Lilli Elbe: The Danish girl


In this series we look at various heroes and advocates of the LGBTQIA family.

In this article we focus on Transgender female, Lili Ilse Elvenes 

One of the first known sex reassignment surgeries of modern times, was that of Lili Ilse Elvenes better known as Lilli Elbe, she was a transgender woman from Denmark and was born Einar Magnus Andres Wegener. Under her birth name she became a successful artist. However she felt that it was a part of her former life identity to continue painting.

Elbe met Gerda Gottileb at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, marrying in 1904. After traveling through central Europe they settled in Paris. Where it was possible for Elbe to live openly as a woman.

Elbe was successful with painting and exhibited work in notable exhibitions. Slowly over time Gottileb work became popular, however after a model didn’t show up Elbe took on the role. The public was shocked to discover that the female in her paintings was in fact Gottileb spouse.


In the 1920’s and 30’s Elbe dressed as a woman for parties or simply just to vanish into the streets of Paris

Elbe went to Germany for sex reassignment surgery, at the time this was pioneering. Four operations were carried out over a period of two years. Sadly after the fourth operation Elbe lost her life only months after.

Recently Elbe’s story has been made into a film with Eddie Redmayne playing Elbe before and after transitioning, some have criticised for using a cisgender male.


Whatever your feelings Redmayne waa tipped for an Oscar, once again bringing Transgender history to mainstream where it needs to be to promote understanding. Redmayne has only showed respect and admiration towards the transgender community.

On a side note: When doing my research for #transgender week with Shelly Songer I asked her who influenced her, she mentioned Elbe with great fondness. Some reason I chose to hold this back, little did I know about the film being released this year. 

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