Lili Elbe

22 June, 2013 by Una

Contrary to popular belief, Lili Elbe may not have been the first person to undergo surgery or treatment for sex reassignment surgery, but she is certainly the best-known of the earliest cases.

Born 28 December, 1882 in Denmark as Einar Mogens Wegener, she presented as male for most of her life and was a successful artist with that name. She married the more popular artist, Gerda Gottlieb, in 1904, and discovered she was transgender one day when Gerda’s female model didn’t show up, and Gerda asked Lili to wear stockings and heels so that she could substitute Einar’s legs for those of her model. Lili was shocked at how natural the clothing felt, and for reasons unknown this first foray into female dress turned into crossdressing, then development of feelings internally that she was in fact a woman. She appeared as Lili in many of Gerda’s famous artworks.

Her transgender feelings soon consumed her, sending her to Germany for sex reassignment surgery in 1930, where she received several operations over the next two years. These started with a simple orchiectomy (removal of the testes), and proceeded to removal of her penis and an attempt to implant ovaries, which were then removed in other operations due to transplant rejection. Her final operation was an attempt to transplant a uterus, so she could become a mother, and this final operation led to her death from transplant rejection on 13 September, 1931.

I’ve attached two newspaper articles from the time which I found.
“Advanced Surgery” National Labor Tribune (Pittsburgh, PA) 30 April, 1931: 2
“Astounding Case of the Man Who was Changed into a Woman” Omaha World Herald 22 October, 1933: 34

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