The Danish Girl: a discussiony review

After waiting for six months I finally got to see The Danish Girl, a movie about Lili Elbe, the first transgender woman. First off I want to discuss Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal. There has been a lot of backlash about it, honestly, listening to him talk about how he approached the role of Einar/Lili, reading the books and talking to transgendered people. Honestly, I think he did a wonderful job.

Seeing this movie came at the right time for me, as I am writing a transgendered story based on the life of Edward DeLacy Evans, and am having trouble figuring out how to write the relationship, or how a married couple would address the issues of transgender in a time where the term had not yet been identified and that these operations were all experimental. Although Edward’s story is different to Lili’s, seeing this movie inspired me greatly in possibilities of how I could portray mine. The movie also highlighted some questions that I had not thought about and provided answers to ones that had been plaguing my mind for a while.

The movie, which is based on the novel by the same name, centers around  the couple and tells the story of a complicated but true love story.  IMDB says: ‘When the painting gained popularity, Einar started to change his appearance into a female appearance and named himself Lili Elbe. With his feminism passion and Gerda’s support, Einar – or Elbe – attempted one of the first male-to-female sex reassignment surgery.’


L to R: Eddie Redmayne as Lili and the real Lili Elbe
L to R: Eddie Redmayne as Lili and the real Lili Elbe


For those of you that are unaware, Lili Elbe, was born Einar Wegener on 28 December 1882.

Enair's painting
Einar’s painting

He met his wife, Gerda Gottib at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and married in 1904, when he was 22 years old and she was 18.

They both became artists in their own right, with Einar focusing on landscapes while Gerda experimented with the portrait. However, at the time, many considered Einar to be the more talented artist, but he toned down his own work and profile to help his wife in her artistic endeavors.

It was one day when a model which Gerda was meant to be painting didn’t show up, that she asked Einar to put on the stockings and shoes and pose for her, so she could finish her painting. Einar was surprised at how he felt in the clothes. As Gerda’s paintings began to be noticed, Lili Elbe became her favourite model. They traveled through Italy and France before settling in Paris in 1912, where Einar could be open about his sexuality and live as Lili.

Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener
Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

It was only their closest friends know that she had transitioned and was dressing as a woman. It was in 1930, that she went to Germany for gender-reassignment surgery, after living as Lili for many years. The process lasted for a period of 2 years and included four separate surgeries. The surgeries were under the supervision of Magnus Hirschfeld and involved:

  1. Removal of the testicles
  2. Implant an ovary onto her abdominal musculature
  3. Remove the penis and the scrotum; and
  4. To transplant a uterus and construct a vaginal canal

The marriage between Gerda and Enair was dissolved by the Danish court in 1930, and Lili was able to legally change her name and sex, which included getting a passport. She stopped painting, believing it to be something that was part of the identity of Einar. She may have also been intersex although specific details aren’t known.

It is her fourth surgery that led to her death on September 13, 1931, three months after the surgery due to cardiac arrest caused by the rejection of the uterus by her immune system and the resulting infection.

It has only been in 2014 that the first child was born healthy from a woman who had a uterus transplant.



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