Christine Jorgensen: Transgender Woman

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About two weeks ago I uncovered a 1985 article wherein Christine Jorgensen rejects the word “transsexual” and instead chooses to self-identify as being a “transgender” person. While surprising, this discovery seemed somewhat reasonable because, as the current historical narrative goes, “transgender” meant crossdresser in the 1970s and it only began to change as a term to become inclusive of transsexual people sometime in late 1980s.

This common view on the evolution of the word seemed sound in my mind until this evening when I uncovered yet another article in which Jorgensen rejects the word “transsexual” and instead chooses to self-identify as being a “trans-gender” woman. Only this time she is self-identifying as transgender in 1979:

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Newsday article reprinted in the Winnipeg Free Press, 1979

The article reads:

As a young man, Jorgensen experienced strong emotional attachments to two male friends, but she says those feelings were never expressed. She admits now that she wasn’t entirely candid in the book. She did have “a couple” of homosexual experiences before she went to Europe to seek a medical solution to her problem, but they only reinforced the feeling that she wanted to relate to men as a woman, not as another man. “If you understand trans-genders,” she says, (the word she prefers to transsexuals), “then you understand that gender doesn’t have to do with bed partners, it has to do with identity.”

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The article goes on:

Many of her friends are gay, she says. She knows other trans-genders but none are within her circle of intimates.

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I feel that I can’t stress how significant it is that the world’s most famous transsexual was self-identifying as a transgender woman in 1979. If you were transsexual in the 1970s and 1980s, your first introduction to transsexualism was most likely through Christiane Jorgensen. The way Jorgensen chose to self-identify, her opinions about the word “transsexual” and her obvious feelings about the distinction between sex (having “to do with bed partners”) and gender (having “to do with identity”) would have been significant.

As I’ve noted in every article in this series on the historical co-evolution of both language and community, the hallmarks of our current transgender community didn’t just pop into existence on January 1, 1990. Our views, goals and values of the post-1990s era were shaped by the views, goals and values of the pre-1990s era.

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While I’ve found books using the term “transgender surgery” when referring to transsexual surgeries dating from the mid-1970s (A Practical Handbook of Psychiatry, 1974), Jorgenson’s pronouncement represents the earliest transsexual leader/opinion shaper to have publicly renounced the “transsexual” label by publicly self-identifying as a post-op MTF transgender woman.


Historical Document Disclaimer:

As I continue to publish historical documents relevant to the debates going on around the term transgender, I will include this disclaimer in hopes that it will cut down on having my position strawmaned to death.

The ideas found within the transgender community came from somewhere; they didn’t magically pop into existence on January 1, 1990. My intent in posting these historical documents is to dispel some historical inaccuracies some within the TS-not-TG group continue to popularize. I continuously find ideas that are purported to have originated within the so-called “transgender Borg”/“slave master” community sometime in the early 1990s and which was then supposedly thrust upon an unsuspecting transsexual community were in fact, championed by transsexuals leaders prior to 1990.

I find that I agree with practically everything those in the moderate TS-not-TG group claim with one major exception. Many assert that the “transgender umbrella” idea doesn’t refer to a group of unique allies who find unity in a common cause; rather, many in the TS-not-TG group simply assert that the term “transgender” robs all transsexuals of their unique experience. In fact, most transsexuals do not feel that the we should be segregated away from all of our allies in our continued fight for equality and, as these historical documents continue to show, transsexual people of history do not see a need to rip the transsexual community away from other communities to go it alone.

For a view that very closely resembles my own views on this issue, check out The Death of the “Transgender Umbrella” by Mercedes Allen. My reservations about this article can be summed up nicely within the comment section by Dr. Jillian Weiss:

Great article, but you can’t create a movement to “not be transgender.” Critique is valuable, but by itself, it can only alter an existing movement, not build one of its own. Movements have to be for something. If we could create a viable “transsexual movement,” I’m for it. But it is unlikely that such a movement can occur at this point in time. Very unlikely. Although I agree with the idea on a theoretical basis, I don’t think it will ever go beyond talk.

So, if you take Allen’s article and combine it with what Weiss had to add, you’d have a near perfect representation of my views concerning the TS-not-TG debate.

11 thoughts on “Christine Jorgensen: Transgender Woman

    1. Ah, resorting to that old false dichotomy, are we? Claiming that she could not have identified as both a transsexual and a transgender; she obviously did. Claiming that "… it was just one quote and you see her mention it no more. Maybe she realized it was a mistake to say it? Who knows" is intellectually lazy. Who knows? We do!

      She obviously felt this way in 1979 and in 1985 in which she makes her position quite clear. Acknowledging that she self-identified as being transgender does not erase her history as a transsexual woman; that's a false dichotomy. What do I think about this post? It's yet more dogmatic derp.

  1. You re-crowned her Transgender, basically stealing away from her the identity she had since 1952. She claimed to be transsexual, even after the previous article you showed where she says she was transgender. She also continued using the word sex. It is a contradiction. Why is it that with her only saying that twice (I only saw the one instance) have you dubbed her "Transgender Woman"? Not being a hypocrite now are you.

    1. More derp?

      In 1979 she clearly says: “If you understand trans-genders,” she says, (the word she prefers to transsexuals), “then you understand that gender doesn’t have to do with bed partners, it has to do with identity.”

      in 1985 she clearly says: "I am a transgender because gender refers to who you are as a human." http://www.cristanwilliams.com/b/2011/06/27/trans

      It is you who is not allowing her to speak for herself. Your dogma is showing.

      1. To be honest, I haven't seen any women born transsexual that ever idolized Christine. After all, she did drag shows on a weekly basis. Why would we want to look at her as a hero? After seeing Monica Roberts have an orgasm over this it made me think she thought you had found the smoking gun to end all of the arguments but I assure you, this has done nothing. I do like the fact she referred to herself as a "True Transsexual" because that makes any transgender person mad. :)

        1. Oh lord… now she's too insignificant to matter? Offering an argument from ignorance isn't an argument. If you want to assert that her views and opinions were not significant in the 1970s and early 80s, you'll need to provide some qualitative evidence to back that up. Your opinion doesn't count; objective facts about her popularity is what counts. If you can show that nobody cared about her in the 1970s and early 80s then you'd have an argument. Right now, you just have a baseless assertion.

          Drag shows? What the hell are you talking about? So let me get this straight… First you rage because you feel that I stole her identity as a transsexual and now after you figure out she self-identified as transgender for years going back into the 1970s she's now a drag queen? Typical.

        2. What do you mean "now she is too insignificant"? Show me how you think she was significant to us. You blatantly disrespect women of transsexual histories who don't identify as transgender. Nikki Araguz , for example. You continue referring to her as transgender after she has, without a doubt, told the transgender community to stop calling her transgender.
          http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2011/06/02/234421/t

          You are making your motives VERY clear, my dear.

        3. *facepalm* Seriously? You're seriously going to ask me to prove to you that she was significant? REALLY?!? If you can't grasp that the first out, internationally known transsexual woman who had her own media machine was significant, then I'm guessing that you're currently constitutionally incapable of objective concerning this subject.

          Yes, before Nikki posted that, she and I talked for about an hour and I encouraged her to make sure that people knew that she was a transsexual woman, She made that post the day after we talked. In fact, she and I were sitting in the Transgender Center Thursday visiting and she herself told me that she didn't understand the drama around all of this; that she is part of the transgender community.

          Since there's more evidence than you can shake a stick at testifying to Christine's significance, I think the burden of proof rests of you since you made the assertion that in the face of all of that, she was insignificant. Also, please don't presume to speak for Nikki or know what she thinks about these issues. Unless you speak to her regularly, I'm guessing that you don't know what you're talking about.

          There are a lot of us who are true transsexuals and who part of the transgender community. I know that because you choose to assign a definition to the word "transgender" that it just doesn't have, this concept seems strange to you. I encourage you to pull out an English language dictionary and use the definition English speakers use instead of whatever definition you've made up for the word.

          It would make communicating about this issue easier if we were both using the English language definition of the word "transgender".

        4. One of the folks in your camp just posted a rant about me transhing Nikki:
          http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150319

          Here's what Nikki had to say in response:

          Nikki Araguz Let me let you all know right now that both of these women that you are trashing so disrespectfully have consistently helped me and stood up for me, speaking out and being by my side physically during the last year. So I take great offense to anyone saying that either Cristan Williams or Monica Roberts are against any of you or me. I will tell you now that I ask you to stop the in fighting because you will never accomplish equality for your selves or anyone else with this kind of behavior. If you notice, of all the things that are said about me I NEVER find it necessary to resort to ridicule, name calling or bashing others. I ask that you all follow suit. Lets move toward equality and rights for everyone with out tearing each other down in the process. Thank you all for the support and love.

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