Archive » March 27, 2008
By Terri Schlichenmeyer, Contributing Writer
“Becoming a Woman:
A Biography of Christine Jorgensen”
by Richard F. Docter, M.D.
c.2007, Harrington Park Press, an imprint of Haworth Press, Inc.
$49.95 hardcover, $19.95 paperback; same in Canada 355 pages, includes index
If you were to sit down and write your biography, how much of it would be embellishment?
Would you add a few details here and there, telling the truth as you saw it, making a better story, making yourself look good? Or would you strive to tell the truth and nothing but?
In the new book “Becoming a Woman: A Biography of Christine Jorgensen” by Richard F, Docter, M.D., you’ll read about the world’s first celebrity transsexual — what she said about herself, the real story, and everything in between.
When George Jorgensen became the woman re-named Christine some 50 years ago, she made headlines around the world. Author Richard Docter said he sat next to Christine Jorgensen by chance one evening at a banquet several years ago, and since he is a behavioral psychologist, he wanted to know how Jorgensen felt about modern transsexuals and cross-dressers.
She didn’t give him much more than a few breezy statements. Docter decided to learn more. What he found was a series of contradictions.
Although Christine’s 1967 biography indicates that George was a socially rejected loner, many people remembered him to be popular and well-liked. Others that Docter interviewed said George was “different” (remember — this was the 1940s) and that he was teased mercilessly.
George vehemently denied being gay and rarely dated women, although it appeared that he wanted to. He admitted to friends that he liked men “as a woman does” and he had homosexual relationships. Ultimately, he decided that living as a woman — becoming a woman — was what he wanted most. He went to Denmark; ostensibly for vacation, but, in actuality, for surgery.
But George’s gender wasn’t all that changed.
The almost-reclusive George came back to America as Christine, an outgoing beauty with style and grace. George eschewed attention; Christine thrived on it. George seemed almost shy; Christine reached for publicity. The tabloids went wild.
In the end, though, Christine Jorgensen could not escape George Jorgensen.
Although a little dry, “Becoming a Woman” is fascinating, not because of what author Richard F. Docter tells us about Jorgensen, but because of what he can’t tell us. He’s obviously dug deep into the life of the woman that intrigued him, but Christine was a chameleon of sorts. Since different people knew her in different ways, we may never know her entire story.
On the other hand, the problem with reading this book as a true bio is that it’s almost too methodical. Some pizzazz would have gone far to make this book more interesting; instead, it reads more like a medical treatise and less like a biography of a beguiling celebrity who brought the subject of sex reassignment into the living rooms of everyday Americans more than half a century ago.
Overlook the aridness of this book, and you’ll be rewarded with a peek into the (possible) life of a woman who still has the power to captivate, nearly twenty years after her death. If you want something more lively and chatty, though, truthfully — you’d be better off with another bio.