(WHAT THE BURRNESHA, FA’AFAFINE AND TWO-SPIRITED CAN TEACH US ABOUT
NON-BINARY GENDER ACCEPTANCE)
While there are clear examples of gender fluidity and/or transgender identity among many cultures, there exist few examples where members of these subcultures are able exist openly with the acceptance and encouragement of other members of their community.
Some, like the burrnesha (aka. sworn virgins) of Albania — women living as men — have their identities thrust upon them. Born into a patrilineal society, Kanun law dictated that property and land be handed down to the eldest males, and when nature did not produce sons (or violent feuds killed off all the male members of a family), daughters needed to step into that role. It was no small commitment: Women were required to take a vow of celibacy and from that day forward dress and behave like the men of their community for the rest of their lives.
Interestingly, the evolving culture of acceptance around this identity also created the possibility for women to make the choice to live as men voluntarily. In spite of the sacrifice of sexuality through celibacy, this form of gender transition was obviously greatly appealing to those who did not identify with the gender assigned them at birth, and also afforded them not just acceptance, but respect.
Given the historical context of forced marriages in a patriocentric society, it is not unreasonable to attribute a certain percentage of these voluntary conversions to a simple desire for more freedom:
“Imagine […] marrying at the age of 15, 16, 17 years old, conceivably to a husband who might be 40, 50, 60. On your wedding night, your father might slip a bullet into your suitcase, for your husband’s use in case you’re not a virgin […] You will never talk back. You will make no decision, even when it comes to the children to whom you give birth. You will not smoke or drink or shoot a gun. From sunup to sundown, your life will be full of hard labor. According to the Kanun: “A woman is known as a sack made to endure as long as she lives in her husband’s house.””
Hope you enjoy it! I’ll be returning to something more bloggy tomorrow.