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The Danish Girl is the highly anticipated film which depicts the first sex reassignment surgery. It is based on the actual journey of Lili Elbe as one of the first people to undergo a surgical procedure of this magnitude. For the sex-reassignment surgery, Lili had to travel to Germany because at that time it was an experimental feat, but since that time numerous transgender identities have experienced the liberty of looking like their present truth.
In 1882, born as Einar Mogens Wegener in Denmark, Lili is best known as one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery. For most of her life, Lili identified herself as a man and was a prolific and very successful artist. It was not until 1930 that she adopted the name, Lili Elbe, after completing a series of male to female sex reassignment surgeries. The story of her transition was originally detailed in a book titled, Man Into Woman which was written by her close friend ELH Jacobson, who authored the book under the pseudonym of Niels Hoyer. Lili’s story, soon to be revealed in the upcoming film, The Danish Girl continues to empower transgender individuals worldwide.
As Einar, the man who was sure he was born into the wrong body, he decided happiness was too far-fetched and had planned to commit suicide. The torment was excruciatingly complicated which, according to Lili, left a feeling of two people within the same body at war for supremacy. Instead of death, Lili Elbe found the necessary hope to push the boundaries of medical science and become the first transgendered woman. But at what cost?
By her own account, Lili’s transition from male to female began by chance when a model for “his” wife, at the time, failed to show. A mutual friend of the couple named Anna Larsen recommended Einar as a replacement. Initially, resisting the urge she finally gave in and admittedly enjoyed the way the feminine costume made her feel. Lili penned in her memoir:
I cannot deny, strange as it may sound, that I enjoyed myself in this disguise. I liked the feel of soft women’s clothing. I felt very much at home in them from the first moment.
In awe with the accidental awakening which had occurred from that moment, Einar continued to dress secretly as Lili. Around 1912, after the secret began to spread around Copenhagen, the couple sought to avoid further scandal by moving to Paris. This was the dawn of understanding of human sex and gender, as such it stirred much controversy for Einar who was unknowingly on the brink of becoming Lili forever. As the pioneer of sex reassignment surgery, the pain and reward of her decision will be portrayed on film by the Oscar-winning British actor Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl.
Marcus Hirshfeld came up with the term “transsexualismus” in 1919 for people who did not want to simply look like a different gender, but wanted to physically become their true selves. He opened the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin in hopes of helping this become a reality for many who felt trapped. In 1933, with the rise of National Socialism, the facility was destroyed.
By the age of 47, Lili had gone through several surgeries costing around £12,000 in British pounds ($18460.86 USD). To raise the necessary money, Einar sold a number of the paintings he had created while still living as a man. At this point, Lili had divorced his wife Gerda, given up painting, and embarked tentatively on a relationship with an art dealer.
Lili endured a series of groundbreaking operations that allowed the old person to become a new woman. When reflecting on her life, with the anticipation of death while filled with an aching sort of happiness, she penned:
That I, Lili, am vital and have a right to life I have proved by living for 14 months. It may be said that 14 months are not much, but they seem to me like a whole and happy human life.
On a pendulum between joy and the agonized despair of being rejected by the world at large, Lili found herself increasingly detached from memories of Einar’s life. In September 1931, after becoming the victim of a misjudged surgery to transplant a womb into her body, Lili Elbe was dead. Her story of strength and unbridled courage as a gender reassignment pioneer continues to encourage people around the globe. The highly anticipated film, The Danish Girl, which depicts the first sex reassignment surgery is set to release on Jan. 1, 2016.
by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Sexual Communication: Lili Elbe
Telegraph: The tragic true story behind The Danish Girl
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