When Lily McBeth, died in New Jersey in September 2014, there was still the controversy of transgenderhood.   Lily McBeth was born William McBeth.  Although he had a successful life as a husband and father and medical equipment salesman, he yearned to become a woman.  After his divorce and his retirement, he underwent a sex change at age 70 years old.  How courageous to endure surgery of any type at an advanced age.

He became Lily McBeth and tried substitute teacher, a profession he tried for several years before William became Lily McBeth.  But the same school system that rated him outstanding decided to reject him.   Lily McBeth was successful in legally changing her birth certificate to use her female name.  However, it was very difficult for her to gain employment in the teaching field.

A century earlier, in December 1952, the New York Daily News printed a front page story about a man named George Jorgensen who became Christine Jorgensen after a sex change operation in Denmark. Christine Jorgensen was born in the Bronx, New York streets where crime was prevalent.   As George Jorgensen, he was bullied by the boys who the neighborhood because he was a frail, blond and shy little boy.  George was drafted into the US Army in 1945 and, although he was honorably discharged, George was concerned about his so-called “lack of male physical development.”

He flew to Copenhagen Denmark in 1951 to visit his relatives and during this visit, he met Dr. Christian Hamburger who advised him to begin hormone replacement therapy.  On September 24, 1951, the first surgery was performed—it was termed an orchiectomy.  In November 1952, thirteen months after the first procedure, a penectomy was performed at Copenhagen University Hospital.  When George Jorgensen returned to the US, it was official — she was Christine Jorgensen and her first name was dedicated to Dr. Christian Hamburger.

In a letter, Jorgensen proclaimed to her friends: “My second operation, as the previous one, was not such a major work of surgery as it may imply.”

With the help of Dr. Joseph  Angelo, a doctor in New York City, Christine had more surgery in the US .  He was the husband of his classmate  at the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School, Christine Jorgensen eventually obtained a vaginoplasty.

Christine Jorgensen became a spokesperson for transgender issues.   She influenced other transgenders to change their sex on birth certificates and to change their names.

What is sexuality?   What determines sexual identity? A set binary, that is, one can be only female or male, was questionable, especially after 1952 when George became Christine Jorgensen.  Traditional genders used to be considered a permanent designation.  No longer.   The new “psychological sex” designation may not be the  same   as biology, i.e. the biological sex designation.

Christine (aka George) Jorgensen is a part of the American sexual revolution.  Lily McBeth in 2014 died but the controversy over same-sex marriages and transgenders continues.


October 20, 2014

Zisa Moglen