Christine Jorgensen and Roberta Cowell

It has been some 40 years since I read Christine Jorgensen’s carefully redacted ghost written “autobiography that came out about the same time I came out.

A year or so latter I saw that horribly done film version of her life story starring some no name boy who looked like the foot ball player in drag that he was.

I met Christine at the San Francisco premiere of the film.  I was young and terribly sexy wearing one of my sleazy dresses from a Telegraph Avenue boutique that I loved, she reminded me of one of my chain smoking never married aunts who lived in LA and went to Las Vegas for her kicks.

But Christine’s story had never been the transsexual life story that captured my imagination.  I was too young or perhaps too scared of my own problems with being a transkid to express any interest in it when she was a news item.  Possibly I was too sheltered by my environment.

The transsexual stories that did get my attention started filtering into my active awareness about 1960 or so and centered around the stars of Le Carousel in Paris.  Coccinelle, Capucine, Bambi and April Ashley were the sisters I found ready identification with.  Coccinelle was as they said of buxom sexy women in those days, “a Bombshell”, a transsexual Bridget Bardot or Jayne Mansfield.

April Ashley’s story hit the tabloids the summer of 1962 and gave me a name for what had been euphemistically referred to by my parents as “my problem”.  My problem being that I was an obvious transkid blossoming into a teen queen.  One who got busted regularly for dressing in mommy’s clothes and for showing signs of wanting to be noticed by the sort of boys who would take me riding in their cars.

As a historian I have actually worked on recollecting books I once had and either sold or lent and never saw again.

Over the last year this blog has attacked  the all too frequent claims of often contradictory and generally sketchy forms of intersex on the part of people who are garden variety women born with transsexualism.

Everyone of them seems to think they are original in making these claims.  Yet nearly 60 years ago Roberta Cowell was making similar claims of spontaneous changing of secondary sex characteristic and trashing Christine Jorgensen as a homosexual transvestite because Christine’s body didn’t respond as well to her hormone regime.  At the same time according to the biography written by Richard Docter, Christine was also making unsubstantiated claims to being physically intersex.

Both were making these claims at a time prior to Dr. Georges Burou development of the pioneering surgical techniques that gave those who graduated from Le Carousel their vaginas.

But more importantly these two were the pioneers of what has now become the infamous, “I’m real and you are not” trash talking among women born with transsexualism who had similar if not identical sex change operations.

And this claim is documented not speculative thanks to biographies and ghost written “autobiographies”.

11 Responses to “Christine Jorgensen and Roberta Cowell”

  1. Willow Arune Says:

    April Ashley moved to the USA and lived in California for a time, until rising medical expenses drove her back to Europe. She is now in France and still a most wonderful lady. She does have a Facebook page and I understand gifts of Liverpool herring are still appreciated!!!

  2. Caroline Says:

    I too saw that film and bad as it was it told me I was not alone and something could be done about it. sadly not in the part of the world where I sought help! So started 35 years of misery.

    Caroline xx

    • Suzan Says:

      I’m always curious when I hear help was not available in the late 1960s and 1970s.

      It was a time before the backlash and the pathologizing of the whole thing. A time when we were creating the language to describe our needs. It was an era of liberation not only in the US but elsewhere as well.

  3. tinagrrl Says:

    I was 13 when Christine’s story hit the N.Y. newspapers. It was fascinating, and gave me the feeling I was not totally alone in the feelings I had.

    As I grew older, I started looking around for folks who were like me, or sort of like me. I really wasn’t sure WHAT I was — I never liked boys, never wanted to have sex with boys, and I really liked girls — including all the sex stuff.

    How could I be trans-anything? (remember, I was 17, a freshman in College, I liked girls, drank way too much, and this was 1957. As has been said, a “sex change” was like early space flight).

    Then I went to work in a family business, married, became a real drunk — left all that behind — “ran away from home” at 30 (1969) and never quite managed to “join the circus”.

    It wasn’t that I did not know, or could not find a way — that would have taken care of itself — it was FEAR — pure and simple. It was total FEAR.

    I was not really very capable of caring for myself — I even ended up homeless before it was fashionable. My drinking was totally out of control —- I was a total mess.

    It was only after I was sober for over ten years, after I actually discovered I could function, after I was aging, and realized I’d thrown away my life, my promise, that I went forward with transition and SRS.

    The absolute best decision I’ve ever made. It was FREEDOM. I was finally myself. No longer attempting to live the life someone else planned for me, or that society said I “should” be. I was finally me.

    Please remember — the important word was FEAR.

  4. M Italiano Says:

    Dear Suzan, We have disagreed before. So let me have it.
    April Ashley was also reported as being intersexed. She had claimed to have a feminizing puberty (in regards to secondary sex characteristics). Prof. Mills
    testified as to this. “In his opinion, patients in whom the balance between male and female hormones is abnormal should be regarded as cases of inter-sex, and he considers that there is sufficient evidence to justify the view that the respondent is an example of this condition.” (From W v W decision). Prof. Mills also wrote in March 1970 in The Lancet that “since I believe” the patient’s testimony about her breasts developing spontaneously, I believe that an artificial vagina “was created in an intersexed individual”, something we often ask “specialists like Professor Dewhurst” to do.

    As you know, Caroline Cossey (Tula) has an XXXY karyotype and is intersexed. She wrote about it in My Story.

    Someone named Chloe was featured on American television recently. She was the father of two boys and after a bee sting and an immunological reaction, it was found that she was a mosaic for Klinefelter’s syndrome (XXY/XY) and began to spontaneously feminize.

    So Suzan, please let me know what you think of the cases of April, Caroline, and Chloe.

    Thanks, M

    • Suzan Says:

      Actually April’s statement was one of wondering if. As for Tula’s karyotypes again I am skeptical.

      I can look at my own body and fantasize that same sort of thing.

      That does not make me intersex. Intersex is a vastly over used and much abused term.

      At any rate the diagnosis on my surgery report is transsexualism. Just as it is on all of our surgery reports prior to 1980 although more recently it may be GID.

      The whole I’m not transsexual, I’m really intersexed is fantasy role playing. Particularly since transsexualism itself is probably innate just as heterosexuality and homosexuality are.

  5. Andrea B. Says:

    April Ashley wondered if there was something more to her transsexualism, but did not say there was as she had no idea how to go about getting any tests or what to test for.

    As for Tula’s book. Her story about how she got her breast implants gives a lot away. As reliable a source as someone who practices herbalism and alternative medicine or as reliable as fox news report.

    Chloe had a spontaeous sex reasignment surgery and facial feminisation surgery at the hands of Dr. Suporn. As spontaneous goes. That was pretty fast, 8 to 12 hours all in, on an operating table.

  6. Ishtar Says:

    Hello M Italiano

    No Caroline Cossey was diagnosed with Klinefelters (XXY). So I am unsure of where you got the additional X chromsome from. Also in the UK her diagnosis was actually a bar to her getting the legal recognition she had been seeking.

    you said:

    “Someone named Chloe was featured on American television recently. She was the father of two boys and after a bee sting and an immunological reaction, it was found that she was a mosaic for Klinefelter’s syndrome (XXY/XY) and began to spontaneously feminize.”

    Not wanting to sound all Cheryl, but is there any scientific documantation of someone with Klinefelters, fathering children, then getting stung by a bee and then managing to grow ovaries, uterus etc? You can see my problem with this I am sure. What I am saying is that the reality is often less miraculous as the media portray it and often they drag known intersex variations into the debate where a lot of urban myth then starts to appear.

  7. Willow Arune Says:

    Hmmm. Seems to me I ran into this Italiano fellow before…

    As I recall, his credentials are from an other discipline and he works with a “clinic” on Brazil that does SRS therapy by e-mail. To me he was a snake oil salesman, dressed up in genderspeak…

  8. Suzan Says:

    Oddly enough it seems as some of the most fervent arguments of people proclaiming to be intersex and really being more female than even long time post-SRS women are coming from people who not only are not transitioned but are “unable” to take hormones etc.

    One hears stories regarding tremoras and other claims that seem right out of science fiction.

    One person (from New Zealand) claimed Dr. Money mutilated her (in New Zealand), denouncing him to a sympathetic audience of nodding “intersex not transsexual” sycophants.

    I became an extremely hostile and abusive person simply by pointing out that no matter what his many short comings were Dr. Money was with Johns Hopkins Medical Center for his entire career and that JHMC is in Baltimore, a long way from New Zealand. Also he was a psychologist not a surgeon and spent most of his time researching and writing not treating patients.

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