Lili Elbe and the dress that started it all…

Born Einar Wegener, the 1920s artist Lili Elbe was to become the first transgender woman to undergo gender re-assignment surgery.

Previously to the surgery that would ultimately cause her death, Lili was an artist and married to Gerda Gottlieb – also a painter. Einar’s paintings were, before surgery, minute, highly detailed, dark little landscapes that did not vary in style nor composition this changed when Gerda asked him to model for her.

An arranged model did not turn up for the sitting so Einar was made to strike a pose and assume the position of model – this stirred great emotion in him and was the formative experience in his transition towards becoming a woman.

Following this, Einar began cross dressing on a regular basis and eventually managed to convince doctors in Germany to operate after months of electroshock therapy – which of course did not work.

After re-assignement Einar changed his name to Lili Elbe – Lili had been his name when cross-dressing and Elbe was the name of the river that runs through Dresden where Elbe went for surgery.

Her life has recently been portrayed by Eddie Redmayne and is well worth watching even if it is a bit of a tear jerker.


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