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June 10, 2020 41 mins

Christine Jorgensen never intended to become a celebrity. In 1951, Jorgensen traveled to Europe to obtain special permission to undergo a series of operations, which would help complete her medical transition from male to female, becoming the first American woman to publicly receive this type of surgery. When she returned to the states, the New York Daily News wrote about her under the headline: ’EX GI BECOMES BLONDE BEAUTY.’ Christine’s public persona marked a significant, though often fraught, step towards normalizing transgender identities in the US, and she came to embrace her role as a pioneer within the transgender community. But her story is still unknown to many and the fight is far from over. 


Jo talks about the state of transgender rights with the National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign, Sarah McBride, one of the many activists working today to continue the work Christine began.  


Main Sources

  1. Christine Jorgensen: a Personal Autobiography - by Christine Jorgensen
  2. A Universal-International News report by Fred Maness with footage of Christine Jorgensen arriving at Idlewild Airport in 1951
  3. ‘Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty’, from the New York Daily News in December of 1952
  4. ‘Bronx Boy is now a Girl’ from the New York Times in December of 1952
  5. An interview with Christine Jorgensen conducted by the BBC in 1970
  6. An interview with Christine Jorgensen conducted by Hour Magazine in May of 1984
  7. An Associated Press article in the LA Times from June 1986 titled: ‘Famed Transsexual Christine Jorgensen Out of the Spotlight’
  8. Uncredited footage and interviews titled ‘Christine in Denmark Parts I and II
  9. Various clips, footage, and reviews of Christine’s stage act referenced throughout the episode.

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Transcript

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:09):
From I Heart Radio and Tribeca Studios. This is Fierce
I Can't Type Women Were Problems, a podcast about the
incredible women who never made it in your history books
and the modern women carrying on their legacies today. Us
to the Lady Fair the week I can't find women workery,

(00:29):
don't mind routine, repetitive work. Will you make a copy
of this naturally? Each week we're bringing you the story
of a groundbreaking woman from the past who made huge
contributions to the present, but whose name still isn't on
the tips of our tongues for whatever reason. Maybe it's
because men wrote most of history. At the end of

(00:51):
each episode, I'll be joined by a woman living today
who's standing on the shoulders of this historical figure, whether
she knows it or not. Do you know many years ago,
when I was playing at the Latin Quarter in New York,
Pat Suzuki saying this wonderful tune which became my theme song,

(01:18):
save you remember it. I'm a girl, and by me
that's only great. I am told that my silo we
dis imagine being so newsworthy that you knock a successful
test of the H bomb right off the front page
of the newspaper. Not just that, but you're suddenly more
intriguing than Jonas Salk and his polio vaccine, the war

(01:39):
in Korea, and the Rosenberg trial. This newsworthy character, the
one whose voice you hear singing in the background, was
a young woman from the Bronx. Her name was Christine Jorgensen.
Are the spring of nineteen fifty four, more newsprint had
been generated about Christine than about any other individual person.

(01:59):
She was instant celebrity. But Christine wasn't used to this.
She wasn't an actress or a musician, someone who craved
the spotlight. No, the spotlight was thrust upon her following
a series of operations which completed her medical transition from
male to female. She was the first American to publicly
undergo this kind of surgery. The New York Daily News

(02:23):
is first headline about Christine read x GI becomes blonde,
Beauty operations transform Bronx youth. A large photograph on the
left takes up most of the front page. It's Christine
in profile. She's lit like a Hollywood starlet show off
for sharp cheekbones. On the right is an older photo

(02:45):
of Christine before photo, A kind of dopey looking g
I in a uniform, closely cropped hair, protruding ears. From
the outside, they look like completely different people, but on
the inside they're the same. They're both Christine. Now, this
was the nineteen fifties, The word transsexual had only been

(03:08):
used in the English language three years earlier, and what
it meant wasn't entirely understood by most people. There was
no playbook for this. There's no language to describe what
Christine had done, what she was going to do, or
how she'd live her life after her surgery. I mean
it was an uthering curiosity, There's no question about that.
I mean, if I were getting that kind of coverage today,

(03:29):
I feel like I was a zoo animal. And that's
Sarah McBride. She's the national press secretary for the Human
Rights Campaign and at the time of this recording, a
candidate for state Senate in Delaware. Sarah made her own
national headlines when she came out as transgender while wrapping
up her terms serving as the student body president of
American University in Sarah knew what language to use when

(03:51):
she came out, mostly because of the path that Christine
had blazed before her, but Christine didn't have that language.
Christine had no idea pronouns to use. In this episode,
we want to be using the right pronouns, and that's
why we're going to talk a little bit about it
right now. When we talk about Christine, even before she
had her surgery, we'll always refer to her by the

(04:13):
pronouns she and her. Here's Sarah explaining why that matters.
So pronouns are the most frequent way we affirm a
person's humanity. Pronouns, along with names, are the way we
bestow personhood and individuality. When we want to dehumanize and

(04:34):
diminish a person, we replace their human pronouns with it,
and we change their name to a number or a sler.
Christine was born George Jorgensen, but in this episode we're
not going to call her George. Just like I've always
been Sarah, and I was Sarah before I came out,
Christine was always Christine. Christine's story starts in the Bronx,

(04:58):
in she was promised a future that was blessed with
all the privileges of a white, Christian, middle class American
man living in New York City. Christine and her older sister,
Dolly were inseparable and Christine idolized her. But even with
Dolly around, Christine was intensely withdrawn and lonely as a child.

(05:20):
In her autobiography, Christine wrote, I developed into a frail, toeheaded,
introverted child, but I learned early on that society laid
down firm ground rules concerning my behavior. A little boy
wood trousers, had his hair cut short, he had to
learn to use his fists aggressively, participate in athletics, and

(05:40):
most important of all, little boys didn't cry. That's an
actress reading Christine's words. Most of her quotes were found
in her autobiography. Christine asked her mom over and over
again why she couldn't dress like Dolly, play with dolls
like Dolly. She asked her mom why God didn't just
make them alike. Christine's mother tried to explain that we

(06:02):
don't always get to choose if we're a boy or
a girl. She said that gender is one of God's surprises.
I don't like the kind of surprise that God made me.
As you might imagine, puberty was even worse. Christine felt
awkward and avoided the usual adolescent touchstones, like school dances.
She was stuck in this confusing masculine costume that never

(06:25):
felt right. The boys at school and camp asked if
she was a girl dressed in boy's clothes. They called
her a sissy. In her mind, Christine started to describe
herself as a feminine boy. She didn't have any other
words to use. When she was sixteen, the acute feelings
of loneliness completely overtook her. She wrote, I recalled, I

(06:48):
was even more keenly aware I was different from other boys.
Once I overheard one of them say George is a
strange guy. At other times, they didn't have to say it.
I could read it in their attitudes. Christine had a
very particular way of describing her physical body back then.
My body was not only slight, but it lacked other

(07:11):
development usual in a male. I had no hair on
my chest, arms, or legs. The gestures of my hands
were a feminine and my voice also had a feminine quality.
The sex organs that determined my classification as a male
were underdeveloped. I've always had the feelings the emotions of
a girl. I always wanted the things girls wanted. What

(07:35):
is masculine and what is feminine? That question plagued Christine,
and it began a fumbling period of self analysis that
mostly involved trips to the library and a study of
books about homosexuality and sexual deviation. Those were the only
kinds of books available on the subject, and they left

(07:56):
her even more confused than when she started. Christine was
terrified of being classified as an admitted homosexual. I can't
even think of a relationship like that with another man.
I noticed them not as a man, but as a
woman might. Christine was beating herself up. She was desperate
to find some kind of answer for why she was

(08:17):
the way she was, and whether or not there was
a way to fix it, whether there was a way
to make herself more manly. She didn't think the opposite
of that would ever be possible. I'm determined to behave
like a man, even if I don't feel like one.
She got deep into the science of it all. She
began reading up on endochronology, the study of the body's

(08:37):
glands and hormones. One case study told her about the
masculinization of a female chicken and the return to vigor
of a castrated rooster through the use of hormones. She
made a visit to a hormone doctor spilled her heart
out right there in the office. She told him she'd
tried to live as a man, but she admitted, I've
been a total failure at it. She tried to describe

(09:00):
the physical differences in her body, her emotions, her mind.
The doctor just dismissed her. He sent her to see
a shrink the guide her away from what he referred
to as feminine inclinations. But Christine eventually managed to find
this one book in the library. It was called The
Male Hormone. It taught Christine that there were things she

(09:22):
could do to make her body more feminine. Specifically, there
was a hormone called estradiol that might do the trick.
She was fascinated by the science behind it, because it's fascinating.
The chemical difference between testosterone and estradiol was minuscule, four
atoms of hydrogen, one of carbon. It was the discovery
of the estradiol that made Christine realize she didn't have

(09:45):
to conform to the way God made her, but there
was a different answer. Maybe she could use the hormones
to become more feminine instead of more masculine. That book
infused Christine with a new hope She left the library
and herself her very own copy. She read it over
and over again, dog eared it as she tried to

(10:06):
plot her next move. I was twenty three years old,
and unless I could find a solution soon, I knew
I'd have to resign myself to a life of frustration
and despair. She decided she'd experiment on herself. She needed
to get the hormone pills. I don't think I had
any idea how I was going to go about acquiring
it at that moment. For I knew I couldn't buy

(10:28):
it legally without a prescription, but I also knew I
would have to try it. My desperation was so great
at that point that I was willing to try anything.
Christine drove to an unfamiliar section of town to go
to the pharmacy. She ordered a few standard items from
the clerk before putting on her most authoritative voice. That's
when she asked for a hundred tablets of high potency estradiol. Now,

(10:53):
drug stas during this day where a little less regulative
than they are now, but the pharmacist was still rightfully skeptical.
He informed her that the pills were pretty strong stuff.
You're going to need a prescription for this, but that
wasn't gonna stop Christine. She made up a story right
on the spot. She lied and said she was at
medical technician school, that she was working on a study

(11:15):
on the growth stimulation of animals through the use of hormones.
She apologized profusely for not asking her supervising doctor for
a prescription. Christine was always unfailingly polite and also unfailingly charming.
Sure Enough, her charm worked, the clerk gave her the pills.

(11:36):
There in my hand lay another series of atoms, which,
in their way, might set off another explosion, when I
hoped would not be a destructive force, but would help
to make me a whole person. She went to bed
that night and prayed to God to forgive her. Taking

(11:59):
the pills made her feel fresh, alive. She described a
strange sensation and sensitivity in her breast area. By the
eighth day of taking them for the first time in
her life, she believed that her physical body could finally
catch up to the rest of her She thought she
had stumbled on a magic solution, a solution that would
allow her to live the life her heart and mind

(12:19):
told her she was always meant to live. From then on,
she said, I was even more determined to follow the dream.
The taste of it, that little taste, it made Christine
need even more. She needed to find a doctor who
would help her fully make her transition, and it wasn't
going to be easy. Christine confided in a doctor friend.

(12:44):
He told her that the kinds of treatments and operations
that Christine wanted weren't considered ethical. In fact, in America,
they might even be considered illegal. There were so many
arguments against these kinds of treatments at the time, that
to change your gender when against nature, that it went
against God, that it was playing God. Her friend told

(13:06):
her there were a limited number of medical transition cases
and that these were mostly taking place in Scandinavian countries Sweden, Denmark.
Christine squirreled away her money and finally headed to Copenhagen
in search of a doctor to help her Modern Copenhagen
is a lovely city, a busy city. She called it
her one way ticket to a new life. I began

(13:28):
to feel whole, nearly fulfilled, as if I had already
projected myself into the future. In Copenhagen, Christine stayed with
her aunt, and she confessed her reason for visiting. She
spoke to her aunt's doctor, who was able to recommend
a man named Dr Christian Hamburger, an endercnologist, meaning he
specialized in hormones. In their first session, Christine poured out

(13:51):
the whole story of her life, every major obstacle and
minor detail, from her childhood to the current moment. Do
you think I'm a homosexual? No? I believe that you
are the victim of a problem that usually starts in
early childhood and eero system of feeling that you wish

(14:11):
to be regarded by society and by yourself as belonging
to the opposite sex. Inwardly, it is quite possible you
are a woman. Your body chemistry and all of your
body cells, including your brain cells, maybe female. Dr Hamburger
told Christine he thought he could help her. He said
he wouldn't even charge her for it, but he did

(14:34):
offer a warning. He told her she was essentially a
guinea pig in this experiment. His words hit her like
a bolt of lightning. Just refer to me as guinea pig.
Zero zero zero zero. Christine would spend the next three
years undergoing treatments. I think the doctors and I are
fighting this the right way, make the body fit the

(14:56):
soul rather than vice versa. It began with what was
called a chemical castration, that's where the male hormonal system
was put into a slumbering state. The next operation, a
removal of her sex clans, couldn't be performed without a
legal sanction from the Danish Ministry of Justice. Christine wrote
a letter to the ministry begging them to approve her case.

(15:19):
She wrote, without this chance for a future, I know
I can't go on living a good, constructive life. To
return to my old way of life would destroy all
my hopes and ambitions. With these words, you shall judge
the whole future of my life. Once the operation was approved,

(15:40):
the doctors made an incision into Christine's lower torso they
removed the testicular tissue of the hormone producing glance. After
the surgery, Christine wrote a letter to a friend, Remember
the shy, miserable person who left America, Well that person
is no more. I am in marvelous spirits. When it

(16:01):
came time to get a new passport with a new name,
Christine knew exactly who she wanted to be named after.
She transposed Dr Hamburger's name Christian into a feminine form Christine.
She did it because she said she owed him her life.
It was all going so smoothly. That's why Christine felt

(16:21):
she was ready to tell her parents that she wouldn't
be returning as George. I'm happier and healthier than ever
before in my life. I've changed nature, made a mistake
which I've corrected. I'm now your daughter. I've never been
such a real person as I am today. Her mom

(16:43):
and dad were stunned in their minds. Their son was
just on vacation in Copenhagen, just visiting an aunt. Their
initial reaction was to behave as though their son had died.
Tears morning. Then came the questions. They fell like they
had failed her by not realizing that something was wrong
in the first place. They were concerned and upset, but

(17:06):
after a time they wanted her to know they supported her.
They finally sent their telegram and response letter and pictures received.
We love you more than ever. Christine's intention was only
to tell her parents, but her parents told their friends,
and a family friend leaked the story to the press.

(17:28):
He was apparently paid two hundred dollars. An unscrupulous New
York Daily News reporter convinced her parents to print Christine's
letter to them in full. The reporter claimed they needed
it in order to get their facts straight. Her parents
were not media savvy people. They had no idea what
they were doing, and this man was threatening them. He
made it seem like unless they cooperated, Christine's name was

(17:51):
going to be dragged through the mud. Christine's dad said
he felt like he was standing in front of a
firing squad when he handed over that letter. By two,
the headlines we mentioned earlier started x GI becomes blonde
beauty and the other one Bronx boy is now a girl.

(18:11):
And that was it. That's when Christine became famous, the
most famous person in the world. At the time, she
was still in Denmark recuperating from her third surgery, the
one that removed her underdeveloped male sex organ, but in
the United States she was a celebrity. Christine Jorgenson, who

(18:31):
used to answer to George, creates quite a stir as
she returns home to New York from Copenhagen. When she returned,
she got off a plane at idle Wild Airport in
New York City, a scrum of more than three hundred
eager reporters and paparazzi were waiting. It was the largest
assembly of press in the history of that airport. The
scene was complete and utter chaos. The flashbulbs were so

(18:55):
bright and so blinding that Christine got for a moment
she entered Dante's inferno, but she kept her cool. She
radiated a list glamor. I think Betty Davis in her prime,
with a little Joan Crawford swagger thrown in for good measure.
She had this long fur coat on, a fresh blaze
of red across her lips, her collar worn high like

(19:17):
a protective frill surrounding her neck, reminiscent of Elizabeth the
Warrior Queen. As Christine walked up to the microphone, she
pushed the piece of dust from her brow with a
crooked finger and a lit cigarette. She gave the cameras
exactly what they wanted to see and hear, America's first
transgender celebrity. Very impressed by everyone coming. Here's some actual

(19:38):
newsreel footage from that day. Yes, of course, what American
wouldn't be? Yes, but I haven't accepted it. Do you
have any plans regarding the theater. No, I don't think so.
I'm very happy to be back, and I don't have
any plans at the moment, and I thank you all

(20:01):
the coming, but I think it's too much. Let's take
a quick break here. When we get back, Christine will
embark on an entirely new life in America, the life
of the country's first transgender celebrity. From the second Christine
set foot back in New York, she was inundated with
job offers for paid appearances in nightclubs and strip clubs.

(20:24):
There was one woman in New Orleans who offered her
five hundred dollars a week to co star with her
in a two woman strip show. A man in Buffalo
offered to make her the greatest female wrestler of all time. Strippers,
nightclub acts, and old agents. Everybody is jumping on the bandwagon.
That's Christine's actual voice in one of the many interviews
she did after she returned from Denmark. They wanted me

(20:45):
to do everything, including being a lady wrestler, and I
had a sense of human so I laughed at the
long of them. I saved most of the telegrams. By
that time, the whole world was going crazy. There was
nowhere to go to hide from the press, especially when
she was front page news. Reporters followed Christine everywhere, including
to the d m V to photograph her getting her
new driver's license, one that listedr gender as a woman.

(21:09):
Those photos from the d m V, she were smiling. Apparently,
I was going to have to get used to the
idea of being stared at and inspected now. It's definitely
worth noting here that Christine had a lot of privileges
when it came to public scrutiny. She wasn't just white.
She was very fair, with blonde hair and blue eyes.
She had a slight frame and soft features that molded

(21:31):
so well to the standards of mid century American beauty.
That beauty, her new found attention, and her charisma quickly
put her in the orbit of Hollywood celebrities, agents, and
other entertainment hangers on the world wanted her to be famous. Still,
the major television networks banned Christine from even appearing on them.

(21:51):
She remained the butt of jokes. She was often referred
to as the fellow who wanted to be his own girl.
A series of articles in The New York Post claimed
her entire transition had been faked, that Christine was actually
still a man. Another article classified her as a spectacle
that she appealed to the squalid recesses of the human mind.

(22:13):
It was around this time that Christine got connected to
a big shot agent named Charlie Yates. He also rapped
Bob Hope. He told her she needed to take her
act on the road. She told him, look, Charlie, i
can't sing, I can't dance, and I can't get out
snappy chattered, I'm not an entertainer and the basic simple
person with my feet on the ground with the belong

(22:36):
But Charlie didn't balk. He told her he could turn
her into a star. Christine would later call him the
friendly and benign Svengali behind her entire career. It was
Charlie who helped her craft her first nightclub act. In it,
she sang later on, no one would say she's sang well,
not even Christine, but she did it with a certain

(22:56):
kind of gusto. Welcome to my world, won't you come on? Miracle?
Christine had this way of half speaking, half singing. Each
song became a way of sharing her spirit and character,
not a thing of art, but an act of friendship

(23:18):
built with you and mind. Her show was a hit
from the start. She sold out all the big clubs.
The audience loved her. Christine was making upwards of five
thousand dollars a week, which is about forty five grand today.
Here's a couple other reviews. Miss jargons it isn't the
best singer in the world are the best dancer, but
there's no denying she has the most important ingredient of

(23:39):
all showmanship. This girl is no dummy. Her appearance vex.
The gals gasp with envy. Her wardrobe is one of
the most expensive and elaborate we've seen. Christine looks beautiful,
Her gowns are fabulous, and it's pretty hard to imagine
this lovely piece of feminine polkertude was ever able to
pass as a boy of horse. A handful of places

(24:01):
refused to book her at all. They cited the problem
of immorality. The city of Boston bander from appearing unless
she submitted to a medical examination, and during the tour
she received a warning from the police in charge of
the moral squad for Washington, d C. I'm asking you
not to use the women's public toilets while you're in Washington.
If you dare to use a public restroom, I'll have

(24:23):
you picked up and examined by a board of doctors.
Christine longed to get married. She longed to have what
people considered a normal life, but that was never going
to be easy for her. She once told an interviewer
that transitioning in itself won't make you happy. You know,
the phone doesn't ring. People, men don't call for dates

(24:46):
because not only are my different person some ways, but
also being a star or quota star, whatever that is,
it's being in the public eye. Melna Dietrich has mentioned
that many times, many famous women have and it's an
awkward position because as a man who doesn't want to
be rejected, and he feels, oh, she's so popular that
I'm sure she wouldn't have time for me. The result

(25:07):
is nobody calls. So that's not unusual now. She received
her first serious marriage proposal at age thirty three from
a friend named John Traub. Christine was joking with him
at the time she said she was about to become
an old maid. Oh there's a remedy for that, Chris,
will you marry me? When it became clear that he

(25:32):
was serious, she did stop to think about it. Christine
said that at that age she was at a point
where she felt like life was passing her by, but
her affection for John fell short of true love. In
her own words, I was enormously fond of John, and
I have no doubt that I tried unconsciously to stretch
that affection into a large or emotional frame. Christine and

(25:57):
John tried to go to city hall to get a
marriage license. It ended up being a bureaucratic nightmare because
Christine's gender on her birth certificate was listed as mail.
Of course, the story was in the paper the next day,
the headline bar a license for girlish Chris, all because
of her boyish past. Their relationship reverted back to a friendship.

(26:18):
Soon after that, Christine received a second proposal from another suitor,
Howard Knox, a typist in Washington, d C. That marriage
license was also rejected. Knox reportedly lost his job once
their engagement became known. From then on, Christine would date,
but marriage seemed to be off the table. By Christina

(26:43):
reached a new understanding about what her life would be like.
She was forty two years old. I've been living publicly
as a woman for fifteen years, she longed for a
quieter life as a sexual revolution in the civil rights
movement raged across America. People were clamoring for more representation.
Christine developed a lecture titled who Am I? Who Are You?

(27:07):
She traveled the country talking to students about her experience
about the fluidity and multiplicity of gender. She didn't shy
away from anything. She answered all of their questions. But
I find the college campuses it's incredible. The acceptance is marvelous.
They're fascinated. They're fascinated because we have come into an
era of identification, human identification, not only just sexual identity,

(27:31):
but who am I? I think the world is far
more complex now than it was when I was young,
and so the younger generation they want to find out
where do I belong in this world. Christine was fond
of quipping that she had retired more times than there
are people. I think probably the greatest pleasure has been
the lecturing. Sometimes when people say has it been worth it?
I said, what a life I've had. If I died tomorrow,

(27:53):
life wouldn't owe me a thing. There were so many
times that Christine was accused of living a masquerade as
a woman. Her response was always that the real masquerade
would have been a continue in her former state. That
she said that would have been living the lie. There's
the hope that a clear and honest delineation in my

(28:15):
life mainly to a greater understanding of boys and girls
who grew up knowing they will not fit into the
pattern of life that is expected of them, the intrepid
ones like myself, who must take drastic steps to remedy
what they find intolerable. Christine received thousands of letters during

(28:36):
her life. They came from all over the world. Some
more simple notes of thanks, thanking her for her bravery
and for living her truth. Others told her she was
an inspiration, that her story made them feel like they
weren't alone, that it gave them courage to go forward
with their own transitions. If you google the word transgender

(28:59):
these days, the rough equivalent of what Christine did when
she was searching the library for answers. If you start
searching for stories about transgender activists and transgender rights, Christine's
name is one of the first that comes up. It
came up a lot for Sarah McBride when she was
a teenager today, As we said, Sarah's the national Press
secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, but decades ago, she

(29:21):
felt a lot like Christine did as a teenager, a
lot like a girl trapped inside a masculine body. Christine's
story was one of the first that helps Sarah realize
things could actually be different for her. We'll hear more
from Sarah after a quick break. I'm sitting here with

(29:42):
Sarah McBride and I asked her how she first learned
of Christine Jorgensen. I've known that I'm transgender my entire life.
My earliest memories were of lying in my bed at night,
praying that I would wake up the next day and
be myself, my family would still be proud of me,
that my friends would still be my friends. But as
a young person, I thought I was the only person
like me. I saw a sitcom and a guest character

(30:04):
was introduced, and it was revealed that she was transgender,
and she was beautiful, and every single time another character
on the show expressed any kind of interest in her,
not knowing that she was transgender, the laugh track would
kill And at ten years old, you don't know a lot,
but you know you don't want to be a joke.
And when I asked my mom, who I was watching
the sitcom with, is this real or there are people

(30:25):
like this? And she said yes, my heart sank because
I knew that I was going to have to tell
her this some day and that she would be so
scared and so disappointed. And so from that moment on,
practically every night I'd go online and I'd search transgender
and I'd read about transgender people every day. And one
of those individuals who I read about was Christine, who

(30:47):
really in many ways introduced our country to transgender people.
And so for me, seeing the stories that were written
about Christine, which were curious, but they weren't negative stories,
that was an important glimpse into my humanity and into
a relatively, at least for that time, affirming view of

(31:07):
my humanity. And that can be life changing, and in
this case, it could be life saving. So you discover
Christine's story, and what about her story inspires you? You
recognize that when other people have been able to do it,
that you can do it too, That if these people
could do it, then in two thousand and seven and

(31:30):
two thousand eight and two thousand ten and two thousand eleven.
In the progressive, forward thinking communities that I'm in, then
sure enough I could do it too. A lot of
the work that you're doing today involves getting even more
stories out there and educating people so that other people
are going to feel alone. Tell us a little bit
about that. It's much more difficult to hate someone whose

(31:53):
story and now and so in the work that I
do and the work that the Human Rights Campaign does
and the work that so many advocates around the country do,
sharing stories are critical to that fight. The more stories
we have, the more opportunities that different kinds of people have,
those different entry points of shared identities and shared interests
that can demonstrate to them that they can do it too,

(32:14):
that there's a space in their community, or in their culture,
or in their dreams and passions for people like them.
And so, after, as a teenager you're reading these stories
on the internet, when did you realize that you were
ready to start coming out. For the longest time, I
believed that my dreams and my identity were mutually exclusive.
I believed that there was no room for me in

(32:36):
my community and in my dreams. As my authentic self
came out to my parents on Christmas Day and two
thousand and eleven completely ruined Christmas? Did it completely ruin Christmas?
What was everyone's reactions? Definitely ruin Christmas? You know, there's
I always say, there's not much to do. A few
open presents, so you might as well just go all
in and drop that bomb. Um. I had witnessed my parents,

(33:00):
who are progressive, loving, inclusive people, embrace my openly gay
brother with out missing a beat. But I knew that
my news would be different for them because at that
point in eleven, like me, they didn't really have many
reference points for transgender people who were happy, who are healthy,
who are safe, who were fulfilled, who are loved, who

(33:23):
were pursuing their dreams, who are in our own community,
in our neighborhoods. So they didn't have these kinds of
reference points that when my brother came out they had
for gay and lesbian people and bisexual people. You know, well,
they may have to mourn some of the different kinds
of expectations they had for my brother in terms of
like what his wedding would look like, that they could
still know that my brother had a future, They could

(33:45):
still see that future, They could still see that future
and for me when I came out, there were two
things that were different. One was that lack of a
reference point for a future. They couldn't see my future.
And the second was that, unlike my brother, I'd look different.
And when you've known someone for a while looking one way,
it's hard to really internalize the fact that even though

(34:05):
they're going to look different, that they're still going to
be there. And so there was also this sense of loss,
and they were incredibly, incredibly clear that they were supportive,
but it was through a lot of tears, and it
was through a lot of requests for me not to
do this, for me to stay in the closet, for
me to delay. It was through a lot of exclamations

(34:26):
of I feel like my life is over. I feel
like I'm losing my child, I feel like your future
is done. What are our friends going to think? And
that's a fairly common response for parents. But my dad
went online that first night after I came out, and
he did what I had done so often. He googled
the word transgender, and one of the first things that

(34:46):
he came across in that search was an aptlete titled
report called Injustice at Every Turn by the National Center
for Transgender Equality in the National LGBTQ Task Force, and
in that report, he came across a whole host of
statistic that left him startled and rattled. One in four
transgender people fired from their job, one in five transgender
people reporting experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives.

(35:10):
But the statistic that left him the most disturbed was
that of transgender people attempted suicide at some point in
their lives. And it's not because transgender people are naturally
predisposed to committing suicides, because society puts so many barriers
in our way to happiness and fulfillment and community and
love that nearly half of transgender people decided that they

(35:30):
would rather end their life that exists in this world.
And so my father also saw though a path forward
in that report, because the statistics demonstrated that when the
transgender person is accepted and embraced by their family, that
number drops in half, and when they're accepted and embraced
by their community, it drops even further. And so my
parents knew as parents that their job was to love

(35:52):
and support and protect me, and that the only way
to do those three things was to embrace me as
the daughter that I am, and they did and I did.
And I think when we talk about transgender people coming out,
I know after I came out, people would always say
to me, I hope you're happy now, and it was
always said with the best intentions. But I didn't transition

(36:13):
to be happy. I transitioned to be myself. I transitioned
to be free to to think and pursue and feel
every emotion. And so I think what's so important for
people to understand is that when a trans person is
in the closet, there's a unique pain and being unseen.
You and Christine both said that transitioning alone won't make

(36:34):
you happy. When can you finally be happy? I think
it's the foundation upon which happiness can be built, being
able to live authentically whover you are, whether you're transgender
or not. I want to talk a little bit about
your wedding and the fact that you did get married.
It was something that Christine really wanted to do and
was never able to and you were. Yeah, being able

(36:56):
to get married was the most importan moment in my life.
I met the man who would become my future husband, Andy.
Fighting for lgbt Q equality and we fell in love.
Andy was a transgender man about three years older than me.
Meeting him, I pretty instantly fell in love with his courage,
his optimism, his energy, his brilliance, and really, more than

(37:20):
anything else's kindness. About a year into our relationship, Andy
was diagnosed with cancer. He was fortunate enough to have insurance.
He went through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, got a clean
bill of health, and then about a year later he
received the news that every single cancer patient fears his
cancer was back. It had spread, and for him it

(37:41):
was terminal. So when Andy found out that he didn't
have much time left, he asked me to marry him.
We married on the rooftop of our apartment building in
front of our family and friends in August of two
thousand and fourteen, and then just four days after that,
he passed away. But for us to be able to
have that opportunity to to marry, to formalize what had

(38:05):
really been the reality between the two of us long
before we exchanged our vows, for me was I think
the proudest moment of my life to be able to
have my dad walked me down the aisle and have
the opportunity to marry Handy, and so the fact that
Christine longed for that is no surprise to me, and
the fact that she was never able to do so

(38:28):
a sad common reality for far too many people who
are denied not just the equal protection of our laws,
but dignity and respect and kindness and love from society
as well. One of the things that's so profound for
me to think about is just how far we've come
since Christine was coming out and living her truth. That

(38:51):
Christine and so many others have helped to create a
world where there are transgender people coming out in every
corner of this country, at every age, throughout every demographic,
in schools and in workplaces, transmitter people getting elected to
state legislatures and cast in films and teaching classes and

(39:13):
leading businesses. That we have made change that seemed so
impossible to people like Christine fifty sixty seventy years ago.
Thanks so much to our guest Sarah McBride of the
Human Rights Campaign, and maybe by the time you hear this,

(39:34):
she will have been elected to the state Senate in Delaware.
We wish her all the best. Fierce is hosted and
written by Joe Piazza, produced and directed by me Anna Stump.
This episode was co produced by Michelle Lands. Our executive
producers are Joe Piazza, Nikki Etre, Anna Stump, and from
Tribeca Studios Leah Sarbieb. Christine Jorgensen is voiced by Karin

(39:54):
Hamilton's additional voices provided by Sam Stump and Jenny Stump.
This episode was edited and soundscaped by Anna Stump and
Jacopo Penzo. Our associate producer is Emily Maronoff. Fact checking
by Austin Thompson. Research by Lizzie Jacobs. The Fierce theme
song was written by Hamilton. Lighthouser and Anna Stump are
very sincere thanks to Mangesh had ticket Or for making

(40:15):
this series possible and to Nikki Etre are co executive producer,
who did so much for this show and with consistent
good humor. Sources for this episode Christine Jorgenson, a personal
autobiography by Christine Jorgensen. A universal international news report by
Fred mannis with footage of Christine Jorgensen arriving at Idlewild
Airport in nineteen fifty one. The article Bronx Boy is

(40:36):
Now a Girl from the New York Times in December
of nineteen fifty two. The article x GI Becomes Blonde
Beauty from the New York Daily News in December of
nineteen two. An interview with Christine Jorgensen conducted by the
BBC in nineteen seventy. An interview with Christine Jorgensen conducted
by Our magazine in May of nineteen eighty four. Associated
press article in The l A Times from June six

(40:56):
titled famed transsexual Christine Jorgensen Out of the Spotlight. Uncredited
footage and interviews titled Christine and Denmark Parts one and two.
Various clips, footage and reviews of Christine's stage app referenced
throughout the episode. Thanks so much for listening. For more
podcasts for my Heart Radio, visit the I Heart Radio app,
Apple podcast, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows,
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