The First Transgender Woman: 1930

“You know, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender—people are people.” —Judith Light

In a Nutshell

In 1930, Lili Elbe became the first person in the world to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. Born Einar Mogens Wegener in 1882, she became biologically female at a time when the term “transgender” hadn’t even been invented. Unfortunately, the pioneering operation would eventually prove fatal.

The Whole Bushel

The history of Lili Elbe is a strange and sad one. Born in Denmark as Einar Mogens Wegener, she lived as a male for the best part of 30 years, even marrying a bisexual artist, Gerda Gottlieb. However, it’s pretty clear that she never felt comfortable in her male body, even as a child. Distinctly feminine, she copped criticism every time she stepped out of the house, due to people assuming she was a girl dressed in boy’s clothing (and metaphorically, they were totally right). From almost the moment she married Gerda, the two pursued separate relationships—Lili living as a woman, Gerda embarking on a string of lesbian affairs. Then they moved to Paris, and the last traces of Einar finally slipped away.

Removed from her home country, Lili became the woman she always had been. Gerda introduced her to people as Einar’s sister and she made a habit of disappearing into anonymous crowds where she could spend an hour or so completely unrecognized—to all intents and purposes, female. Gerda even began painting pictures of Einar’s mysterious, flamboyant sister—paintings which became a cause célèbre back in Denmark. And then the truth came out.

In the furor that followed, the Danish authorities amazingly allowed Einar to legally become Lili—on the condition that her marriage to Gerda be declared void. However, they also threw out the possibility of experimental sex reassignment in Germany. Sadly, this would prove the death of Lili. With transplant surgery still in its infancy, and lacking modern antibiotics, Lili’s body rejected the donor uterus. The complications killed her, but not before she got to experience a very brief time as a biological woman. We can only hope that handful of days made all her suffering worthwhile.

Show Me The Proof

Biography: Lili Elbe
Lili Elbe

  • inconspicuous detective

    gays are fine. lesbians are fine. but when stuff like changing sex happens…i draw a line and call it weird. i don’t think less of these people, i just am really uncomfortable with it.

    • Hillyard

      I don’t understand it, but I guess some people just don’t feel at home with their gender.

      • inconspicuous detective

        it should be studied further to maybe help them? because you can’t change sex.

        • Hillyard

          I think your right, it should be studied further. There is definitely something wrong with someone who believes he/she is in the wrong body. I don’t include cross-dressers as I think that is a fetish. Perhaps there is some sort of chemical/hormone imbalance?? Don’t know, I’m neither a doctor or an actor who has played one one TV.

          • inconspicuous detective

            all very possible.

          • Kitteh_Bandit

            It’s actually more complicated than ‘boy wants to be girl’ or ‘girl wants to be boy. I felt very confused with this until I watched a few docos on the topic. These days specialist take into account more factors than physical appearance VS. personality. We are all born with unique attributes and it’s more of where you’re at on the scale of these factors. some people are born with genitalia of one sex but may have the reproductive organs of the other, or the hormones of one and mind of another. There was a woman (who I believe was born intersex but has female reproductive organs) who had XY (male) chromosomes. I’m probably not explaining it correctly so here’s a link http://www.gendersanity.com/diagram.html

          • Kitteh_Bandit

            In a nutshell: no one is STRICTLY 100% male or female…

          • Kitteh_Bandit

            I think? :/

          • inconspicuous detective

            thank you for the link

          • Thank you! That link was a whole lot clearer and correct than the way I was attempting (badly) to explain.

        • They aren’t changing sex, inky, they are changing body type. True transgender people have, sadly, been born with the wrong body. They know from earliest childhood that their body doesn’t reflect who they know themselves to be.
          Think of it as a genetic error, not much different than being born with a sixth finger. If you were born with an extra finger you’d want to have that corrected. The people born with the wrong body want that corrected.

          • inconspicuous detective

            yea but people born with a sixth finger don’t have total reconstructive body surgery to resemble something with more than five fingers. that’s a deeper kind of problem to me, and the sex change is attempted rather than actually happening. nobody can truely change sex.

          • P5ychoRaz

            Who doesn’t feel uncomfortable with their body at times? If that was cause to have surgery, the hospitals would be full of middle/high-schoolers.

          • Yes, we all do sometimes, but this is quite different.
            I don’t know if I can explain what I was trying to say, but I’ll give it a try.
            You know that sex is determined at the moment of conception. That is indisputable. However, during early development, the fetus has completely undifferentiated sex. It isn’t until after the end of the second month of gestation that the embryo will begin, if a boy, to secrete androgens. From then on, the male will have a higher level of androgens in the blood and will develop testes, penis, etc. Females, lacking androgens, develop eggs, clitoris, uterus, etc.
            Okay, say something goes wrong. Genetic accidents happen, right? The embryo, despite having the right hormones, develops the opposite set of sex organs. Maybe the abundance of hormones isn’t sufficient to trigger the proper development.

          • These children usually look more like the sex they feel they are than the one their body appears to be.
            I’m not saying that I am absolutely correct, I am not a doctor. I’ve done a good deal of reading on this subject (as an off-shoot of other interests), and this is what I have taken from everything I’ve read.
            What I know for sure is that genetic accidents happen.

          • P5ychoRaz

            I agree with anyone who says transgender people have a right to decide which sex they associate with, according to which one they feel they are. But when it comes to a man wanting to be a woman, because there happens to be a woman “trapped in his man body,” well that’s when I draw the line. Because now, this guy/girl is allowed to marry anyone he/she wants, adopt a child & pass on that same mentality. When kids are affected by stupidity/evil/selfishness, I get pissed.

          • Ian Moone

            Being transgender is different than just feeling uncomfortable with your body sometimes. You are constantly uncomfortable. Every time you look in a mirror you feel so unimaginably wrong. It’s not something you could understand if you haven’t gone through it but believe me it’s vastly different than just feeling uncomfortable with your body.

    • FILOSOFY

      “i just am really uncomfortable with it.”

      That is pretty much the only reason ever why anybody would call anything weird.

      -Gays are weird, because I’m not gay, because I find it nasty, because I’m uncomfortable with it-

      Yeah I can find no other excuse.

      • inconspicuous detective

        yea but gay and in your body is fine. this ^^ no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be the other sex. it’s very weird.

        • FILOSOFY

          Well if you try really hard I’m pretty sure you CAN turn into the opposite sex… physically.

          I dunno, figuratively, no.. i guess.

          • inconspicuous detective

            maybe. i wouldn’t bet on it.

          • FILOSOFY

            SRS

            Sexual reassignment surgery. Maybe not complete transformation but… close enough.

        • Ian Moone

          That’s the thing, you already are the “other” sex. Your mind has been that way for you’re entire life. It’s not something that I expect you to understand (because you are not transgender) but please just accept people for who they are.

          • inconspicuous detective

            i honestly can’t accept everyone for being themselves. some things i don’t understand or agree with. but i will say this much: they deserve to be treated equal to everyone, not put down for who they happen to be.

    • rhijulbec

      I can understand being uncomfortable. I applaud your honesty. I think its a subject too rife with possibilities not to be discussed at length. After all is nature never wrong? I’m not sure. I’ve seen a lot of quirks of nature in my career. I’m not saying this is ”normal” nor am I saying its ”abnormal.” Maybe nature’s mistake corrected by medical capabilities?

      • inconspicuous detective

        i dunno…but this whole little article is mistitled which i usually don’t care about but in this case is important. transgender is different from transexual. gender is the way you identify yourself (you are a man/woman) and sex is based on the organs you’re born with (male/female).

        that said, transgender is one thing. being a girl but feeling like a boy is totally different from being a girl who had surgery to look like a guy. completely different there. changing your sex and having different organs, taking hormones, etc. is just a tad too much for me to feel ok with, regardless of tolerance levels. it’s like the CGI and effects getting better in movies but we know they’re still just movies, they aren’t really what they seem like, and neither are transexuals. i’ve heard many recent news stories about transgendered people who are suing schools and such as well for not being allowed to use the bathroom they identify with, which to me is odd. they’re placing rights of themselves above the rights of everyone else who, presumably, feels awkward and uncomfortable. further, when parents are using their children who don’t even think about sexuality to push others to agree with how they feel, which again has happened fairly often recently, i get very confused as to who has what rights and where they end. beyond nature and nurture, and morality and personal feelings, the issue is complicated.

    • PinkPorcupine

      As someone said, they aren’t changing their sex, they are changing their
      body. I imagine that you don’t identify with your gender only because
      of how you were raised. If you were raised as the gender opposite from
      your own, you would still identify as your own gender, wouldn’t you? And
      I imagine that it isn’t whatever set of genitals you have that makes you whatever gender you are… if you woke up tomorrow with the sex organs of a different sex, you would still be whatever gender you are now, right? Just with the wrong reproductive organs.
      Transgender people are people who are born with the wrong body type for whatever gender they are in their brain. It may seem odd, but there are plenty of other problems people are born with. If people can be born missing organs, or as conjoined twins, etc… then doesn’t it make sense that it is entirely possible for people to be born with a brain type and body type that don’t match up? I feel bad for people like that, because I’d be miserable if I were born in a male body, especially if I had a family that pushed me towards boy stuff (since I’ve always been drawn mostly to girly-girl things).

      • inconspicuous detective

        they aren’t changing their sex. i didn’t say they were. i said they’re trying, desperately, to be something they can’t ever be. instead of saying “you’re right. you’re not in the right body” why aren’t people saying “hey, you are what you are. be proud of it instead, or accept yourself.”. da heck is all this debate over how they can be more normal. just be you.

        • PinkPorcupine

          If I woke up in a mans body, after the novelty wore off I would do everything I could to make myself look the way I believe I should look. Even if I had to go through painful surgeries, even if I just ended up looking odd and not like a “real” woman, that would still be more acceptable to me than just trying to accept the fact that I was now trapped in a man’s body. If my appearance made people uncomfortable just because it was weird, that would just be too bad for them, since I wouldn’t be hurting anyone.

          • inconspicuous detective

            well yea, it is too bad for us because it happens anyway. the world still spins afterall, so it’s not that big of a deal. regardless, everyone including those who don’t think it’s natural, normal, whatever adjective you can use to describe it all have a right to their opinions as well. it’s just weird, it’s especially weird when a halfa wants to share a restroom with you and that i’m afraid means the majority rules. so while they may feel trapped, they can accept themselves or be rejected by just about everyone (in some cases that includes themselves sadly).

          • Ian Moone

            What gives you the right to decide what I can do? The majority doesn’t get to vote on the rights of the minority. If that was the case then no minority would have rights.
            Also you obviously don’t understand what it’s like to be transgender. We can’t just accept ourselves the way that we are born. Imagine that you suddenly woke up as a woman. Would you just accept that or would you do everything you could to change it?

          • inconspicuous detective

            nobody said anything about right to decide. it’s my opinion, just like you have yours. like i said it’s not directly affecting me and if it was i’d get a say, but right now it’s not in any way, shape, or form. it’s merely a thing to talk about with people who agree or don’t, and to discuss why. i don’t intend to put anyone down for it, i’m saying it’s weird and yes that’s a bit of a put down but you’re free to disagree and explain why you think i’m wrong. maybe i’ll be enlightened, and that’s not sarcasm. it’s happened before.

          • Ian Moone

            You’re actually right that being transgender is weird. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. We aren’t hurting anyone. I’m not saying that you should be okay with us, but we shouldn’t have to change who we are just because you’re uncomfortable.

          • inconspicuous detective

            oh. no me neither. if you wanna go and have the change done go ahead, by all means. it’s your body and your life. i’m just saying that i find it odd, it does make me uncomfortable, and i don’t personally feel that it actually makes the person the opposite sex. now all of those might be different for you, and i have absolutely no problem with that. you’re not a freak or anything to me, it’s just not something i feel right about and that doesn’t mean i don’t think this should be allowed or anything. just my opinion and feelings, they’re not laws or whatever haha. and congrats to you for being who you feel you are.

  • nocebo3

    Implanting a donor uterus changes biology? I’m pretty sure there is more to sex (as opposed to gender, which is different) than that.

  • Kyla Stafford Dominey

    I think in this day and age that people find this weird is hilarious… Could this not be another genetics thing like any other one? They are trapped in a bady that is telling them they are female but when they look in the mirror that’s not what they see.. Try stepping into someone else’s shoes and get out of that little box you are in… Just because you are ” normal” doesn’t mean they are freaks…

    • P5ychoRaz

      Who said they were “normal?” If you’re offended by other people’s opinions, get off the internet.

      • Kyla Stafford Dominey

        I’m not offended by anyone’s opinion.. But have some compassion for people who can’t help who they are… Do some research and open your mind… The tragedy is that people have no compassion for anyone… As you just proved..

        • P5ychoRaz

          I simply commented that the people you are belittling actually NEVER CLAIMED TO BE NORMAL (spend a little more time on LV & you’d see that lol)

          And I said you were ‘offended’

          I apologize; that type of name-calling was inappropriate. Everyone’s opinions are valid and all have a right to their own, however ignorant I feel them to be.

          HOWEVER:

          YOU inferred I am ‘closed-minded’
          ‘lacking compassion’
          ‘uneducated’

          YOU derived, from the small snippets of comments you bothered to read, that anyone who’s opinion on this subject differs from yours is:
          ‘hilarious’

          ‘living in a box’
          and also…

          claim to be ‘normal’
          consider people ‘who can’t help who they are’ abnormal

          No one said any of those, but one thing is for sure: and seem to enjoy sounding smart, talking down to others and telling them what they think. Ever consider being a lawyer?

          Another definition of ‘weird’ is ‘fantastic’ Maybe, that’s what they thought of them?

  • rhijulbec

    To be willing to undergo the many, many painful surgeries one must to finally become ”comfortable” in one’s body says a great deal about how much it matters to the person to be seen as they feel they should be. I cannot imagine anyone choosing gender reassignment surgery unless they are absolutely sure it is what they have to do. As a nurse and having seen the pain a simple surgery causes people, the idea of radical surgery boggles my mind. It cannot just be a superficial desire to be another sex, it must be bone deep.

    • Springs

      As someone who is eager for surgery too ever since I was a little kid, you are very right. I have tried hard to change my own thoughts, many years back, as I myself thought it was ‘weird’ and wanted to change and be normal. I tried to force myself to not think about wanting surgeries and such, but I couldn’t help it. It became even more stressful to pretend to try and not be myself.

      I notice there are many who don’t feel the surgery is right for them, and opt for prosthetics too, which I am not surprised for as I can imagine the side effects and dangers being scary to most.

      Some don’t understand, the surgeries are not us claiming our biology has changed. It’s only molding our body to fit our minds. The mind is you, not the body. I know since most are comfortable with their gender, it can be insanely difficult to wrap your head around why someone wouldn’t.

      • rhijulbec

        Are you undergoing the surgeries? Don’t answer if too personal.

        • Springs

          I would love to sometime! I look into it often. Sadly I can’t do much at the moment as I’m in the care of a family who doesn’t support such things, and with no where else to go really I can’t risk being kicked out if I got found out for my future plans. Some day!

  • philipmarie

    These are just my measly 2 cents: I have a rather close relative who took sex reassignment surgery so I know what I’m talking about and frankly, they’re pretty messed up even though they still love our family deeply. I’m not saying that changing gender ultimately makes you crazy or promiscous no way and reading the stories of people who genuinely suffer from transgender issues (transgender not transexual. Transexuality is not a sexuality but a dirty fetish) I can see why they would want to change. But at the same time, I think some of these people, especially those who feel suicidal need psychological help to fix some issues. And don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about as I know what it feels like to be depressed and suicidal and it isn’t something that you can fix by yourself.

    At the same time but if you’re transgendered please skip as I don’t want to make anyone depressed with my own opinions, I can’t help but think that changing your body isn’t really changing your sex as you’re not accepting yourself for who you are. The organs you’re getting are practically plastic and unnecessary. I honestly don’t know to be honest, maybe sex change can or cannot change a person’s mind for the better, thing is, people should still get some psychological help if they feel troubled instead of doing something asinine or forced to do something because others pressure you to.

    Case in point, I heard the story of a man in the 1950’s who was married to his wife for 30 or so years but was always secretly transgender. One day, he grabbed a knife, went to the bathroom and removed his penis and made his own ‘vagina’ with it. They rushed him to the hospital even though the doctors later said that he did do a somewhat good job at making his sexual organs look like that of a female. That’s not changing yourself for the better, it’s self mutilation and batshit insanity. Or what about the ‘the pregnant man’, a woman who took hormones and removed her breasts to look outwardly like a man but kept her female sexual organs intact? It’s not supporting gays and lesbians or those who are transgendered, it’s a stupid attempt at getting attention and putting suffering on your kid, not to mention why on earth would anyone with a sane mind do such a thing? Or what about the story of those crazy hippies who are raising their child ‘genderless’ by not telling them their gender and raising him ‘unisex’? The mother actually said that too many parents tell and command their children so many things ‘it’s obnoxious’. yes, because if our parents didn’t hold back on our own reckless behavour we’d still have come out as successful and saintly in our lives. Not to mention that forcing your kid into a social experiment just for the sake of it is loathesomely evil and will stun his growth. It’s this insanity and patronizing behavour that I am against. If you think you are transgendered, avoid these major LGBT groups and the stupid media like the plague and seek your own path. People deserve better friends who only want to extract sex from them. But if you feel troubled with thoughts of suicide, FUCKING seek help. NOW before it becomes too late. People should be their own individuals, they do not have to represent any bloody media fed sheep.

    Me? As a Christian I’m against all forms of filth, gay marriage and especially gay adoption but I’m open to sex reassignment surgery though I have my doubts.

    • Valkyrie

      ‘People should be their own individuals’ you say…then in the next paragraph you end it all with stating that as a Christian you are against gay marriage and gay adoption calling it filth. So what is it? Individuality as long as you approve of what sexuality people have? I worked with a Man who is/was a devout Christian and he was/is the most evil person I have ever had the misfortune to have met, even worse he was my Boss. I know that guy will not go to Heaven.

      Think of how many genes, chromosomes, all sorts of body parts etc that have to be in perfect placement in order to create the perfect human being, then think for example of babies born with down syndrome..that is what one missing chromosome can do to you. I honestly believe that some people are born into the wrong gender, God can’t get it right every time kidda.

      • philipmarie

        No, individuality as long as people don’t commit destructive deeds like promiscous sex or much worse, gay adoption, a because having sexual intercourse with every person you see and giving yourself away is disrespectful to your own body and b because gay adoption is bad for children’s health, makes them more confused about their own sexuality and even if two gay people were saints, they are not fit to be parents. I have read the studied but I have also read many more bigger ones that prove my assertions. So what if you knew an evil devout Christian? Does that make us all bad? What was the point of that bit anyway?

        When it comes to transexuality I’m neutral on the topic as I myself know people who suffer it and what they pass through.

        • Valkyrie

          The reason I mentioned your religion is because of the way you stated in your previous comment that ‘You as a Christian are against all forms of filth, gay marriage and especially gay adoption’ as if being a Christian gives you the right to be derogative regarding any of the types of people you’ve mentioned.. namely gays. The Church has the highest group of ‘filthy’ perverts working for them under the disguise of priests etc, so please don’t use your faith as an excuse to hate – as believing in God does not give you the right to victimise any persons’ gender, especially as both the Christian church and the Catholic church are well known for being so corrupt. As for your latest remark your reasoning is slightly crazy as regards to gay adoption being worse then being promiscuous. Why not simply state that you are anti gay?

          Whilst i’m not against any religion per se I am against people using God as an excuse in order to hide behind ‘him’ . Have you never heard of Gay Christians?

          Gay adoption may not be everybodys’ cup of tea but take a look at it from a child’s point of view..somebody wants to give a life, love and a home to an unloved child, surely that is better than that child to remain unadopted and alone? I am sure that any agency that allows same sex adoption would have rules and guidelines regarding that child’s interaction and education regarding having two moms or two dads… by the way Elton John sends his love 😛

          • philipmarie

            It doesn’t give me the right to degrade anyone, nor was I degrading anyone. I said I was a Christian so that people may know my background. And please don’t call our Priests perverts seeing as few of them are actually perverts and how the abuse the actual perverts did commit is not something to be laughed at; it’s insulting to the victims to use them as flame bait. Sexually corrupt yadda yadda, even if it were true, two wrongs don’t make a right. There are gay Christians but no devout Christian is going to go the self destructive route by sleeping with everyone he sees nor commit premarital sex. I’m not saying that non-Christian gays do so, far from it but men and women are fundamentally different and Catholics view marriage as encompassing all the differences men and women have in their feelings.

            If someone really loves their child, they would allow him to be adopted by someone else who is capable of raising children. Even if two homosexual people were the richest, best most kind hearted cooks ever, they would still not be fit to raise a child because they’d confuse their sexuality on how one should act regarding their sex. And don’t tell me any rubbish about how it’s healthier for a child to be adopted by two gay people rather than be in a dysfunctional family as gay couples can themselves be dysfunctional just as much as any heterosexual couple. I don’t approve of polygamy of any kind nor the dumbass method of injecting a woman with a sperm from a donor. You must realize that children who are adopted are still children with a past; they still have feelings for their parents, they still think about why they left into adoption etc… so two loving people are not going to magically cure a child of his problems.

  • kylie

    I am an atheist but it don’t make me evil or wrong. But if I ever win the lottery I would happily pay for anyone who wanted gender reassignment surgery if they so wanted it. Me and my husband watched the series about the ladyboys of Pattaya. I felt so heartbroken for some of them, what they’d go through emotionally just to have a female body and equal rights.

    Philipmarie’s comment was just plain rude and degrading to people being who they want to be. Why should our gender matter? Its like me telling her/him that her/his religion is wrong when I have no right to say that, yet she/he can?

    I will always support people we with anything they want, be that gay adoption (which is totally fine cause they love each other and will love the child as their own and it not end up like that poor child killed in foster care! which was a man and wife!), gay marriage and equal rights for them! They are people just like you and me, only trapped and if you can’t see that, then wipe the bull from your eyes.

    I know I’m gonna get blasted by someone in abit but this is my opinion.

  • Jhale

    She was one of the strongest pioneers in history.

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