Christine Jorgensen: America’s First Transgender Celebrity

Clip from Universal Newsreel Volume 26, Release 440 (Local ID: UN-UN-26-440-1-4)

Please Note: Primary source documents used in this post may contain harmful language. See NARA’s Statement on Potentially Harmful Language.

The scenes shown in this 1953 Universal Newsreel footage are some of the first moments pioneering transgender woman Christine Jorgensen would spend in the spotlight. Despite this crowd of reporters eagerly awaiting her arrival in New York City, Christine was known to be generally shy and quiet. From childhood all the way through her transition, she preferred to keep to herself and her close inner circle. However, when her gender transition was thrust into the public eye, Jorgensen had no choice but to rise to the occasion with her head held high, even at a time when members of the LGBTQ+ community were heavily persecuted. 

She was born George William Jorgensen, Jr., on May 30, 1926, son of a contractor and his wife from the Bronx. She knew from a very early age that something set her apart from her peers. Her classmates, even her own siblings, often poked fun at her for displaying more feminine qualities than the other boys her age. She recalled asking her mother at a very early age, “Why didn’t God make us alike?” 

Following her graduation from high school during the height of the Second World War, Jorgensen attempted to enlist in the Army but was turned down due to her slight stature. Despite this initial rejection, Jorgensen would be drafted into the Army for service a few short months later due to an increased need for personnel. She served as a clerical worker until December 1946, working tirelessly to discharge soldiers following the conclusion of the war. Jorgensen was well aware of who she was during her time of service, a time when any soldier suspected of homosexual conduct would be subject to investigation, court-martial, dishonorable discharge, imprisonment, and/or institutionalization. Despite these dangers, Jorgensen chose to serve her country in one of its greatest times of need. 

After her service concluded, she chose to pursue her passion for photography by enrolling in photography school in New Haven, Connecticut, in addition to enrolling at the Medical and Dental Assistant School in New York City. During these immediate post-war years, Jorgensen became unable to ignore her feelings any longer. Upon getting her hands on the book The Male Hormone, Jorgensen learned of hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. With the help of a friend, Jorgensen began researching the then little known field of gender affirmation surgery. 

Despite advancements being made abroad, doctors in the United States continued to diagnose Jorgensen with homosexuality due to her attraction to men. It was not until she traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark where she met Dr. Christian Hamburger that her suspicions about her gender identity were medically validated. Hamburger, a Danish endocrinologist and leading expert in rehabilitative hormone therapy, wanted to help Jorgensen physically transition from having the body of a man to that of a woman. Under Hamburger’s direction, Jorgensen began HRT and eventually underwent a series of surgeries to make her body feel more like home. Jorgensen was so appreciative of Hamburger’s care that she chose to rename herself Christine in his honor. 

Christine had initially hoped to keep her transition private. However, a letter she sent to her parents informing them of her decisions wound up being leaked to the press in late 1952. Before she knew it, her face and story were featured on the front page of New York Daily News with the headline, “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty: Operations Transform Bronx Youth.” Despite society’s overall hostile view towards the LGBTQ+ community at the time, Christine became an instant celebrity. As shown in this newsreel, she was met by a swarm of reporters upon her return to the United States in 1953. The public was taken by her All-American beauty, values, and service record, in addition to their fascination with the medical and technological advancements required by her transition. Though not all were quite so friendly, this marked one of the first times the American public displayed any level of acceptance towards an openly transgender individual.

Still of Christine Jorgensen taken from UN-UN-26-440-1-4

Unfortunately, the media’s goodwill towards Christine did not last. They eventually went on to scrutinize what kinds of surgery she underwent in Copenhagen, and soon took the opinion that she was just as unfavorable as any other member of the LGBTQ+ community. Though the media no longer sang her praises, Christine went on to pursue a life as an entertainer. She performed in nightclubs, lectured at universities on her experiences, and even went on to record several songs. She was twice engaged, though was unable to marry either man due to her birth certificate still listing her as a male. One of her betrotheds even lost his job after news of their broken engagement went public.

Although she was not always looked on favorably by the public, a wheel had been set in motion that could not be reversed. For the first time, the American public was shown a positive depiction of a transgender woman. While the media did not uphold this image of Jorgensen, she remained in the public imagination. Christine received thousands of letters from people around the world. While some were hostile, most praised her for her bravery and many sought advice for navigating the world as a gender expansive person. In 1967, Jorgensen published her autobiography, Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography. In 1970, a film based on Jorgensen’s life, The Christine Jorgensen Story, hit the big screens around the country. 

Christine died on May 3, 1989 at age 62 of bladder and lung cancer. Her ashes were scattered off Dana Point, California. When asked about the attention she received for living her life authentically, Jorgensen said, “I was surprised that everyone seemed very interested in my life…time went on and I realized this was an important step in the eyes of the world.”

For more about Christine Jorgensen’s life, please visit:

3 thoughts on “Christine Jorgensen: America’s First Transgender Celebrity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *