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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Christine  Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen 1926to –1989

Nightclub performer and activist, and the first woman to introduce the American public to sex reassignment surgery. She served a year in the army toward the end of WWII, and after being discharged, tried to find careers as a photographer and then a medical assistant. By this time she had decided to seek out surgery, and got in touch with a doctor who suggested she go to Europe. In 1952, while she was still in Copenhagen recovering from two successful operations, the New York Daily News ran the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell,” calling her the first ever recipient of SRS. (She wasn’t, though hers was one of the first cases to include hormone therapy.) She became a household name overnight, and was distraught to learn she would be returning to New York as a celebrity. But she took her unwanted fame in stride, meeting the press with unshakeable poise and candor, and eventually turning her name recognition to her advantage. She began acting, and had a popular nightclub act as a singer and impersonator. She also gave frequent talks and lectures in support of transgender rights, educating a confused public over and over on the difference between “transexual,” “homosexual,” and “transvestite”—always with the same poise and open candor. She was engaged twice, but never married.

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