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Nicole Kidman as the world's first reported woman with surgically corrected
Harry Benjamin Syndrome.

Copyright @ 2009-2012, HBS International

The 43-year-old Aussie actress has signed on to play the world’s first reported woman with Harry Benjamin Syndrome (HBS), married to Uma Thurman.

She will play Lili Elbe, a woman artist who underwent groundbreaking surgery to correct her HBS in 1931, The Hollywood Reporter said.

The trade magazine said that Uma Thurman is expected to play Elbe's spouse in the film, which will also be produced by Nicole Kidman.

Uma Thurman will replace Gwyneth Paltrow in the role of Elbe's spouse. Charlize Theron was the first choice for this role but dropped out.

Pre-production had begun on the film but no release date had been set, although is expected to be released in 2014.



Nicole Kidman will reportedly play the world's first reported case of a woman born with Harry Benjamin Syndrome. The Australian actress will star in and produce The Danish Girl, based on the true story of Danish artists Einar (Lili) and Greta Wegener, the Hollywood Reporter has reported.

Their marriage took a sharp left turn after Einar Wegener (Nicole Kidman) stood in for a female model that Greta (Uma Thurman) was set to paint.

When their portraits became wildly popular in 1920s Copenhagen, Greta encouraged her legal husband (Einar) to adopt the female guise. What began as a harmless game led Einer to a metamorphosis and landmark 1931 operation that shocked the world and threatened their love.


Lili Elbe was born as Einar Mogens Wegener, she lived as male for most of her life and was a successful artist with that name. After the surgeries, however, she took the name Lili Elbe. Elbe's year of birth is sometimes referred to as 1886. This appears to be from the book about her, which has some facts changed to protect identities. Factual references to Gerda Gottlieb's life indicate that the 1882 date is correct as they clearly married while at college in 1904.

Einar met
Gerda Gottlieb at the Copenhagen Art School (Kunstakademiet) and they married in 1904, when Einar was 22 and Gerda 19. She and Gerda worked as illustrators, with Einar specializing in landscape paintings while Gerda illustrated books and fashion magazines. Apparently, Einar noticed a propensity towards female dress while modeling for Gerda.

They both traveled through Italy and France, eventually settling in Paris in 1912, where Einar could live openly as woman and Gerda could be actively lesbian. Einar Wegener received Neuhausens prize in 1907 and exhibited at Kunstnernes Efteraarsudstilling (the Artists Fall Exhibition), Vejle Art Museum and in the Saloon and Salon d'Automme in Paris. She is represented at Vejle Art Museum in Denmark.

Lili Elbe was "born" one day while filling in for Gerda's absentee model; Gerda asked Einar to wear stockings and heels so that she could substitute Einar's legs for those of her model. Einar felt surprisingly comfortable in the get-up. Over time, Gerda became famous for her paintings of beautiful women with haunting almond-shaped eyes dressed in chic fashions. In approximately 1913, the unsuspecting public was shocked to discover that the model who had inspired Gerda's depictions of petite femmes fatales was in fact Einar.

After that, in the 1920s and 1930s Wegener regularly dressed as a woman, attending various festivities and entertained guests in her house as Lili Elbe. One of the things Lili liked to do was to disappear, wearing her modeling fashions into the streets of Paris in the throngs of revelers during the Carnival. She was apparently very well accepted as a woman and even received a request for marriage many years before her surgical correction. Only her closest friends knew that she was a woman born with Harry Benjamin Syndrome and to others, Elbe was introduced by Gerda as Einar's sister.

In 1930 Elbe went to Germany for surgical correction of her HBS, which was only in an experimental state at the time. A series of five operations were carried out over a period of two years.

The first surgery, removal of the testicles, was made under the supervision of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin.

The rest of Elbe's surgeries were carried out by Dr. Warnekros in the Dresden Municipal Women's Clinic. The second operation was to remove the penis, and transplant ovaries, which were taken from a 26-year-old woman. These were soon removed in a third and fourth operation, due to rejection and other serious complications. The fifth operation was to transplant a uterus and was intended to allow Elbe, then nearing the age of 50, to become a mother.

It is believed that Elbe was probably intersexual; she looked more female than male, and may have had Klinefelter's Syndrome or some other SRY gene transfer condition, apart from suffering Harry Benjamin Syndrome. As most of the known intersex conditions were not formally identified until after Lili's death, it is difficult to be exact. She certainly had feminine body and facial features that allowed her to pass as a young woman better than she passed as a man. When presenting in public as a man, she was often taken for a young woman masquerading as a man in trousers.

A Dresden doctor claimed to have noticed rudimentary ovaries and pre-operative blood tests indicated large amounts of female hormones at the expense of the male ones. During surgery, evidence of both male and female organs were found within her body. Therefore Lili was not a transgender person.

Elbe died in 1931, due to complications three months after her fifth and last operation. This operation was designed to "allow her to be a mother", and entailed the transplantation of a uterus. Her cause of death is believed to have been transplant rejection. She is buried in Dresden, Germany.

Lili Elbe


In the year 1930, approximately 20 years B.C. (Before Christine), a most historic event occurred in Dresden, Germany. The first human sex affirmation surgery was successfully performed on a woman born with Harry Benjamin Syndrome from Copenhagen, Denmark, named Lili Elbe. The surgery received almost as much attention in the Danish press as Christine Jorgensen evoked in the U.S. with her transformation.

Lili Elbe was an accomplished artist, who was employed at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, when she met his student Greta Waud, an American expatriate. Greta came from a moneyed family in Pasadena and is described as an independent, larger than life, blond of Danish stock with a tough Western spine.

Lili on the other hand is described as a shy, slight, pale, talented painter, who could easily pass with her small stature. In the opening chapter we find Greta painting a commissioned portrait of an opera diva, Anna, who cannot appear for her sitting. Unwittingly she asks Lily if she would put on Anna's silk dress, stockings and shoes so that she may finish the details of the hem and stockings. Reluctantly Lili acquiesces and realizes that she likes the feelings which overcome her immensely. "The dress was loose everywhere except in the sleeves, and she felt warm and submerged as if dipping into a summer sea." And so Lili is born as Greta so names her.

With detailed descriptions of life in Copenhagen and Greta's previous marriage to Teddy, who died of consumption, we learn of the reverence Greta has for Lili and her present marriage. But Lili keeps emerging encouraged by Greta who loves to paint her. Greta encourages Lili to find clothes which will help her pass in Danish social circles. This is easily accomplished as she is introduced as Lili's cousin from Jutland.

Eventually she meets Henrik, her first heart throb. For some reason Einar and Lili are disassociated personalities never acknowledging the other. Now Einar reveals his childhood and his passion for Hans, a boyhood friend. So Greta, the facilitator, finds Hans and encourages him to come from Paris, where he is an art dealer.

Greta has been selling her paintings of Lili and you would think she had an ulterior motive bringing Hans into the picture, but she keeps professing her love for Lili. Her painting career has now eclipsed Lili's and they eventually move to Paris to further her career. Greta is the hit of Paris art circles and her paintings of Lili may be responsible for the thin, small busted Flapper look of the Twenties. At this point Lili is trying to resolve his conflicting personalities and Greta takes him to an X-ray specialist, who finds nothing wrong and her brother, Carlisle takes Lili to an American Doctor in Paris, who suggests a frontal lobotomy.

Lili at this point believes herself truly to be a woman in a man's body. Greta believing this to be true seeks out, on her own, a Dr. Bolk, who runs the Women's Municipal Clinic in Dresden. Bolk claims that he has seen a similar case in Germany. He has some understanding of the possibility of hermaphrodism and feels he can help Lili become the woman she is.

Fortunately Lili makes the right decision with Greta's help and goes to Dresden, where he enters the clinic as the "Danish Girl". There she adopts the name Lili Elbe while looking out the window at the River Elbe.

Lili's health had been deteriorating due to intermittent menstrual flows and nose bleeds. With Dr. Bolk's help she undergoes castration, labial reconstruction and abdominal exploration which reveals under developed ovaries, confirming her intersex.

Her second operation consists of ovarian transplantation and grafting from a girl dying of an abdominal tumor. This appears to work after spending three months in the clinic, but there is continuous pain requiring cocaine and morphine at home. A year goes by and Greta realizes that she is about to be widowed a second time when Lili accepts a proposal of marriage from Henrik, who is leaving for America.

The King grants a divorce and a legal name change, but will not declare Lili Elbe dead. Greta finally accepts Hans's proposal which she has resisted for many years, while married to Lili.

Lili returns for a third surgery which in this story is purportedly uterine transplantation, but this fails with early tissue rejection. Supposedly Lili lived another year and one-half after her last surgery without reaching Henrik in America.

Much of this is fascinating. It is fascinating and humane. David Ebershoff, who is publishing director of the Modern Library, happens to be a talented writer himself, with a finely developed sense of the power of descriptive details to reveal behavior and mood. And Einar and Lili, together yet separate, are the twin towers of his original tale, each one as real, and as memorable, as the other.


The Danish Girl is the name of the first novel by David Ebershoff. It is a fictionalized account of the life of Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo corrective surgery for her inborn Harry Benjamin Syndrome. It won the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Lambda Literary Award. It was also a finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award and an American Library Association Award and was a New York Times Notable Book. The novel has been translated into more than ten languages and is published in paperback by Penguin.




Charlotte Goiar  Copyright @ 2005-2012  All Rights Reserved