Lili Elbe, birth name Einar Wegener, Einar also spelled Ejner, (born December 28, 1882, Vejle, Denmark—died September 13, 1931, Dresden, Germany), Danish painter who was assigned male at birth, experienced what is now called gender dysphoria, and underwent the world’s first documented sex reassignment surgery
Born Einar Wegener, Elbe lived nearly her whole life as a man. Beginning early in the first decade of the 20th century, Elbe (then Wegener) studied art at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and met Gerda Gottlieb there. The two fell in love and got married about 1905. According to the book Elbe wrote—though it was credited to her friend Ernst Ludwig Hathorn Jacobson under the pseudonym Niels Hoyer—about her transition to a transgender woman (Fra Mand til Kvinde [1931; Man into Woman]), she realized her true gender identity when Gerda—a successful painter and fashion illustrator (as well as illustrator of lesbian erotica)—asked her then husband to don women’s clothing and sit as her model. Wegener was her regular model thereafter. The couple eventually moved to Paris, where Wegener felt free to appear in public sometimes as Einar Wegener and sometimes as Lili Elbe. In 1924 her work—which included landscapes, interior scenes, still lifes, and portraits—was shown in Paris at the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Indépendants. Once Wegener began to transition, she and Gerda had their marriage annulled.