In 1953, Christine Jorgensen stepped off an airplane from Denmark and faced a swarm of journalists. Christine had undergone one of the first successful gender reassignment surgeries in modern history. Though she flew to Denmark as George three years earlier, Christine returned as a glamorous blonde. Headlines blared "Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty!" and Americans clamored for information about Christine.
Christine became a celebrity, selling her story for $20,000 and earning roles in films. Her family embraced the change, accepting Christine's declaration, "Nature made a mistake, which I have had corrected, and I am now your daughter." But Christine also faced prejudice from those who claimed she wasn't a real woman. She was criticized for not wanting children and denied a marriage license. In spite of the backlash, Christine saw herself as an advocate for transgender rights, during an era when most Americans had never heard the word transgender.
Christine Jorgensen made headlines in 1952 when she completed gender reassignment surgery in Denmark. Born in the Bronx and an Army veteran, Christine became a vocal advocate for the transgender community. She also pushed boundaries, challenging America's static notion of gender.
In the 1950s, "transgender" wasn't a word. The term was not coined until 1971.
When she visited one American doctor for help, he sent Christine to a psychiatrist. But doctors in Denmark welcomed Christine. In May 1950, she flew to Denmark to meet with Dr. Christian Hamburger. Dr. Hamburger introduced Christine to the concept of transsexuality, which Christine instantly felt described her situation.
In 1951, Christine began to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Because she was one of the first patients in Dr. Hamburger's research project, the surgery was completely free. Christine also adopted her new name, which she chose to honor Dr. Hamburger.
While the public clamored for stories about Christine Jorgensen's gender reassignment surgery, the process itself was long and grueling. In 1950, Christine's doctors started the process with hormone injections.
Dr. Hamburger then recorded the results of the hormone treatment:
The first sign was an increase in size of the mammary glands and then hair began to grow where the patient had a bald patch on the temple. Finally the whole body changed from a male to a female shape.
In 1951 Christine had her first surgery, followed by a second in 1952. The procedure was still very experimental. The first known attempt at a modern gender reassignment surgery occurred in 1930s Berlin, where the patient, Lili Elbe, died after her final operation.
In 1952, after undergoing sex reassignment surgery, Christine wrote to her family from Denmark. "I have changed, changed very much, as my photos will show, but I want you to know that I am an extremely happy person and the real me, not the physical me, has not changed."
She also explained her choice: "[N]ature made a mistake, which I have corrected, and I am now your daughter."
Christine's family accepted her choice, declaring that their love for Christine was the same as before. Her father invited 22 friends over to share the news, and all agreed Christine had made the right choice.