‘The Danish Girl’ is a fictional story based on the life of a transgender woman and trans-pioneer, Lili Elbe. Lili was among the first-ever documented recipients of sex reassignment surgery. Before she became Lili, she was born as Einar Wegener, who was married to Gerda Gottlieb. Both Einar and Gerda were painters. In the book, Gerda’s character is named Greta Waud.
On one occasion, Greta asks Einar to become his muse by wearing a dress. Little does he know, that this simple request will change his life forever. Something awakens in him. He slowly realizes that deep inside, he has always wanted to be a woman. Surprisingly, his wife is supportive. She encourages Einar to dress like up as Lili. However, Einar is not just ‘fascinated’ by the idea of being a woman. He TRULY feels like a woman inside. Greta meets a doctor who tells her about an ambitious surgery that can turn Einar into a woman. Remember, the surgeries are risky because they happened in 1930, not 2016. Greta once again decided to support Einar. This is not easy for her because her husband will be gone forever. She is also vulnerable because her husband, who wants to be a woman, is attracted to men. He wants to have a family after his transition. How will Greta cope up with this transition? How will Lili undergo surgeries? Her body will change, but what about her mind? The writer’s focus is not just on Lili, it is also on Greta. Both these women are not shown as heroes..they are complex human beings, with secrets.
The fascinating thing about the characters is how less they care about what society thinks of them. It’s 1930 and yet, Greta and Lili are visionaries. Many doctors warn Greta and ask her not to encourage Lili’s fantasies. One doctor considers Einar ‘mentally sick’. But these two individuals decide to trust Lili’s experience over popular opinion. However, there is an interesting exploration of gray shades here. Greta is not as successful as Einar, but she starts becoming popular when her paintings feature Lili as her muse. Also, when Einar is busy being Lili, he has no desire to paint. So did Greta encourage Einar for professional reasons? You won’t get an answer to this because the writer is not here to judge these characters.
The book is extremely delicate and sensitive. The author has treated the subject with a lot of respect.
‘The Danish Girl’ leaves you with so many questions. Are you willing to withstand ridicule and alienation to be your authentic self? Whom should you trust? Your own experience or millions of people and experts who think you are crazy? It’s one thing to support transgenders. It’s completely a different thing altogether when your husband wants to become a woman.
P.S. I’m yet to watch the movie.