While reading and writing about an article on early 3-D cinema in Filmfax, I was taken by one particular bullet point in a sidebar time capsule about 1952:
Returning from Ne York from Copenhagen on Dec. 15, after undergoing some 2,000 hormonal injections and six operations to transform a slender former G.I. name [sic] George into a statuesque Christine Jorgenson. Ms. Jorgenson was the first transexual to make her gender conversion public. She subsequently sold her life story to the American Weekly for a reported $50,000.
I was immediately struck by this factoid from the time capsule of 1952, and immediately when online to see if i could find out more. And lo and behold I found two surprisingly interesting videos on YouTube that actually show Ms. Jorgenson at two very different moments in her life. The first is a short newsreel of her return to New York City from Copenhagen soon after her “sex change.”
The second is a mature Ms. Jorgensen talking about adoption, both are extremely fascinating. But one thing I find so uncanny is the way in which the older Jorgenson seems so much more like a woman than the younger. It might seem obvious given how close she was to her recent conversion, but I wonder if this also might be a way to understand how we learn to play at our gender roles through the perception of others, experience, and daily practice.
And, of course, there is the cultural backlash that surrounded this media event. In 1953 this Calypso-inspired song titled “Shame” by none other than Louis Farrakhan offered up a not-so0-subtle attack on this “freak of nature.”What’s interesting about the song is it suggests just how much money and acclaim she was getting for publicizing her sex change (the punchline of the song suggesting we are all being duped because we have no “real” proof) suggesting that Jorgenson was actually accepted and celebrated, although I imagine it was probably more like a Native American coming to Europe to be paraded around the continent in a cage.
These two videos were fascinating. This was the first time I’ve seen either of them.
Christine was someone who was a great inspiration to me back when I was growing up and sorting out my own feelings. Though the press coverage of her was incredibly abusive, public judgment of her universally condemning and though she was the stock of many comedians jokes she was one of my heros.
If you ever have the opportunity to read her autobiography please do so. It was a different time and a different America. The insight into the world of the 1950s in that book shows just how far we have come over the past half century.
Christine Jorgensen’s courage paved the way for many to follow. I strongly regret never having the opportunity to meet her.
She seems almost super-human in these two videos, her ability to both recognize her strength and realize that what she was doing would make her an absolute outsider in of her day. I think you can see her strength and resolve in the second video where she opening acknowledges the difficult place she would put any child in as a means of acknowledging her critics without anger or resentment, it’s pretty powerful.
Thanks for the comment Patricia.
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