The Trouble with The Danish Girl

By on .

The recently released film Stonewall was rightly condemned for placing a white male in place of the black transwomen and the drag queens who were at the heart of the Stonewall riots, in a risible attempt to whitewash a landmark moment in LGBT history

It is worth asking what will happen now a film is about to appropriate the story of an intersex woman – Lili Elbe – and present it solely as a trans story?

Who will raise their voices this time, I wonder?

Eddie Redmayne – is a very fine Oscar winning actor. He portrayed the young Stephen Hawking to extraordinary acclaim in The Theory of Everything.  A film he stars in is about to be released, called The Danish Girl, that purports to tell the tale of a young person in 1930’s Denmark who chooses to surgically transition from male to female. By all account it’s beautifully photographed, and depicts the Weimar era with considerable aplomb.  The camera loves to depict such moments in history, they are redolent of a bygone age that few were fortunate to enjoy during the interwar decades of political upheaval and economic depression.

I will not grace this page with that coverage – you are all perfectly free to find it yourselves, but you should know this:-

Lili Elbe was intersex.

Nicole Kidman was apparently originally slated to play the role, but that fell thru. It has since been reported that Eddie Redmayne has spent a lot of time with trans people researching the role. No mention of intersex is made anywhere.

For a detailed, and more truthful explanation of Lili’s story, I am grateful to our Australian allies, OII-Australia for the information that is freely available about Lili’s extraordinary life.

https://oii.org.au/4872/lili-elbe-words/

The Nicole Kidman film was to be based on David Ebershoff’s book.

https://oii.org.au/page/1/?s=lili+elbe

It is regrettable to say there is, and remains, a tension between some in the intersex and trans communities about intersex erasure.  That is both an historic phenomena, and a legacy of the decades of enforced silence inculcated by medical authority on parents and affected intersex individuals themselves.  Continuing to do so only serves to erase the genuine human rights issues surrounding intersex embodiment.

Both intersex and trans individuals have genuine rights of personal autonomy and bodily integrity. They should be united in the struggle to achieve those aims.

Einar Wegener chose to become Lili Elbe.  She was an extraordinarily complex person who was born intersex, and chose to transition in the 1930’s. It was an enormously courageous thing to undertake. It cost Lili their life.  It is deeply regrettable that all those aspects of Lili’s unquestionably complex story were not acknowledged in this film.

 

3 Responses to “The Trouble with The Danish Girl”

  1. Cynthia Campbell

    Thanks very much for enlightening me! Now to find out what “intersex”” means. Your article my first time reading/hearing that word. Erasure, for sure!

  2. George O'Donoghue

    I mistakenly highlighted the word ‘trailer’ with parenthesis as having been recently released, which resulted in it disappearing from my comment.

  3. hannah (Dave)

    Thanks for the information. I wonder about if she knew that she had an Intersex body during her life time or if someone at a later date figured out that she must have been Intersex when reviewing her records?
    Personally I had to spend many years trying to gather my medical records to figure out what I was or was not as a human being with my type of Intersex. I just really think the doctors where extremely ignorant of the full ramifications of my condition or that mater of all Intersex. I think they saw me simply as child with a testis that failed to mature without realizing that there where phycological aspects we Intersex have. To be honest it wasn’t until I can down with a type of ovarian cancer that things really came together for me. At last I knew why my would wasn’t black and white but a wonderful Gray cast to it.