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Trans Trading Cards: Lili Elbe (1999)

Trans Trading Cards: Lili Elbe (1999)

©1999, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1999, July). Trans trading cards: Lili Elbe. Two-Spirit News: The Newsletter of the Atlanta Gender Explorations Support Group (electronic version).





 Transsexual and Transgender Trading Cards?

Lili Elbe

By Dallas Denny


In the first issue of this e-zine I presented a list of potential candidates for a deck of transgender and transsexual trading cards. Each month I’ll highlight one of the selections.


Who was Lili Elbe? Those of you who have have read Niels Hoyer’s evocative Man into Woman will already know that she was an early transsexual who had sex reassignment surgery in the late 1920s. She is probably one of the cases reported in 1931 by F. Abraham in the journal Zeitschrift Sexualwissenschaft. For those who are interested, this German-language article was reprinted in the on-line journal International Journal of Transgenderism. I don’t have the URL and can’t look it up, since I’m off-line at the moment, but a search of the journal name should turn it up.

Lili Elbe's Trading Card

Lili Elbe Trading Card, Front Lili Elbe Trading Card, Back

Anyhoo, Lili Elbe was a Danish painter, born male, known as both Einar Wegener and Andreas Sparrer. Einar, who was married to the painter Gerta Wegener, crossdressed frequently and eventually consulted a German surgeon who did a series of three operations: first a castration, then a penectomy, then an implantation of ovarian tissue. After the first operation, Wegener took the name Lili Elbe and began living as a woman. Lili died while convalescing from the third operation, in my opinion from a rejection of the transplanted tissue, for this was decades before the creation of anti-rejection drugs. In fact, it was more than a decade before the synthesis of artificial human sex hormones, which would have made the transplantation unnecessary.

Niels Hoyer’s account of Lili’s transformation, originally published in 1933, is haunting, prose so beautifully written it seems like poetry. Man into Woman is out of print and hard to find, but the 1953 reprint editions isn’t unduly expensive.

Photos of Lili Elbe, taken from Hoyer’s book, are in the AGE slide show, and I used a photo of her grave as the frontispiece for my 1994 book from Garland Press.



Abraham, F. (1931). Genitalumwandlung an zwei maennlichen transvestiten (Genital alteration in two male transvestites). Zeitschrift Sexualwissenschaft, 18, 223-226.

Abraham, F. (1998, January-March). Genital reassignment on two male transvestites (Reprint of Abraham 1931). International Journal of Transgenderism, 1(3).

Hoyer, N. (1933). Man into woman: An authentic record of a change of sex. The true story of the miraculous transformation of the Danish painter, Einar Wegener (Andreas Sparrer). New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. Reprinted in 1953 by Popular Library (New York).