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The courageous transgender, Lili Elbe
Born as a man around 1880s, Einar Wegener was a successful landscape painter by the age of 22. He was widely appreciated as an artist for depiction of Danish Vejle Fjords. Einar went to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where he met Gerda Gottileb, who became his wife in 1904 and later helped him, albeit unintentionally, discover his feminine side.

Einar felt completely at home in women's clothing and wig when one day Gerda's model, a popular Danish actress Anna Larssen, could not show up. She asked her husband to pose for her.

Einar, who later changed his name to Lili, wrote in her diary, "Strange as it may sound…I liked the feel of soft women's clothing…I felt very much at home in them from the first moment."  He was called Lili by Anna.

Thereafter, Gerda, painted many portraits of Einar as a beautiful woman. They were liked by the art lovers and made for popular exhibitions. Until then Gerda thought it a game her husband played for her paintings. She thought her husband's feminine moves and mannerism were part of that game. She dressed up Einar in women's clothes and introduced him as his cousin in public events and to all those who enquired about the woman in the paintings.

But Lili was here to stay. Einar felt that he has discovered his or rather her true self. He would often secretly dress up in women's clothes and look at himself in mirror for hours. Einar could never identify with a man's body henceforth. He felt like a man trapped in a woman's body. Lili even stopped painting as 'this was a part of Einar's personality and not hers' and started living as a woman.

Gerda had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she will never have his husband back but she supported Einar throughout. In 1925, they moved to Paris as this European city was more accommodating society than others.

In 1930, Einar underwent sex reassignment surgery in Germany under the supervision of physician Dr Magnus Hirschfeld. The complicated process involved removal of the penis, developing vagina and inserting ovary and uterus. After the last of the 4 or 5 surgeries wherein womb was transplanted into her body, she died in 1931 in Dresden. Her body rejected the transplanted organ. This is considered till date first sex change operation in the world, though some refute this claim.  It is also claimed that shrunken ovaries were found in her body by the doctors during the operation, suggesting it god's mistake.

From the time of discovering her true self till her death, Lili Elbe, the name she officially took, wrote an account of her life in a diary, which was later published as her autobiography titled 'Man into woman' in 1933. Elbe was a river in Central Europe that flows through Dresden. In 2000, David Ebershoff wrote a book The Danish Girl based on her life which was directed as a film in 2015 by Tom Hooper.

Einar's condition in modern terminology is called gender dysphoria and they are called transgenders. It is when one's psychological and emotional identity as male or female are at odds with their biological sex. Today sex reassignment surgery to treat gender dysphoria is a far safer procedure and common throughout the world, including India, in both government and private hospitals.

However, it wasn't easy then and it isn't easy now to face the stigma associated with being a transgender or coming out as a transsexual. Supreme Court scrapping section 377 will come as a relief not just to homosexuals but to all those communities who are not aligned with the usual sexual identities.

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra quoted great German thinker, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe "I am what I am, so take me as I am" and Arthur Schopenhauer, "No one can escape from their individuality," in the 500-page judgement on section 377's validity. Today Lili Elbe should be remembered for the immense courage she showed discovering and accepting her true self and refusing to budge by the societal norms and prejudices.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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