July 15, 2020 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

GAY LA: Christine Jorgensen in Los Angeles

Meet the woman who changed everything.

The Chateau Marmont is nothing short of an L.A. institution. Home (at one point or another) to some of the world’s biggest and most scandalous stars of the 20th century, it’s the place where James Franco apparently rejected Lindsay Lohan’s advances, where Paz de la Huerta flashed half of Hollywood’s elite, and where Heath Ledger got high of an evening.

It’s also the place where Christine Jorgensen, possibly the most famous trans woman in history, decided to settle for the long haul.

If you don’t know who Jorgensen was, here are the Cliff’s Notes: After World War II, in which Jorgensen served as a G.I. in the United States Army, the young woman travelled to Copenhagen in Denmark. There, after being diagnosed as transsexual [sic] rather than homosexual by her doctor, the “transsexual specialist” Christian Hamburger, she would undergo a two successful sex reassignment surgeries in the early 1950s.

During this conservative time in America, Jorgensen might have hid the details of her life from the world. Instead, she went public. Jorgensen burst onto the scene in 1952, causing a flurry of interest, shock, controversy, and sparking a national obsession that would change the course of history forever.

“Ex G.I. Becomes Blonde Beauty!” newspaper headlines exclaimed, launching Jorgensen and her story into the spotlight. The young woman was offered acting roles in film and on the stage, as well as the chance to become one of the world’s first reality celebrities. Jorgensen, however, shied away from the spotlight, trying her best to live a vivacious, yet normal life, performing at cabarets and nightclubs.

Later, becoming a distinguished speaker at schools and institutions all across the country. Jorgensen used her power to do good, creating a platform for people to talk seriously and without judgment about transgender issues. The filmmaker and transvestite Ed Wood used her story as inspiration for his 1953 “Glen or Glenda” (also known as “I Led Two Lives!”) while countless filmmakers and writers since have drawn inspiration from her story.

Though born in Utica, New York, it’s no surprise that Jorgensen chose Los Angeles as her home in the last few decades of her life. First at the Chateau Marmont, where she wrote her autobiography “Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography.”  In her lifetime, Jorgensen was mocked, made fun of, and treated like a joke. She walked off her spot on the Dick Cavett show after the host’s rude questions got to be too much. A dignified, private person thrust into the spotlight, Jorgensen handled her ascension to fame with grace. Until the end of her life, she refused to be disrespected or treated poorly because of her difference. Instead, the paved the way for trans folks everywhere, showing us how glamorous, rich, and beautiful life could be, no matter your assigned gender.

Toward the end of her life, she had a private home in Hollywood and a home in Laguna Beach, where she spent her final years before succumbing to lung cancer in 1989. Her ashes are scattered off Dana Point in California.

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