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A milestone in our community turns 60

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

December 1st, 2012

Some years ago my friends John and Terry lived across the street from a frumpy older woman who was, according to them, pretty much indistinguishable from any other frumpy older woman. Her name was Christine Jorgensen.

But six decades ago Jorgensen was anything but frumpy or older. But she was a woman. Named George. And sixty years ago this weekend she set about the process of having her body match her gender. Hers was the first widely known successful transexual transition.

Much of the rest is known. She was a curiosity, a celebrity. And Christine did what she could to educate and inform an incredulous public. BBC has a nice write up of her life.

But for me, the point is that at the end, after the glamour was gone she was exactly what she was all the time: a woman.

We can sometimes forget this from the way that Hollywood or the media can at times report on the subject. A transgender woman or man is almost always just that: a “transgender woman” and “transgender man”, as though there must be an asterisk on their gender.

But while politics and prejudice can very often demand that trans folk place this aspect of their being first and fight for their rights, they are not the “colorful edge” of the LGBT community and the processes they may have chosen to align their body with their gender does not define their gender.

Transgender poeple are neither exotic flowers or freaks. They are not as a whole glamorous and exciting or “a man in a dress”. They’re just people. And, in my experience, the novelty soon wears off and then you see transgender people through their humanity – some good, some less so – all just living their lives with integrity, but no asterisk.

Comments

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Lindoro Almaviva
December 1st, 2012 | LINK

Hers was the first successful transexual transition.

I am not sure what you are refering to, could you please expand on that? It is my understanding (and I am more than willing to be corrected) that hers was not the first gender reassignment surgery ever, they had been done before, so I am not sure what you mean by "successful."

Would you mean wide-known and akcknowleged? Are we talking about successful as in lack of complications or as in "the subject went about his life as if nothing had been going on and therefore successfully integrated to society and showed that this could be done and no big deal had to come out of it?"

Timothy Kincaid
December 1st, 2012 | LINK

Lindoro, it was my understanding that hers was the first successful reassignment surgery (others had horrible consequences). But I may be mistaken.

I’ll check it out and correct if necessary

Timothy Kincaid
December 1st, 2012 | LINK

I was mistaken, so I added “widely known”. Thanks for the catch.

However hers was certainly one of the very first and as she became the public face of what would become the trams community, it is definitely a milestone

Boo
December 2nd, 2012 | LINK

“They are not as a whole glamorous and exciting or “a man in a dress”. They’re just people.”

Some, of course, are super awesome people. Fantastic exstatic people. Scrumtrulesecent whooptiddlyazing people. Some are.

G.I. Joe
December 2nd, 2012 | LINK

There were in fact MANY transgendered people who medically transitioned before Christine Jorgensen.

The wikipedia list of proeminent transgender people for example (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_transgender_people) gives many examples of transgender people who successfully transitioned before the second world war (some before WW1!) – and I do mean “transition” as in medical transition, not just social transition. They led productive lives afterward, (as musicians, scientists, explorers…).

Jorgensen’s was just the first to have such a public impact and be so publicized (and sensationalized, with that special 50s “freak show” touch).

Anyway, thank you for this post, it was very nice and very thoughtful.

Steve Krotz
December 2nd, 2012 | LINK

A very good piece. Whether she was the first or not isn’t the point. The fact that eventually she became indistinguishable from any other woman in her community is the real milestone. But if it weren’t for the publicity she garnered and the dignity with which she was able to handle it, the transgender community probably would not be where it is today. She was the first transgender woman to make a lot of people stop and think. That’s a true pioneer.

Timothy Kincaid
December 2nd, 2012 | LINK

GI Joe

Thank you for the source. Unfortunately, it doesn’t list transition date, and most on the list were born too late to precede Jorgensen. But you inspired me to look further.

The best source I could find suggests that there were, perhaps, four in Germany in the Thirties, no full transitions in the Nazi years, and afterward Denmark and Norway began efforts.

I still don’t know if Jorgensen was fifteenth or fiftieth. This article say the was the first American. But wherever she was on the sexual transition list, she was instrumental in transitioning social attitudes.

The Lauderdale
December 3rd, 2012 | LINK

I read Jorgensen’s bio some years back and she certainly claimed to have been the first American (on the list of fully surgically transitioned MTFs, I mean.)

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