A fictionalized account of a transgender person whose life supports traditional heterosexual values; worth reading to counter the idiocy of today’s transgender zealots.
Reader warning! Since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture zealots and bans conservative and pro-life books, don’t buy this book on Amazon. Obtaining a copy for reading purposes free of charge through your local public library would suffice.
David Ebershoff, who has been on a gay serial’s “list of influential LGBT people” (biography page before the title page), views the case of Einar Wegener, who later became Lili Elbe, as “a pioneer of the transgender movement” (10 of the “Penguin Readers Group Guide”). However, it would be foolish to claim her case as evidence to support today’s aggressive transgender political movement that Ryan T. Anderson cogently warned us about in his 2018 book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.
From my application of the five principles of right-to-life literary theory to Ebershoff’s novel, Einar Wegener’s unfortunate case of hermaphroditism and eventual transformation into Lili supports heterosexual and Jewish and Christian sexual values more than it attacks them.
First, regarding whether the literary work supports the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some “thing” which is priceless, it is obvious that Einar, his wife Greta, Lili, and other characters believe that living is worthwhile, despite the anxieties created by Lili’s bodily and sexual confusion.
Second, the literary work does respect the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life. The action of the novel is supposed to occur in Denmark and Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s when eugenicist thinking was pronounced and, in the case of the latter nation, forming the ideological basis of the Nazi party. Yet no instance of support for killing a sexually-confused person like Einar is suggested in the novel. Even those doctors who attempted to assist Einar in resolving his sexual confusion should be cited as advocating treatments deemed scientific at the time, but quackery in our supposedly sophisticated medical elitist era.
Third, does the novel respect heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family? Granted, the depictions of family life show the flaws of poor parenting. Einar’s father’s disciplinary methods were typical of the time. When Einar at age seven wore his mother’s beads, his father exclaims, “’You can’t do that!’ [….] ‘Little boys can’t do that!’”, to which Einar’s counter question of “But why not?” goes unanswered (28). Similarly, some statements about married life illustrate a negative view that some have towards marriage. For example, Greta equates marriage not as the sacramental union of a man and a woman, but as “the great cave of wedlock” (19).
Lili, however, utters several heterosexual affirmations which run contrary to transgender political correctivity. “’Marriage is like a third person,’ Lili said. ‘It creates someone else, more than just the two of you’” (79)—a statement which can attest to her own “creation” within the marriage of Einar and Greta and to the life-giving sexual function of marriage. Carlisle, Greta’s brother, affirms Lili’s desire to be a wife and mother when he asserts the rhetorical question, “What little girl doesn’t want” to be a mother (251).
Moreover, the third question of right-to-life literary theory offers some lightness at this point. Gay and transgender zealots (and even ordinary readers) would delight, chuckle, and (if the reader is a high school or college student) thrill with the desire to write a standard literary research paper loaded with the usual crap about sexual imagery in the similes and metaphors which Einar uses to describe his penis. Einar identifies his penis as a part “as small and useless as a white radish” (10) or “the garish lump in his groin” (11). The penis of his boyhood friend, Hans, is described as “pink […] flopping around like [a] schnauzer tail” (31). Later, when Einar is transforming into a woman, Lili considers Einar’s shriveled penis (or his scrotum; the text is ambiguous) as “vile” (107). When he anticipates the first of his sex surgery operations, Einar describes his penis as “parasitically worthless, the color of a wart” (173) and later “spongy flesh” (192). After the surgery, the author colorfully (and weirdly!) writes that “Einar Wegener has passed from man into woman, two testicles scooped from the pruned hammock of his scrotum” (200).
It would be litotes to say that Einar’s/Lili’s attitudes towards the penis are not consistent with any male who thanks God for his ability to use such a tool for sexually pleasing his wife and being open to the creation of new life. Oh well, what else can be expected from an author like Ebershoff who writes characters who seem to be devoid of religious values?
Fourth, determing whether the literary work comports with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist could be challenging since this novel concerns neither abortion, infanticide, nor euthanasia as topics. However, the attitude towards respect for human life is evident in two seemingly insignificant passages. Greta’s child by her first husband is a stillbirth, and, even though Greta “sometimes hated the baby growing inside her” (42), the author notes that she had the child baptized. While religion or religious incidents and values are virtually absent in the novel, this notation is surprising. Why would Greta even bother to have her stillborn son baptized if she and her husband lead lives devoid of any religious activity? Is this act of faith perfunctory or a sign that a deeper set of values is inherent in human life as manifested in these characters?
Similarly, when her first husband asks her to kill him as he lay dying from tuberculosis, Greta refuses to perform the euthanasia, but only on aesthetic, not religious or moral grounds. “She couldn’t do it. Such a horrible way to die, beneath this smelly old thing, rubber the last scent of your life” (168). While this is a feeble reason not to kill someone, it is at least a reason, so credit must be given to Greta for affirming that her husband’s mature (and diseased) human life has an inherent right to exist.
Finally, when they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective? The reader cannot determine this question with certainty. Lili dies at novel’s end, and Greta leaves Denmark to marry and live in California. While the film version of this novel may suggest a “spiritual” ending, finding such in the novel requires a subjective, if not tortured, analysis which would detract from this novel being a quick read.
I can understand how transgender zealots may use this novel as literary evidence of ambiguity about bodily integrity that supposedly afflicts many in contemporary culture. However, the bodily or sexual confusion that transgender zealots think people experience may be located more in Ebershoff’s following claim in the “Penguin Readers Group Guide”: “We struggle throughout our lives to learn to accept the shell that transports us through this world” (15). Jews and Christians, especially Catholics who know about St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, would dispute such a negative view of the human body. Maybe that’s why transgender zealots are so furious when the rest of us affirm heterosexual normativity.