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Justine Valinotti Headshot

From Christine Jorgensen to Jan Morris

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Omikron Omikron via Getty Images
Omikron Omikron via Getty Images

On one of my blogs I've written a few posts -- and plan to write more -- about what I call the lost generation of transgenders. In this blog post I'm going to talk about something related: specifically, two of the world's best-known male-to-female transsexuals. One of them was at the vanguard of the first generation of transsexuals, while the other was its rearguard, or perhaps on the front line of the following generation.

I am speaking of Christine Jorgensen and Jan Morris. In reading an article about the latter, I found out that she's 87 years old and, interestingly, was born only five months after Ms. Jorgensen.

The reason that those facts are intriguing (at least to me) is that Jorgensen, being one of the first trans women to become publicly known, conformed completely to the gender norms of her time, perhaps even more so than most cisgender women did, while Jan Morris was able to define her own womanhood and femaleness to a much greater degree than Jorgensen could or would have.

Although they were born in the same year, they underwent their surgeries two decades apart. The fact that gender roles had changed between 1952 and 1972 cannot be overstated. What's even more important, though, is the way that the generational difference affected Jorgensen's and Morris' paths to living as women.

Jorgensen began her transition just after World War II, in which she served as a soldier. She had even fewer precedents than did Morris, let alone me or transsexuals of my generation. And because the Internet was decades away, accessing information about hormones and surgery and accounts of transgender people was even more laborious than it would later be.

That may be one of the reasons that she modeled herself after the ideals of femaleness -- or, more precisely, femininity -- that prevailed in the immediate postwar years. She studied to be a nurse because that was one of the few career options available to women of that time. Her mannerisms, dress and lifestyle were in line with what was considered "ladylike." While she may have had the natural physical features to become the Marilyn Monroe-like blonde bombshell she would become, it's hard not to think that she also did everything she could to enhance and maintain that image, especially after she found herself working as an entertainer. Finally, she married a man and followed him in moves to suburban Long Island and southern California.

Morris, on the other hand, did not begin her transition until 1964. By then, treatments -- and, some would argue, societal notions about womanhood -- were more advanced. Perhaps even more importantly, she had already established herself as a historian and travel writer and had been married for 15 years when she began her transition. In fact, she went to Morocco for her surgery, which Dr. George Bourou performed, because in her native England she would not be allowed to have her surgery unless she divorced her wife, something she wasn't prepared to do at the time. They eventually did divorce, but they remained in contact and reunited in a civil union in 2008.

Christine Jorgensen died nearly two decades before Morris' union was consummated. She was just three weeks short of 63 years old. Somehow I have the feeling that the lurid jokes and other ridicule and ostracism directed at her shortened her life. That's not to say that Morris had an easy time, but even she has admitted that she didn't have to endure what Jorgensen and other early transsexuals experienced.

I don't know how much longer Morris has in this world. Whatever the amount of time may be, I hope young trans people learn more about her and the way that she was a bridge between two generations of trans people who made their lives and mine possible.