The Danish Girl

The film The Danish Girl is very beautiful. Colourful houses are reflected in choppy water; the focus changes from rain on a foggy window to the face behind; parks and cobbled streets and the countryside are lovely. The dresses are lovely: a cis friend said she wanted every one of them.

My radical feminist friend was prepared to be angry at politically correct trans propaganda, but loved the film as a love story, of Gerda for Einar. Gerda’s love continues, though Lili claims she is a different person from Einar. Comprehensive spoilers ahead: I want to discuss the relationships, and the development of both as artists.

Gerda and Einar’s sex life is established early as full and happy. In their first scene together Einar is in bed, and coaxes Gerda to come back. Einar has no thought of being Lili until she needs a model for a painting she is working on. The dancer whose portrait it is has not appeared, so Gerda asks Einar to put on stockings and shoes so she can paint the leg. Einar refuses to put the dress on, but she drapes it over her, and she loves the fabric.

I feared it being a forced feminisation fantasy, as some commented. That is definitely my thing- yet I did not find the film arousing, to my relief in this company. I hated Lili for rejecting Gerda, but Gerda wants her husband: she is so frustrated she comes on to Hans, Einar’s childhood friend, now an art dealer- but flees when he responds, to his frustration.

Quacks propose incarcerating Einar as schizophrenic, or for perversion (which is a mental illness, they say), or point a radioactive source at her privates. Eventually Lili meets a doctor who will operate as she wishes.

Gerda is established as a strong woman. She paints some fat burgher, and tells him men are not used to be subjected to a woman’s gaze. He squirms. Yet her paintings are unsuccessful. The dealer will not exhibit them- until she paints Einar as a woman. Einar paints the same scene of a row of five trees before a lake again and again, successfully; she “has not finished with it yet”; but as Lili Elbe works in a department store. She does not want to be a painter, but a woman- as if despite knowing Gerda she believes one cannot be both.

At one point, Einar visits a place where naked women perform for men behind glass, the forerunner of webcam porn. Einar mimics the woman’s poses and movements. Immediately she realises, and leads Einar in a series of poses which delight then upset and confuse her. Either the sex worker is quick on the uptake, or more than Einar respond like this.

As I expected, I recognised experiences from my past, and felt the pain anew: the first time out, embarrassed by my voice; and being read. Einar, dressed flamboyantly male in a Paris park, is beaten up by two men who may be gay themselves.

The real Lili dies in an operation, but not the original vaginoplasty. When she dies, I was filled with anger and resentment. I wept at the pain of all of us.