Born in May 1926 (as George William Jorgensen Jr.), Christine grew up in the Bronx, convinced that she was trapped in the wrong body. After graduating from school in 1945 young Jorgensen was drafted in to the Army, where she came across an article about a Danish doctor who was experimenting with gender therapy by testing hormones on animals. Shortly after leaving the services Christine began a course of hormone therapy to build up the amount of oestrogen in her body – the first step in her journey towards gender reassignment. In 1950 she headed to Copenhagen; her family were Danish, and it wasn’t hard to explain away a trip to the Old Country. However Christine chose not to tell anyone about her real intentions – to undergo sex reassignment surgery.
In 1952, shortly after the surgery took place, Christine wrote to her parents: ‘Nature made a mistake which I have had corrected, and now I am your daughter.’ Then, on December 1, 1952 the New York Daily News ran a front-page story Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty, telling readers that Jorgensen had become the recipient of the first ‘sex change’. She wasn’t: Danish artist Lili Elbe transitioned in 1930, and there had been unsuccessful attempts at surgery in the 1920s, but she was the first American to break cover. Christine’s experiences, as I’m sure you already knew, were liberally adapted by the auteur Ed Wood Junior for his film classic Glen or Glenda, a.k.a I Changed My Sex.
Christine became an overnight sensation, a regular guest on talk shows and earned money as a nightclub performer, talking about her experiences and singing in a very passable, Dietrich-esque smoky voice. In 1953 she played the famous Hotel Sahara in Las Vegas, and in 1954 it was reported that she was earning up to $8,000 a week – a phenomenal sum. She also managed to get caught up in the 50s craze for ‘little green men’ novelty discs, releasing the incredibly rare (I snaffled this - and the image - off the internet, although there is a copy currently for sale at Discogs) 45 Crazy Little Men, along with the Transfusion-influenced b-side Nervous Jervis, on the tiny Jolt Records in late 1959. Sounding to all the world like Lucia Pamela, Crazy Little Men is a nutso record, well worthy of its inclusion here.
Jolt had been set up by Joe Lederman, a well-known juke box operator from Newark, New Jersey in September of that year, and Christine as the first artisit signed to the company. ‘Miss Jorgensen is going to record albums and singles for us,’ Lederman announced to Billboard. ‘We have already heard from a number of writers with special material for her. The first project will be a sort of party type of LP record, but there will be nothing offensive about her songs. Her first single will contain Crazy Little Men and Nervous Jervis.’ As far as I am aware, the scheduled album did not appear. Other artists signed to the company included singers Dolly Dawn and Cathy Castro, ‘a luscious looking doll of 19 who will easily be the next Connie Francis’. Indeed!
A biographical film, The Christine Jorgensen Story, appeared in 1970. Christine also released an interview album, Christine Jorgensen Reveals, in 1958 and a live album of her nightclub act, I Enjoy being a Girl, in 1983. Gay performer Ray Bourbon claimed that he too had surgery and announced to the world, via his album Let Me Tell You About My Operation, that she was now to be known as Rae - however it seems that Ray never actually underwent gender reassignment. You can read more about him (and his crazy life) in my latest book, David Bowie Made Me Gay.
An eloquent spokesperson for trans rights, Jorgensen died of cancer in 1989. She was 62. You can find out more about Christine at JD Doyle's Queer Music Heritage site.
Download CRAZY here
Download NERVOUS here