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Lili Elbe
(1886 - 1931) Denmark

Lili Elbe



Lili Elbe was born Einar Wegener in 1886, and was identified as male at the time of her birth. Her given name was Einar Wegener and she lived most of her life as a man. As a man ahe became an accomplished artist, but abandoned her profession following sex reassignment suregry.

Wegener married Gerda, also a painter. The first time that Wegener cross-dressed was a favour to Gerda, who needed a female model to pose for ome of her portraits. After cross-dressing, Wegener became convinced she had another personality - a female one. She consulted two physicians, both of whom diagnosed her as homosexual. A third physician dignodes her as intersexed and claimed she had rudimentary female sex organs.

Elbe traveled to Germany for sex reassignment surgery, while she was living as Lili Elbe, while living with her wife and life-long companion Gerda Wegener, and had surgery and full time transition in early 1930. Her marriage to Gerda was invalidated by the King of Denmark in October of 1930.

Outed in the press, she may have faked her death in 1931, or may have really died only months after her fifth operation, an operation that she hoped would allow her to have intercourse with the man to whom she was engaged to be married... Her story is told in frank and loving terms in her book, Man Into Woman, edited by Niels Hoyer, 1933.

Both Lili and her partner, and legal wife before her surgery, Gerda Wegener, were well known painters and illustrators. But Gerda had far better commercial success and is still recognized today as one of the leading Art Deco artists of the early twentieth century. Her book and magazine illustrations included both high fashion, acceptable in the most polite society, and lesbian and straight erotica. Lili was one of Gerda's favorite models, wearing women's high fashion or nude. As a fashion designer in Paris, Gerda was influential in setting fashion trends. It is amusing to consider that the 1920's small breasted feminine ideal may have been influenced by Lili's figure.

Lili ElbeLili lived a double life for nearly two decades, in her '20s & '30s... often attending parties, balls, and socials as Lili. Although her closer friends were aware of this double life most aquaintences were not. Lili entertained visitors at her apartment, presenting as Lili for days at stretch. Lili gained many admirers due partly to her vivacious personality, when presenting as Lili, and her modeling for Gerda's art. She even received an offer of marriage from a minor nobleman some years before her surgery. However, Lili was legally then male and already married to Gerda... facts not known to her suiter. After surgery, legal sex change, and marriage invalidation, an old friend and long time admirer, offered for her hand.

Lili was almost certainly intersexed. But it is unclear exactly of what type. She certainly had feminine body and facial features that allowed her to pass as a young woman better than she passed as a man. When presenting in public as a man she was often taken for a young woman masquerading as a man in trousers! Hormonal assays taken just before her first surgery indicated more female than male hormones present. It is likely that she had XXY sex chromosome karyotype (Klinefelter's Syndrome) a condition not medically recognized until 1942.

Lili was under the care of Dr. Warnekros of the Dresden Women's Clinic. Warnekros was a pionering gynocologist. All of Lili's surgeries were of a very experimental nature. Her first surgery removed her male genitals. This first surgery was performed in Berlin after Lili was examined by the famous pioneering sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld. Her second surgery, performed by Warnekros, was to transplant healthy ovaries into her abdomen.

A third operation, purpose unspecified, was performed a short time later. An emergency surgery was performed some weeks later, in response to severe abdominal pain, that probably was the removal of the rejected ovaries. Earlier reviews of Lili's case in transsexual research liturature left one with the impression that she died as a result of complications from the failed ovarian transplant... However her reported death was not until over a year and a half later, three months after her fifth operation intended to allow her to "be a mother".

Throughout the book, written by Lili, but edited by Neils Hoyer, she uses psuedonyms for everybody. She uses as her birth name, Andreas Sparre. Her partner Gerda is given the name Grete. Dr. Warnekros becomes Dr. Werner Kreutz. Magnus Hirschfeld becomes Dr. Hardingfeld. Still to be deciphered are Dr. Arns and the Berlin surgeon, Professor Gebhard (Dr. Arns might possibly be Dr. Felix Abraham, the pioneering surgeon, known to have performed SRS in Berlin during this time.)

The work Man into Woman, and the history of Elbe, remain important to the history of sexuality because of the distinctions they make between sexual orientation amd gender orientation, and is one of the first popular works published that claimed that there are men who believe they are women, yet are not homosexual.


Source: Excerpst from Kay Brown's biography
and from Aldrich R. & Wotherspoon G., Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History, from Antiquity to WWII, Routledge, London, 2001

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