Lily and Dora: the first men to become women
What to do if a person was born a boy, but from childhood he perceived himself as a girl? Previously, such people had no choice but to accept their fate and pretend all their lives. Today they have other options. Here are the stories of the first two men who became women. We tell you what they had to go through on the way to their goal.
“Mismatch of gender identity with biological sex" is what it is called in scientific language. Today, transgender transition surgeries are becoming more and more popular and accessible. Who were the first men who risked everything, including their lives, in order to become who they really were?
Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener was born on September 28, 1882 in Denmark. And in 1930 he died at the hands of a great physician named Ludwig Levi-Lenz, who worked under the direction of Magnus Hirschfeld. The doctor killed Einar, but gave life to another person – the woman Lili Elbe, who was locked in the body of a man for almost 50 years.
But it all started by chance. Wegener, a promising student at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen, met his future wife Gerda Gottlieb there – they were students and dreamed of becoming real artists. Gerda’s talent surpassed Einar’s skill. Her work has appeared on the pages of Vogue and La Vie Parisienne, usually drawing women. Einar preferred to paint landscapes.
Once one of the models did not come at the appointed time, and Gerda invited Einar to help her and pose in a woman’s dress, stockings and shoes. That day, Lily raised her head for the first time.
“I cannot deny, however strange it may sound, that I liked myself in this guise,” writes Einar. “I liked the feel of soft women’s clothing. At that moment, I felt at home."
In 1912, the couple moved to Paris, where Lily was already living openly. Gerda became her best friend and lawyer, she always treated her new friend with understanding and support. Gerda accompanied "sister" to balls, where she watched Lily flirt with unsuspecting officers. There is an assumption that Gerda was homosexual, but there was no confirmation of this.
As the years passed, Lily got worse and worse – she was tired of pretending and living someone else’s life. She wanted to be herself.
Everything was aggravated by the fact that Lily was, as it were, a different person, different from Einar. “A thoughtless, frivolous, superficial woman,” prone to sobs and unable to speak to a strong man, her autobiography said. Einar and Lily were complete opposites.
By 1930, Einar had given up: “I dried up, Lili knew this for a long time. Here’s how things are. Day by day she fights harder and harder." He began to write to doctors, but he was refused – some diagnosed the artist with hysteria, others wrote that he was just gay.
"I told myself that since my case is simply unknown to the history of medical art, it simply does not exist, cannot exist." Einar goes to Germany. After surviving three of the most difficult operations for those times, he finally opens his eyes like Lily. She took the surname Elbe in honor of the river on the banks of which the city of her rebirth was located.
She had her testicles removed, her penis removed and her ovaries transplanted. Unfortunately, the details of the operations are unknown – most of the archives were destroyed by the Nazis in World War II.
The Danish king agreed to annul the marriage with Gerda, and in October 1930 the couple divorced. Gerda later married an Italian officer who squandered her entire fortune – Gerda died without a crown in her pocket in 1940. But Lily didn’t see it.
Lily by that time lived with an art dealer from France and dreamed of giving him a child. “The most passionate desire in my female life is to become a mother.” In September 1931, she decided to have a uterus transplant. After the operation, she sent a letter to her sister: “Now I know that death is near. Last night I saw Mother in a dream. She took me in her arms and named me Lily, and Father was also there…” On September 13, 1931, Lily passed away.
Half a century later, in 1980, doctors will discover cyclosporine, a substance that prevents rejection of transplanted organs.
But Lily wasn’t the first famous woman to be born a man.
Rudolf was born in 1891. He hated his penis since childhood – at the age of six he tried to cut it off. And he began to live as a woman, calling himself Dora. In her youth, Dora worked as a waitress, and later, with her luck, got a job at the Institute of Sexual Research. The same Magnus Hirschfeld, who later led Lily’s operation, was not at all shocked by Dora’s strange behavior. He affectionately called her Dorochka, and the girl worked there as a servant.
In 1922, Hirschfeld agreed to castrate Dora – he removed her testicles and spermatic cord. The operation went well. Hirschfeld began to study how a decrease in testosterone levels affects the anatomy.
Dr. Felix Abraham, a physician at the Institute for Sexual Research, described the transformation as follows: “Her castration had an effect, although not very great, her body became fuller, her beard stopped growing, the first signs of breast development became visible, and her lower abdomen became more … feminine view".
Sexologist Levy-Lenz wrote: “It was very difficult for transvestites to find work. As we know, our institute and several other places hired transvestites, we did our best to provide places for such people. We have five maids working – all transvestites, and I will never forget how I once looked into their kitchen and saw five "girls". They knitted and sewed, singing folk songs. They are the most hard-working and honest workers we have ever had, and none of the visitors has ever noticed a thing.”
The year 1933 has come. The Nazi students burned the books and destroyed the institute. What happened to the four girls and Dora, whether they survived the attack, remains unknown.