Jorgensen? Jurgensen? Or was the ending “-son”? I wasn’t sure of the name I was looking for, a name I hazily remembered from my grade school years.
He had been described in the newspapers as an ex-Army paratrooper, and I thought he had had some connection to Sweden. One more thing about the guy: He wanted to be a woman and was searching for doctors to perform surgery to that end.
In my fifth-grade view, there were certain things that were immutable and everlasting, one of them being a person’s sex. (The word “gender,” a linguistic term referring to many things besides a person’s sex, had not yet been co-opted as a euphemism for one’s biological sex.)
In my mind, there was a double yellow line that separated males and females, a line most clearly exemplified in my K-12 years by separate bathrooms and separate gym classes for girls and boys. Crossing the double yellow line in either case meant a trip to the principal’s office, a trip neither I nor my friends ever made.
Inept on the computer, I squandered much time searching all over the Internet before I finally remembered Wikipedia: George William Jorgensen Jr., a guy in New York City who graduated from high school in 1945, was drafted in the closing moments of WWII, then announced in the early 1950s that he wanted to be a woman.
Christine Jorgensen returned from Copenhagen in 1953 and “sex change” became a topic of discussion and jokes (“He went abroad and came back a broad.”), alongside flying saucers, the Red Menace, the indomitable New York Yankees, and television. She became a nightclub act, eased into obscurity and died, largely forgotten, in LA in 1989. At one point in her life, she had become engaged to a young man, but they were refused a marriage license because – this might sound familiar – their birth certificates stated they were both males; it was illegal in New York at that time for two people of the same sex to marry.
Did someone once say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”? I disagree.
The idea that the unchangeable could change – “the cat doth bark, the dog meows” or “day is night and night is day” – was an early way to voice confusion and frustration and, because it expressed changes in the Creator’s never- changing world, could be viewed as a form of cursing or swearing. Today we merely say, “WTF?” and get on with it, taking most changes in stride. Black people used to be ordered to sit in the back of the bus; now one sits in the Oval Office. Women were once barred from voting; now one aims to succeed to that same Oval Office. Nowadays, hope for acceptance of transgenders seems elusive until one takes the long view. Society will rearrange the double yellow line in this matter, as it always has.
Did someone once say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”? I disagree. The more things change … well, get used to it. In a span shorter than a human lifetime, we’ve gone from expressing our nervous uncertainty about the singular life of Christine Jorgensen to accepting the fully displayed life of Caitlyn Jenner, and from the term “sex change” to our present-day, if grammatically suspect, “transgender.”
They’ve become a hot topic in North Carolina, though my opinion is that the danger our conservative thinkers find in these gentle people is hardly worth the bother. Furthermore, I believe all this bother will eventually work itself out and transgenders will enjoy the acceptance now enjoyed by all those other “dangerous” folks once separated from the rest of us by a double yellow line.
William E. “Bill” Kirk lives in Chapel Hill.