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Man into Woman

The First Sex Change: A Portrait of Lili Elbe

Edited by Niels Hoyer

Most of our readers will have heard mention of the Danish artist Einar Wegener, who became Lily Elbe, in what is said to have been the first sex-role reassignment in the 1930's.

The story was used, in 2000. David Ebershoff, in his book The Danish Girl. Ebershoff himself pointed out that in using it as the basis for romantic novel, he was not primarily concerned with historical accuracy.

This book, on the other hand, is Lili's own story, prepared by Neils Hoyer from the papers that Lili left behind at her death and at her request. It was first published in Danish, then German, and finally in English in 1933. As Hohberger* has pointed out, it did not receive the medical attention it deserved due to the rise of fascism in Germany.

The story begins with Einar, having finally despaired of receiving any help from the medical profession, is seriously contemplating ending his life. A good friend persuades him, with great reluctance, to see one more specialist. This specialist, believing that, on palpating Einar's abdomen, he has detected rudimentary ovaries - later confirmed in surgery - persuades him to attend his clinic in Germany. It describes Lili's progress, her doubts and fears, and the support of good friends, and especially her wife, Grete.

The book is written in the romantic style typical of the 'thirties, yet one would believe it is the way Lili would have written it herself. Not only is it a fascinating historical account, it is also an intensely moving story.

* Hohberger, I.A.D., (1990) Some general considerations on Transexualism and Gender Reassignment, GENDYS Conference.
Published by Blue Boat Books, 2004
paperback, 272 pages
ISBN 0 9547072 0 6
GO TO TOP Copyright GENDYS Network. Page design Jed Bland. Last amended 14.11.04, 03.11.06