LGBT Movies: The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970)

Christine Jorgensen was a photographer, a military clerk, and one of the first Americans to have gender confirmation surgery. When she was outed to the press, she leveraged it into a singing career. She used her platform to educate and advocate for trans rights. In 1967 she published her autobiography. In 1970 it was adapted to film. Sadly, The Christine Jorgensen Story is a campy melodrama. We get broad performances, klunky dialogue, and a treacly score. The film wants to support and exploit her in equal measure. The bright spots are her loving aunt and accepting (if condescending) boyfriend. It’s heartwarming to see her find love and respect in a prejudiced time.

I’ll summarize the plot in this spoiler filled recap. Trigger warning for transphobia and attempted assault.

Biopic Tropes

Scene One: Childhood
JORGENSEN: Looking back, there were always signs.
DAD: Our kid punched a bully! I’m so proud!
MOM: Our kid is also playing with dolls.
DAD: It’s a phase. They’ll outgrow it.  

Scene Two: Young Adulthood
JORGENSEN: Then I got a job as a fashion photographer.
BIGOTED MODEL: I hate this hat! You gays make women look terrible!
SLEAZY GAY MANAGER: Don’t mind her Jorgensen. Sleep with me and I’ll give you a promotion.
JORGENSEN: Back off! (Shoves the manager away and flees.)
NICE MODEL: You’re a talented photographer. You don’t need to work for him.
JORGENSEN: Thanks. You’re the first person in this movie to be nice to me.

Scene Three: Copenhagen
JORGENSEN: I’m not a gay man. I’m a woman. But no American doctor will take me seriously.
DOCTOR: That’s because Americans are repressed. Here in Copenhagen we’ve been studying gender confirmation surgery. Let me give a lecture to the audience on how it works.
JORGENSEN: After some off-screen deliberation, I’m ready to begin.
DOCTOR: Then let’s have a montage!
JORGENSEN: There’s an awful lot of nudity in these scenes. It’s starting to feel exploitive.
DOCTOR: Do you want to sell your movie or not?

Scene Four: Back Home
DAD: What do I say to her?
PASTOR: Remember, she’s the same person she always was. You haven’t lost anyone.
MOM: That’s awfully progressive of you pastor.
PASTOR: And in my next sentence I’ll compare trans people to folks with cerebral palsy.
MOM: Maybe quit while you’re ahead.

Scene Five: Back in Copenhagen
JORGENSEN: Thanks for the makeover cool aunt. But why the bad wig? The real Christine was stylish.
COOL AUNT: We’re on a budget.
HOT REPORTER: Someone at the passport office outed you to the press. They’ll ambush you at the airport. Why not give me an exclusive interview? Take control of the narrative? Also we should totally date.
JORGENSEN: But I’m so meek and shy. How could I possibly… Wait a minute. The real Christine was bold and articulate. Why are they writing me like this?
HOT REPORTER: It makes you sympathetic to a cishet audience in 1970.
JORGENSEN: Does it though?
HOT REPORTER: Let’s kiss. (They do.)



We didn’t start the sexual revolution but I think we gave it a good kick in the pants!

Christine Jorgensen

Early trans narratives hit many of the same beats. Cis actors in heavy prosthetics. Traumatic scenes of rejection and bullying. Coming out or being outed. And a post transition makeover where they rebuild their life. Here are some other examples.   

Adam Is… Eve (1954). This French farce sees a trans woman undergo gender confirmation surgery, build a support system, and find romance with a trans man. The antagonist is her disapproving father. But he’s a paper tiger. The film doesn’t quite understand the situation. But it allows joy at a time when most films were punishing LGBT coded characters.

I Want What I Want (1972). Dour British film about a trans woman who is driven to self-harm. The sort of tragedy that makes old queer cinema hard to watch. A time jump adds a sliver of hope at the very end.

Second Serve (1986). Vanessa Redgrave plays trans athlete Renée Richards. The film is on Renée’s side. But it puts her through 85 minutes of trauma before granting her some happiness. Her “friends” are much crueler to her than Christine’s are in her film. On the flip side, Redgrave is allowed to play the role with confidence. Richards stands up for herself at every opportunity.

My Life in Pink (1997). France again. A family falls apart when their youngest child comes out as trans. The kid gives a nuanced performance. It’s painful to watch them suffer abuse. But the film is more concerned with the adult characters’ feelings.

It’s a long way from The Christine Jorgensen Story to Pose. These films were stepping stones along the way. I can’t recommend them as entertainment. But they make a compelling study. For some better rep check out my article on trans short films here. Or the 2023 Tony Awards ceremony.

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