Lili Elbe (28 December 1882 – 13 September 1931) was a possibly intersexed person and one of the first identifiable recipients of male to female sex reassignment surgery. Elbe was born in Denmark. Born as Einar Mogens Wegener, she presented as male for most of her life and was a successful artist with that name. After transitioning, however, she took the name Lili (some sources state Lily) Elbe.
Elbe's year of birth is sometimes stated as 1886. This appears to be from the book about her, which has some facts changed to protect the identities of the persons involved. Factual references to Gerda Gottlieb's life indicate that the 1882 date is correct as they clearly married while at college in 1904.
Lili and Gerda 
Lili met Gerda Gottlieb at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and they married in 1904, when Lili was 22 and Gerda 19. The two of them worked as illustrators, with Lili specializing in landscape paintings while Gerda illustrated books and fashion magazines.
They both traveled through Italy and France, eventually settling in Paris in 1912, where Lili could live openly as a woman and Gerda could be actively lesbian. Lili Elbe received Neuhausens prize in 1907 and exhibited at Kunstnernes Efteraarsudstilling (the Artists Fall Exhibition), Vejle Art Museum and in the Saloon and Salon d'Automme in Paris. She is represented at Vejle Art Museum in Denmark.
Lili Elbe was "born" one day while filling in for Gerda's absentee model; Gerda asked Lili to wear stockings and heels so that she could substitute Einar's legs for those of her model. Lili felt surprisingly comfortable in the clothing. Over time, Gerda became famous for her paintings of beautiful women with haunting almond-shaped eyes dressed in chic fashions. In approximately 1913, the unsuspecting public was shocked to discover that the model who had inspired Gerda's depictions of petite femmes fatales was in fact Lili.
After that, in the 1920s and 1930s Wegener regularly presented as a woman, attending various festivities and entertained guests in her house as Lili Elbe. One of the things Lili liked to do was to disappear, wearing her modeling fashions into the streets of Paris in the throngs of revelers during the Carnival. Only her closest friends knew that she was transsexual and to others, Elbe was introduced by Gerda as Einar's sister.
The rest of Elbe's surgeries were carried out by Dr. Kurt Warnekros in the Dresden Municipal Women's Clinic. The second operation was to remove the penis, and transplant ovaries, which were taken from a 26-year-old woman. These were soon removed in a third then fourth operation, due to rejection and other serious complications. The fifth operation was to transplant a uterus and was intended to allow Elbe, then nearing the age of 50, to become a mother. She soon after died of transplant rejection.
Gender identity 
It is believed that Elbe was probably intersexed; and may have had Klinefelter's Syndrome or some other SRY gene transfer condition. As most of the known intersex conditions were not formally identified until after Lili's death, it is difficult to be exact. She certainly had a 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.
A Dresden doctor claimed to have noticed rudimentary ovaries and pre-operative blood tests indicated large amounts of female hormones at the expense of the male ones. During surgery, evidence of both male and female organs were found within her body.
Legal identity 
At the time of Elbe's surgery her case was already a sensation in newspapers of Denmark and Germany. The King of Denmark invalidated the Wegeners' marriage in October 1930, and Elbe managed to get her sex and name legally changed, including receiving a passport as Lili Elbe. She also stopped painting believing it to be something that only Einar did.
Gerda Wegener went on to marry an Italian military officer, aviator, and diplomat, Major Fernando "Nando" Porta, and move to Morocco, where she would learn of the death of Elbe, whom she described to a friend as "my poor little Lily [sic]" (by contrast, she described her second husband as "a magnificent, splendid and peerless hunk of man"). After living for several years in Marrakech and Casablanca, the Portas divorced, and Gerda returned to Denmark, where she died in 1940.
After the dissolution of the Wegeners' marriage, Elbe accepted a proposal from an unknown man, which she intended to follow up as soon as she would be able to become a mother.
Elbe died in 1931, due to complications three months after her fifth and last operation. This operation was designed to carry a child, and entailed the transplantation of a uterus. Her cause of death is believed to have been transplant rejection. She is buried in Dresden, Germany.
In popular culture 
The Danish Girl, David Ebershoff's 2001 novel about Lili Elbe was an international bestseller and was translated into a dozen languages. The novel is being developed for the screen The Danish Girl by producers Gail Mutrux and Neil LaBute. It was announced that Nicole Kidman will be playing the role of Lili. Charlize Theron was originally slated to play the role of Gerda, but Gwyneth Paltrow took over for her only to later pull out for personal reasons. The new replacement is Rachel Weisz.
In music, The Stripper Project released "Filthy Wonderful" in 2008, inspired by the story of Lili Elbe.
MIX Copenhagen - LesbianGayBiTrans Film Festival gives every year four awards (best feature, best documentary, best short, audience's favorite) named Lili after Lili Elbe.
- Magnus Hirschfeld,Chirurgische Eingriffe bei Anomalien des Sexuallebens: Therapie der Gegenwart, pgs 451-455, pg 67
- The Living Room[dead link]
- The Copenhagen Post[dead link]
- "Politietsregisterblade.dk". Politietsregisterblade.dk. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
- Conway's Vintage Treasures
- the Arts, Transgender and Beyond
- Gerda Wegener
- LGBT History Month
- History of Facial Feminization Surgery
- Letters from Marrakech at hjem.get2net.dk
- Yahoo! News. 2008-11-09 http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20081109/en_nm/us_kidman_1
|url=missing title (help). Retrieved 25 April 2011.[dead link]
- Gwyneth Paltrow joins Nicole Kidman in 'The Danish Girl' Ew.com
- Paltrow Out of Kidman Transgender Drama Advocate.com
- Rehlin, Gunnar (14 February 2011). "Hallstrom set to start The Danish Girl shoot in July". Screen International. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
Further reading 
- Man into Woman, a book about the life of Lili Elbe (edited by Ernst Ludwig Hathorn Jacobson using the pseudonym Niels Hoyer) was published in 1933. The book also uses pseudonyms for her friends. ISBN 0-9547072-0-6
- Schnittmuster des Geschlechts. Transvestitismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft by Dr. Rainer Herrn (2005), pp. 204–211. ISBN 3-89806-463-8. German study containing a detailed account of the operations of Lili Elbe, their preparations and the role of Magnus Hirschfeld.
- Sabine Meyer: Mit dem Puppenwagen in die normative Weiblichkeit. Lili Elbe und die journalistische Inszenierung von Transsexualität in Dänemark. In: NORDEUROPAforum 20 (2010:1-2), 33-61. Article in German scholarly journal