In one of our previous posts, we focused on Lili Elbe, one of Denmark’s most celebrated trans women, as well as the first one to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Let’s now focus on The first person who helped Einar Wegener discover Lili, and who put Lili on the path to growth: Gerda Gottlieb Wegener, wife, artist, companion.
Gerda was first born on March 15, 1886 to a clergyman and a quiet, rural life, but later on moved to Copenhagen to continue her education. She enrolled in the Royal Art academy, where she met fellow illustrator Einar Wegener. In time, the couple discovered each other’s secrets: Gerda was lesbian, and Einar was a trans woman. They later moved to Paris in 1912 and continued their open relationship – Einar, now Lili, was free to present herself as female in public and was free to entertain guests at home as herself more often, and Gerda was likewise free to continue her Sapphic relationships. At times, Gerda would introduce Lili to her friends and acquaintances as her sister.
The marriage was convenient as it was liberating for the two of them. Lili and Gerda continued to illustrate covers for magazines such as Vogue, La Vie Parisienne, and Fantasio. In addition, Lili showed her support of her conjugal partner by toning down her work so that Gerda’s work would take center stage. In turn, Gerda supported Lili throughout her transition surgeries.
In 1930, King Christian X declared Lili and Gerda’s marriage null and void. Gerda went on to marry an Italian officer, Major Fernando “Nando” Porta, and moved to Morocco with him. A decade later, Gerda learned of Lili’s death, and uttered “My poor, little Lily.”