The Danish Girl: Lili Elbe

The Danish Girl, the world-renowned book by author David Ebershoff, is about to be made into a movie. It will star Nicole Kidman and Rachel Weiss as the two leads of this story. The book itself is gradually coming to the forefront of discussions in the LGBT community and academic circles. However, just what is the story behind this story?

This is the story of Lili Elbe, a lady from Denmark, the first person to undergo a sex reassignment surgery. She is also slowly becoming an icon for trans women, and the interest in her story has begun to grow.

Lili Elbe was originally born and christened Einar Wegener, who presented as male for most of her life and had a successful career as an artist under that name. She later met and wed Gerda Gottlieb, a fellow artist who soon discovered Lili’s true gender, and accepted it wholey.

Lili was “born” out of chance encounter. Gerda’s model for the day came late, and Gerda asked Einar to dress in her model’s clothes just so that she could get the body structure right. After dressing up and assuming the pose, Einar discovered that this was quite comfortable for him, and from then on, continued to pose as Gerda’s model for many of her paintings.  Thu, the sleepy-eyed beauty prevalent in many of Gerda Gottlieb Wegener’s paintings was in truth Lili – her husband.

In the 1920s, Lili began presenting herself regularly as a woman, attending festivities and entertaining guests at home as herself. A decade later, she went to Germany to undergo sex transplant surgery in five sessions, which was still a very experimental procedure at the time.

Lili died of a transplant rejection. This was caused by the transfer of a uterus, which would have allowed her to become a mother.

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