Eliza Steinbock
Lili Elbe’s Transmedia Presence and the Politics of Transgender Studies
– Doing Gender in Media, Art and Culture
Book Chapter 2018


Danish painter Lili Ilse Elvenes (1882–1931), better known as Lili Elbe, was one of the first women to have medical assistance to physically transition in 1930. Lili’s profes- sional reputation as a man led to her being the most covered ‘sex change’ story until 1953, when the American Christine Jorgensen’s return from treatment in Denmark caused a media frenzy, starting with the first reporting headline ‘Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell’ by the New York Daily News on December 1, 1952. As has become common form, Lili’s gender transformation was captured in multiple medial formats: from her Danish wife Gerda’s hugely popular illustrated portrayals in the 1910s-20s to a widely translated confessional memoir Man into Woman first published in 1933, and later revived in an award-winning novelization of her marriage to American painter ‘Greta’ called The Danish Girl written by David Ebershoff in 2000, and most recently in 2015 to Oscar acclaim when the same-titled Hollywood biopic directed by Tom Hooper was released. Each representation of Lili has been met with controversy for challenging the conventions of gender and sexuality of its time, thus raising Lili to the symbolic figurehead for deviance as well as becoming an influential founding figure for transgender movements.