Carlett Angianlee Brown

You remember the story of Christine Jorgensen — the first American to have gender confirmation surgery. It was a pretty joyful story of fame and success.Well,¬†we’re going to talk about the woman who might have been the first African-American woman to have gender confirmation surgery. It’s a very different story.

Carlett Angianlee Brown was born around the year 1927 and originally named “Charles Robert Brown“. She joined the navy in 1950. Another reason she had for joining up was to receive medical treatment — she had a problem where every month she had rectal bleeding, as well as regularly occurring nosebleeds. The doctors examining her diagnosed her with the “serious mental illness” of wanting to be a woman — and also discovered she had female glands. Turned out she was intersex (and yet still, wanting to be a woman was a “serious mental illness” because sexism). The doctors recommended having the female glands surgically removed — but she had other plans. She gave herself the name Carlett and began working professionally as a female impersonator, and also earned money by selling her blood and plasma.

She began researching sex reassignment surgery (as it was called then). At the time, Christine Jorgensen had recently become a household name so Carlett wrote to Jorgensen’s doctor Christian Hamburger as well as two other doctors in Europe. She was advised she would need to renounce her U.S. citizenship to undergo the surgeries unless she received special permission from the government (as Jorgensen had from the Danish Prime Minster). That special permission was denied to Brown.

At some point during this research phase, Brown had begun a relationship with a G.I. stationed in Germany named Eugene Martin. She devised a plan to go to Germany, become a citizen there, and marry Eugene. She is quoted as saying “I just want to become a woman as quickly as possible, that’s all. I’ll become a citizen of any country that will allow me the treatment that I need and be operated on.”

And so she applied for her passport and made plans to have a check-up with Dr. Hamburger in Bonn, Germany in August of 1953. She headed to Boston, signed papers in the Danish consulate to renounce her U.S. citizenship.

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Carlett Angianlee Brown described in JET Magazine

And then things took a turn. Brown had been living as Carlett for some time by now, dressing and living as a woman. But cross-dressing was illegal in the United States and the Boston police arrested her and kept her in jail overnight. She was not deterred but she did postpone her trip to Europe to go to New York to have a $500 feminizing facelift done in order to avoid any further arrests.

And then she got hit with news from the IRS that she owed more than $1200 in unpaid back taxes. Brown couldn’t afford that, but a friend helped her get a job as a cook at a frat house at Iowa State. The job paid $60 a week. She intended to work that job and save until she had paid off the back taxes and paid her way to Europe so she could have her surgery and marry Eugene.

And that is the last thing anyone seems to know. There is no record of whether or not Brown ever made it to Europe, ever had her surgery, or ever married. All of this seems to come from a series of (brief, and not exactly kind) articles in issues of JET magazine and that’s as far as the articles go. I can’t find any other sources, any other information. So, sorry to leave you all on a cliffhanger but at least we’re all suffering together here.

(Adapted from this Facebook post.)

Christine Jorgensen

Christine_Jorgensen_1954Christine Jorgensen was the first US citizen to receive gender reassignment surgery (or, gender confirmation surgery, as we call it now). She was born May 30, 1936 in the Bronx, New York and given the name George William Jorgensen Jr.

In 1945 she graduated high school and was drafted into the army. She served in World War II. After the war she attended Mohawk Valley Community College, the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, and the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School.

At some point after returning home from the war, she learned about gender reassignment surgery and decided that was something she wanted to pursue. Guided by Dr. Joseph Angelo, the husband of a classmate at the Manhattan Mental and Dental Assistant School, she learned everything she could about the surgery. At the time, the only doctors who would perform the surgery were in Sweden. While traveling there, she met a Dr. Christian Hamburger who specialized in rehabilitative hormone therapy. Christine opted to stay in Denmark a have hormone replacement therapy with Dr. Hamburger. She ultimately chose the name Christine for herself in Dr. Hamburger’s honor.

Christine managed to get special permission from the Danish government to undergo the surgeries she was seeking at a hospital in Copenhagen. On October 8, 1951 — only partially through the series of surgeries — she wrote a letter to friends in the United States where she stated:

“As you can see by the enclosed photos, taken just before the operation, I have changed a great deal. But it is the other changes that are so much more important. Remember the shy, miserable person who left America? Well, that person is no more and, as you can see, I’m in marvelous spirits.”

After her second surgery (a penectomy), she returned to the United States where she would eventually get vaginoplasty, with the help of Dr. Angelo, once it was permitted in the country.

7-christine-jorgensen-ap_540806029On December 1, 1952, the New York Daily News put Christine on their front page with the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell: Operations Transform Bronx Youth”. The article claimed that Christine was the first person to receive a “sex change”. Because of this article, Christine became an instant celebrity — and Christine used this platform to speak up on behalf of transgender people everywhere.

After her vaginoplasty, Christine tried to marry twice. First, she became engaged to a labor union statistician named John Traub, but the engagement was called off. In 1959 she got engaged to a typist named Howard J. Knox. Knox lost his job when news of the engagement became public — and their request for a marriage license was denied because Christine was still legally considered a man.

Christine began working as an actress and a nightclub performer — noted for singing songs like “I Enjoy Being a Girl”. One of her performances was recorded and is available on iTunes — or so I’m told by Wikipedia; I haven’t checked yet but I did check Spotify and it definitely is not there. (Though I did find a song called “Christine” by a Jimmy Jorgensen but I’m really sure there’s no connection.) She toured and spoke at college campuses throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, giving transgender people even greater visibility.

In 1989, Christine stated that she had given the sexual revolution a “good swift kick in the pants”. She passed away on May 3 of that year due to bladder and lung cancer. In 2012, she was inducted into the Legacy Walk.

(Adapted from this Facebook post.)