilian life and her excitement at finally landing a job in a Hollywood Studio.