In one of only two articles on trans issues published in the Berkeley underground feminist magazine, It Ain’t Me, Babe, the editors offer a review of the movie The Christine Jorgensen Story. This story actually manages to strike a more tolerant tone towards trans people than their other story, published six months later. However, that’s for a given value of tolerant–in this article as well, the editors reject the basic idea that trans identities are valid.
Christine Jorgensen (who was assuredly not “the first transsexual,” although she was one of the earliest people to have a high profile medical transition) is–contrary to what the editors seem to believe–a trans woman. The narrative the article gives seems sympathetic in places, but it persistently refers to Christine Jorgensen as a man, going so far to say: “What on earth could have motivated George’s intense longing to be female? Why did he envy the humiliating position of the women surrounding him?” Although politics around trans issues had certainly not advanced to the point they are today, in the 70s, people who knew about trans issues still generally knew that refusing to use a trans person’s chosen name, or referring to them as not their actual gender, was inappropriate. The assumption that Christine Jorgensen is not already, actually a woman is characteristic of Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism, which had its roots in the 1970s.
The editors of It Ain’t Me, Babe do so anyway, for a very simple reason: they are not interested in transgender issues or struggles. They don’t believe transgender issues or struggles really exist. They’re only interested in the story of Christine Jorgensen, and trans people in general, to the extent that it allows them to analyze sexism, and the plight of cisgender women. Thus, the editors agree with Jorgensen at a few points, but only the ones that already agree with their positions about male domination. I actually suspect that some of the editor’s analysis of sexism in The Christine Jorgensen Story, especially with regards to the position of the cisgender women, is accurate. It would fall well within general sexist norms of showing women at the time, and actually, Christine Jorgensen remains to this day a controversial figure within the trans community for endorsing a very limited and assimilationist idea of trans identity, one hyperfocused on passing and conforming to gender norms.
This article also discusses the medicalization of trans people–apparently a major feature of the movie was the details of her transition. An intense focus on trans people’s medical transition remains common to this day–something many trans people dislike for dehumanizing them, and for often keeping out people who have not or do not intend to medically transition. It Ain’t Me, Babe also takes issue with this, although it does so not for those reasons, but because they see ideas about transgender identity being a medical phenomenon (or, probably, existing) as essentializing gender in a way they see counter to feminist goals. Which, in the way the movie was presented, it probably did. But that doesn’t give the editors an excuse for their attitude toward trans identities in general.